The Torah is the most holy of the sacred writings in Judaism. It is the first of three sections in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), the founding religious document of Judaism, and is divided into five books, whose names in English are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, in reference to their themes (Their Hebrew names, Bereshit, בראשית, Shemot שמות, Vayikra ויקרא, Bamidbar במדבר, and Devarim דברים, are derived from the wording of their initial verses). The Torah contains a variety of literary genres, including allegories, historical narrative, poetry, genealogy, and the exposition of various types of law. According to rabbinic tradition, the Torah contains the 613 mitzvot (מצוות, "commandments"), which are divided into 365 negative restrictions and 248 positive commands. In rabbinic literature, the word "Torah" denotes both the written text, "Torah Shebichtav" (תורה שבכתב, "Torah that is written"), as well as an oral tradition, "Torah Shebe'al Peh" (תורה שבעל פה, "Torah that is oral"). The oral portion consists of the "traditional interpretations and amplifications handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation," now embodied in the Talmud and Midrash.
Jewish religious tradition ascribes authorship of the Torah to Moses through a process of divine inspiration. This view of Mosaic authorship is first found explicitly expressed in the Talmud, dating from the 3rd to the 6th centuries centuries CE, and is based on textual analysis of passages in the Torah and the subsequent books of the Hebrew Bible. The Zohar, Vol. 11 Trumah Section 61 states that the Torah was created prior to the creation of the world, and that it was used as the blueprint for Creation. According to dating of the text by Orthodox rabbis the revelation of the Torah to Moses occurred in 1280 BCE at Mount Sinai. 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 (539 to 334 BCE). Scholarly discussion for much of the 20th century was principally couched in terms of the documentary hypothesis, according to which the Torah is a synthesis of documents from a small number of originally independent sources.
Outside of its central significance in Judaism, the Torah is accepted by Christianity as part of the Bible, comprising the first five books of the Old Testament. The various denominations of Jews and Christians hold a diverse spectrum of views regarding the exactitude of scripture. The Torah has also been accepted to varying degrees by the Samaritans and others as the authentic revealed message of God to the Israelites and as a factual history of the early Israelites, in both cases as conveyed by Moses. In Islam, the Torah (along with the Christian Gospels) or Tawrat is seen as an authentic revelation from God corrupted with the additions and alterations of men. The faiths revering the Pentateuch consider many of their central tenets to be illustrated in the narratives of the Torah.
Within the Hebrew Bible,
"The earliest name for the first part of the Bible seems to have been "The Torah of Moses." This title, however, is found neither in the Torah itself, nor in the works of the pre-Exilic literary prophets. It appears in Joshua (8:31–32; 23:