AskDefine | Define Torah

Dictionary Definition

Torah

Noun

1 the whole body of the Jewish sacred writings and tradition including the oral tradition
2 the first of three divisions of the Hebrew Scriptures comprising the first five books of the Hebrew Bible considered as a unit [syn: Pentateuch, Laws]
3 (Judaism) the scroll of parchment on which the first five books of the Hebrew Scripture is written; is used in a synagogue during services

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Etymology

Hebrew תורה, meaning law or teaching.

Pronunciation

Proper noun

Torah
  1. The first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, attributed to Moses and therefore also known as the Five Books of Moses.
    Tradition holds that the Torah was handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai.
  2. The full body of written Jewish law, including the Tanakh, the Talmud, the Mishnah and the midrashic texts.
    It says in the Torah that both gossip and murder cause irreparable damage.
  3. The whole of Jewish law, written and unwritten.
  4. The encompassing philosophy of Judaism.

Noun

Torah
  1. A specially written scroll containing the five books of Moses, such as those used in religious services.
    An anonymous donor has provided us with a lovely new Torah.
  2. A book containing the five books of Moses.
    There was a lovely leather-bound Torah on the bookshelf.

Translations

See also

Extensive Definition

The Torah (, see Strong's H8451) has been revered as the inspired word(s) of God, as it is said by tradition to have been revealed to Moses by Him. The Torah is sometimes referred to as the (written) Law or written Torah (unlike the oral Torah found in the Mishnah).
The Torah is the first part of the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, and is made up of five books. For that reason it is also called the Chumash, or the Five Books of Moses.
Christians refer to the Torah as the Pentateuch (Πεντετεύχως) The name is derived from two Greek words: pente, meaning "five", and teuxos which roughly means "case", a reference to the cases containing the five scrolls of the Torah.
The five books of the Torah are:
The Hebrew names are taken from initial words of the first verse of each book. For example, the Hebrew name Bereshit means "in the beginning" which is the first word (in Hebrew) in Genesis 1:1. The Latinized names are derived from the Greek and reflect the essential theme of each book. For example, Genesis means birth or origin, while Deuteronomy means second law, and is a reference to how the fifth book is essentially a recapitulation of the commandments reviewed by Moses before his death. Leviticus is a reference to the descendants of Levi and the particular regulations that apply to their presence and service in the Temple, which form the bulk of the third book.
The Torah has been traditionally accepted by many Jews, Samaritans, Christians and others as the literal message of God to the Jewish people, as told to Moses. Christian Bibles incorporate the Hebrew Bible (with some variations) into its canon under the name of Old Testament or the Septuagint. Though different Christian denominations have slightly different versions of the Old Testament in their Bibles, the Five Books of Moses (or "the Law") are common to them all.

Names and descriptions

The word "torah" means "teaching," "instruction," "scribe", or "law" in Hebrew.
The Hebrew term Sefer Torah (ספר תורה) ("book of Torah") refers to a formal written scroll of the five books, traditionally written by a specially trained Torah scribe under very strict requirements.
Other names current in Judaism include Hamisha Humshei Torah (חמשה חומשי תורה, "[the] five fifths[of the] Torah") or simply the Humash (חוּמָשׁ "fifth").
The term Torah is sometimes also used in the general sense to also include both Judaism's written law and oral law, encompassing the entire spectrum of authoritative Jewish religious teachings throughout history, including the Mishnah, the Talmud, the Midrash, and more.

Biblical law

seealso Biblical law seealso Biblical law in Christianity
Besides the narrative, the Torah also contains statements or principles of law and ethics. Collectively these laws, usually called biblical law or commandments, are sometimes referred to as the Law of Moses (Torat Moshe ), Mosaic Law or simply the Law.

Structure

The five books (the Torah) contain both the complete system of biblical law, called commandments (Hebrew: mitzvah, pl mitzvot) of which 613 have been enumerated, as well as a historical description of the beginnings of what came to be known as Judaism. The five books (particularly Genesis, the first part of Exodus, and much of Numbers) are, primarily, a collection of seemingly historical narratives rather than a continuous list of laws; moreover, many of the most important concepts and ideas from the Torah are found in these stories. The book of Deuteronomy is different from the previous books (see third paragraph, above); it consists of Moses' final speeches to the Children of Israel at the end of his life.
According to the classical Jewish belief, the stories in the Torah are not always in chronological order. Sometimes they are ordered by concept (Talmud tractate Pesachim 7a) — "[There is] not 'earlier' and 'later' in [the] Torah" (Ein mukdam u'meuchar baTorah). This belief is accepted by Orthodox Judaism. Non-Orthodox Jews generally understand the same texts as signs that the current text of the Torah was redacted from earlier sources (see documentary hypothesis.)

Contents

This is a brief summary of the contents of the books of the Five Books of Moses. For details see the individual books.
Genesis begins with the story of Creation (Genesis 1-3) and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, as well the account of their descendants. Following these are the accounts of Noah and the great flood (Genesis 3-9), and his descendants. The Tower of Babel and the story of (Abraham)'s covenant with God (Genesis 10-11) are followed by the story of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the life of Joseph (Genesis 12-50). God gives to the Patriarchs a promise of the land of Canaan, but at the end of Genesis the sons of Jacob end up leaving Canaan for Egypt because of a famine.
Exodus is the story of Moses, who leads Israelites out of Pharaoh's Egypt (Exodus 1-18) with a promise to take them to the promised land. On the way, they camp at Mount Sinai/Horeb where Moses receives the Torah, including the Ten Commandments, from God, and mediates His laws and Covenant (Exodus 19-24) the people of Israel. Exodus also deals with the violation of the commandment against idolatry when Aaron took part in the construction of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32-34). Exodus concludes with the instructions on building the Tabernacle (Exodus 25-31; 35-40).
Leviticus begins with instructions to the Israelites on how to use the Tabernacle, which they had just built (Leviticus 1-10). This is followed by rules of clean and unclean (Leviticus 11-15), which includes the laws of slaughter and animals permissible to eat (see also: Kashrut), the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16), and various moral and ritual laws sometimes called the Holiness Code (Leviticus 17-26).
Numbers takes two censuses where the number of Israelites are counted (Numbers 1-3, 26), and has many laws mixed among the narratives. The narratives tell how Israel consolidated itself as a community at Sinai (Numbers 1-9), set out from Sinai to move towards Canaan and spied out the land (Numbers 10-13). Because of unbelief at various points, but especially at Kadesh Barnea (Numbers 14), the Israelites were condemned to wander for forty years in the desert in the vicinity of Kadesh instead of immediately entering the land of promise. Even Moses sins and is told he would not live to enter the land (Numbers 20). At the end of Numbers (Numbers 26-35) Israel moves from the area of Kadesh towards the promised land. They leave the Sinai desert and go around Edom and through Moab where Balak and Balaam oppose them (Numbers 22-24; 31:8, 15-16). They defeat two Transjordan kings, Og and Sihon (Numbers 21), and so come to occupy some territory outside of Canaan. At the end of the book they are on the plains of Moab opposite Jericho ready to enter the Promised Land.
Deuteronomy consists primarily of a series of speeches by Moses on the plains of Moab opposite Jericho exhorting Israel to obey God and further instruction on His Laws. At the end of the book (Deuteronomy 34), Moses is allowed to see the promised land from a mountain, but it is not known what happened to Moses on the mountain. He was never seen again. Knowing that he is nearing the end of his life, Moses appoints Joshua his successor, bequething to him the mantle of leadership. Soon afterwards Israel begins the conquest of Canaan.

Textual history

Many contemporary secular biblical scholars date the completion of the Torah, as well as the prophets and the historical books, no earlier than the Persian period. Those same scholars would ascribe to some version of the documentary hypothesis, according to which the Torah comprises a combination of four distinct sources.
As most popularly proposed by Julius Wellhausen (1844-1918), the Pentateuch is composed of four separate and identifiable texts, dating roughly from the period of Solomon up until exilic priests and scribes. These various texts were brought together as one document (the Pentateuch, or Torah) by scribes after the exile. The traditional names are:
  • The Jahwist (or J) - written c 950 BCE. The southern kingdom's (i.e. Judah) interpretation. It is named according to the prolific use of the name "Yahweh" (or Jaweh, in German, the divine name or Tetragrammaton) in its text.
  • The Elohist (or E) - written c 850 BCE. The northern kingdom's (i.e. Israel) interpretation. As above, it is named because of its preferred use of "Elohim" (Generic name any heathen god or deity in Hebrew).
  • The Deuteronomist (or D) - written c 621-650 BCE. Dating specifically from the time of King Josiah of Judah and responsible for the book of Deuteronomy as well as Joshua and most of the subsequent books up to 2 Kings.
  • The Priestly source (or P) - written during or after the exile, c 550-400 BCE. So named because of its focus on levitical laws.
There is debate amongst scholars as to exactly how many different documents compose the corpus of the Pentateuch, and as to what sections of text are included in the different documents.
A number of smaller independent texts have also been identified, including the Song of the Sea and other works, mainly in verse, most of them older than the four main texts. The individual books were edited and combined into their present form by the Redactor, frequently identified with the scribe Ezra, in the post-Babylonian exile period.
The Pentateuch can be contrasted with the Hexateuch, a term for the first six books of the Bible. The traditional view is that Joshua wrote the sixth book of the Hexateuch, namely the Book of Joshua and so it was separated from the five books of the Pentateuch ascribed to Moses. But as a story the Pentateuch seems incomplete without Joshua's account of the conquest of the promised land. The Book of Joshua completes the story, continuing directly from the events of Deuteronomy, and documents the conquest of Canaan predicted in the Pentateuch. This has led some scholars to propose that the proper literary unit is that of the Hexateuch rather than the Pentateuch. Still others think that Deuteronomy stands apart from the first four books of the Pentateuch, and so speak of the first four as the Tetrateuch (Genesis through Numbers). This view sees Deuteronomy as the book that introduces a series of books influenced by Deuteronomy called the Deuteronomistic History consisting of the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, and 1 & 2 Kings. This view was expounded by Martin Noth.

In Judaism

Authorship tradition

According to classical Judaism, Moses was the author of the Torah, receiving it from God either as divine inspiration or as direct dictation. However, over the years several questions have arisen, one popular example being the record in Deuteronomy 34 of Moses' death. The Talmud explains this by saying that Moses wrote it in tears in anticipation of his death. Another tradition is that Joshua added these words after Moses died, which seems to be supported by the facts that Moses' death is recorded in the last chapter of the last book that Moses supposedly wrote, that the next book is 'Joshua' (which, according to Jewish tradition, was written by Joshua himself), and that the final verses of the book of Deuteronomy read like an epitaph to Moses.

Production and usage of a Torah scroll

Manuscript Torah scrolls are still used, and still scribed, for ritual purposes (i.e. religious services); this is called a Sefer Torah ("Book [of] Torah"). They are written using a painstakingly careful methodology by highly qualified scribes. This has resulted in modern copies of the text that are unchanged from millennia old copies. The reason for such care is it is believed that every word, or marking, has divine meaning, and that not one part may be inadvertently changed lest it lead to error. The text of the Torah can also be found in books, which are mass-printed in the usual way for individual use, often containing both the Hebrew text and a translation in the language of publication. For more details on production of ritual scrolls, see the article Sefer Torah.
Printed versions of the Torah in normal book form (codex) are known as a Chumash (plural Chumashim) ("[Book of] Five or Fifths"). They are treated as respected texts, but not anywhere near the level of sacredness accorded a Sefer Torah, which is often a major possession of a Jewish community. A chumash contains the Torah and other writings, usually organized for liturgical use, and sometimes accompanied by some of the main classic commentaries on individual verses and word choices, for the benefit of the reader.
Torah scrolls are stored in the holiest part of the synagogue in the Ark known as the "Holy Ark" (אֲרוֹן הקֹדשׁ aron hakodesh in Hebrew.) Aron in Hebrew means 'cupboard' or 'closet' and Kodesh is derived from 'Kadosh', or 'holy'.

The Torah as the core of Judaism

The Torah is the primary document of Judaism.
According to the Talmudic teachings the Torah was created 974 generations (2,000 years) before the world was created. It is the blueprint that God used to create the world. Everything created in this world is for the purpose of carrying out the word of the Torah, and that the foundation of all that the Jews believe in stems from the knowledge that the Lord is the God Who created the world. Rabbinic writings offer various ideas on when the entire Torah was actually revealed to the Jewish people. The revelation to Moses at Mount Sinai is considered by many to be the most important revelatory event. According to datings of the text by Orthodox rabbis this occurred in 1280 BC. Some rabbinic sources state that the entire Torah was given all at once at this event. In the maximalist belief, this dictation included not only the "quotes" which appear in the text, but every word of the text itself, including phrases such as "And God spoke to Moses...", and included God telling Moses about Moses' own death and what would happen afterward. Other classical rabbinic sources hold that the Torah was revealed to Moses over many years, and finished only at his death. Another school of thought holds that although Moses wrote the vast majority of the Torah, a number of sentences throughout the Torah must have been written after his death by another prophet, presumably Joshua. Abraham ibn Ezra and Joseph Bonfils observed that some phrases in the Torah present information that people should only have known after the time of Moses. Ibn Ezra hinted, and Bonfils explicitly stated, that Joshua (or perhaps some later prophet) wrote these sections of the Torah. Other rabbis would not accept this belief.
It is commonly believed within Judaism that had Israel been faithful to the God of Israel, the rest of the Tanakh or Old Testament would have been unnecessary. Much of the rest of the Old Testament concerns God's warnings and calling His people back to Himself. Thus the first five books are seen as unique and sufficient as the complete revelation from God, while the remainder of the Tanakh deals with Man's departure disobeying the Torah.
The Talmud (tractate Sabb. 115b) states that a peculiar section in the Book of Numbers (10:35 — 36, surrounded by inverted Hebrew letter nuns) in fact forms a separate book. On this verse a midrash on the book of Mishle (also called Proverbs) states that "These two verses stem from an independent book which existed, but was suppressed!" Another (possibly earlier) midrash, Ta'ame Haserot Viyterot, states that this section actually comes from the book of prophecy of Eldad and Medad. The Talmud says that God dictated four books of the Torah, but that Moses wrote Deuteronomy in his own words (Talmud Bavli, Meg. 31b). All classical beliefs, nonetheless, hold that the Torah was entirely or almost entirely Mosaic and of divine origin.
For more information on these issues from an Orthodox Jewish perspective, see Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah: Contributions and Limitations, Ed. Shalom Carmy, and Handbook of Jewish Thought, Volume I, by Aryeh Kaplan.

Reverence and Respect

The Torah being the core of Judaism is naturally also the core of the synagogue. As such the Torah is "dressed" often with a sash, various ornaments and a crown (customs vary from synagogue to synagogue and denomination to denomination). Congregants also traditionally stand when the Torah is brought to be read.

The divine meaning of individual words and letters

see Kabbalah The Rabbis hold that not only are the words giving a Divine message, but indicate a far greater message that extends beyond them. Thus they hold that even as small a mark as a kotzo shel yod (קוצו של יוד), the serif of the Hebrew letter yod (י), the smallest letter, or decorative markings, or repeated words, were put there by God to teach scores of lessons. This is regardless of whether that yod appears in the phrase "I am the Lord thy God," or whether it appears in "And God spoke unto Moses saying." In a similar vein, Rabbi Akiva, who died in 135 AD, is said to have learned a new law from every et (את) in the Torah (Talmud, tractate Pesachim 22b); the word et is meaningless by itself, and serves only to mark the accusative case. In other words, the Orthodox belief is that even apparently contextual text "And God spoke unto Moses saying..." is no less important than the actual statement.
One kabbalistic interpretation is that the Torah constitutes one long name of God, and that it was broken up into words so that human minds can understand it. While this is effective since it accords with our human reason, it is not the only way that the text can be broken up.
The Biblical Hebrew language is sometimes referred to as "the flame alphabet" because many devout Jews believe that the Torah is the literal word of God written in fire.

The Torah and the Oral Law

see also Oral Torah Many Jewish laws are not directly mentioned in the Torah, but are derived from textual hints, which were expanded orally. This was called the oral tradition or oral Torah.
Rabbinic tradition holds that the written Torah was transmitted in parallel with the oral tradition. Jews point to texts of the Torah, where many words and concepts are left undefined and many procedures are mentioned without explanation or instructions; the reader is required to seek out the missing details from the oral sources. Many times in the Torah it says that/as you are/were shown on the mountain in reference of how to do a commandment (Bible verse |Exodus|25:40|HE).
There are numerous examples of biblical commandments which are either too ambiguous or documented in such a concise fashion that proper adherence is absolutely impossible without the details provided by the oral tradition.
  • Tefillin: As indicated in Deuteronomy 6:8 among other places, tefillin are to be placed on the arm and on the head between the eyes. However, there are no details provided regarding what tefillin are or how they are to be constructed.
  • Kosher laws: As indicated in Exodus 23:19 among other places, a kid may not be boiled in its mother's milk. In addition to numerous other problems with understanding the ambiguous nature of this law, there are no vowelization characters in the Torah; they are provided by the oral tradition. This is particularly relevant to this law, as the Hebrew word for milk is identical to the word for fat when vowels are absent. Without the oral tradition, it is not known whether the violation is in mixing meat with milk or with fat.
  • Shabbos laws: With the severity of Sabbath violation, namely the death penalty, one would assume that direction would be provided as to how exactly such a serious and core commandment should be upheld. However, there is little to no information as to what can and cannot be performed on the Sabbath. Without the oral tradition, keeping this law would be impossible.
According to classical rabbinic texts this parallel set of material was originally transmitted to Moses at Sinai, and then from Moses to Israel. At that time it was forbidden to write and publish the oral law, as any writing would be incomplete and subject to misinterpretation and abuse.
However, after exile, dispersion and persecution, this tradition was lifted when it became apparent that in writing was the only way to ensure that the Oral Law could be preserved. After many years of effort by a great number of tannaim, the oral tradition was written down around 200 AD by Rabbi Judah haNasi who took up the compilation of a nominally written version of the Oral Law, the Mishnah. Other oral traditions from the same time period not entered into the Mishnah were recorded as "Baraitot" (external teaching), and the Tosefta. Other traditions were written down as Midrashim.
Over the next four centuries this small, ingenious record of laws and ethical teachings provided the necessary signals and codes to allow the continuity of the same Mosaic Oral traditions to be taught and passed on in Jewish communities scattered across both of the world's major Jewish communities, (from Israel to Babylon).
After continued persecution more of the Oral Law had to be committed to writing. A great many more lessons, lectures and traditions only alluded to in the few hundred pages of Mishnah, became the thousands of pages now called the Gemara. Gemara is Aramaic, having been compiled in Babylon. The Mishnah and Gemara together are called the Talmud. The Rabbis in Israel also collected their traditions and compiled them into the Jerusalem Talmud. Since the greater number of Rabbis lived in Babylon, the Babylonian Talmud has precedence should the two be in conflict.
Orthodox Jews and Conservative Jews accept these texts as the basis for all subsequent halakha and codes of Jewish law, which are held to be normative. Reform and Reconstructionist Jews deny that these texts may be used for determining normative law (laws accepted as binding) but accept them as the authentic and only Jewish version of understanding the Bible and its development throughout history. (Reform and Reconstructionist, although they reject Jewish law as normative, do not accept the religious texts of any other faith.)

In Christianity

see Biblical law in Christianity In Christianity, the Pentateuch forms the beginning of the Old Testament. In early Christianity a Koine Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, called the Septuagint, was used. Origen's Hexapla placed side by side six versions of the Old Testament, including the 2nd century Greek translations of Aquila of Sinope and Symmachus the Ebionite. The canonical Christian Bible was formally established by Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem in 350, confirmed by the Council of Laodicea in 363, and later established by Athanasius of Alexandria in 367. Jerome's Vulgate Latin translation dates to between AD 382 and 420. Latin translations predating Jerome are collectively known as Vetus Latina texts. Translations of the Old Testament were discouraged in medieval Christendom. An exception was the translation of the Pentateuch ordered by Alfred the Great around A.D. 900, and Wyclif's Bible of 1383. Numerous vernacular translations appeared with the Protestant Reformation.

In Islam

see Islam and Judaism Islam draws heavily upon the Torah for Islamic concepts, teachings, and history of the early world. Much of the Arab world is believed by tradition to be descended from Abraham's son Ishmael, the half-brother of Isaac. Isaac was then the father of Jacob, who was renamed Israel in Genesis 32:23. Thus, Biblically, Arabs and Jews (Israelites) are actually cousins.
As a result, Islam largely claims much of the same heritage from Abraham as its own. Islam affirms that Moses (Musa) was given a revelation, the Torah, which Muslims call Tawrat in Arabic, and they believe it to be the word of God. However, they also believe that this original revelation was modified (tahrif, literally meaning corrupted) over time by Jewish and Christian scribes and preachers. Even though, it is clearly indicated in Muslim's Quran "Holy Book" that all the three religions can agreed on one word which is "Worship God only without partner". Torah in Quran is always mentioned with huge respect and confession to be the words of Allah "GOD" that has been told to Musa "Moses".

References

Further reading

  • Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004.
  • Shalom Carmy, Ed. Modern Scholarship in the Study of Torah: Contributions and Limitations, Jason Aronson, Inc., 1996.
  • Charles B. Chavel, Ramban: Commentary on the Torah. 5 vols. New York: Shilo Publishing House, Inc., 1971.
  • A. Cohen, The Soncino Chumash. London: Soncino Press, 1956.
  • William G. Dever, Who Were the Early Israelites?. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2003.
  • Harvey J. Fields, A Torah Commentary for Our Times. 3 vols. New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1998. ISBN 0-8074-0530-2
  • Israel Finkelstein & Neil A. Silberman, The Bible Unearthed. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2001. ISBN 0-684-86912-8
  • Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses. Dallas: Word Publishing, 1995.
  • Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003. ISBN 0-06-050717-9
  • J.H. Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs. London: Soncino Press, 1985.
  • Samson Raphael Hirsch, Isaac Levy (Editor), The Pentateuch. 7 vols. London: Judaica Press, 1999.
  • Aryeh Kaplan, Handbook of Jewish Thought, Volume I, Moznaim Pub.
  • Lawrence Kushner & Kerry M. Olitzky, Sparks Beneath the Surface; A Spiritual Commentary on the Torah. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1992. ISBN 1-56821-016-7
  • David Lieber, Etz Hayim: Torah and Commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2001. (a Conservative standard)
  • Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in the Weekly Sidra. 7 vols. Jerusalem: Hemed Press.
  • Elie Munk, The Call of the Torah: An Anthology of Interpretation and Commentary on the Five Books of Moses. 5 vols. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications Ltd., 1994.
  • W. Gunther Plaut, Bernard Bamberger, William W. Hallo, The Torah: A Modern Commentary. New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981. (a Reform standard)
  • Jean-Marc Rouvière, Brèves méditations sur la création du monde, L'Harmattan Paris 2006
  • Nahum M. Sarna & Chaim Potok (Editors), JPS Torah Commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996. ISBN 0-8276-0331-2
  • Nosson Scherman, The Chumash: Stone Edition of the Artscroll Chumash. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications Ltd., 1994. (an Orthodox standard)
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Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Apocrypha, Chumash, Hagiographa, Hexateuch, Major Prophets, Nebiim, Octateuch, Old Testament, Pentateuch, Sefer Torah, Tenach, Torah scroll, Virginal, breviary, canon, church book, euchologion, euchology, farse, formulary, lectionary, litany, machzor, manual, missal, ordinal, pontifical, prayer book, ritual, rituale, rubric, service book, siddur, the Law, the Prophets, the Writings
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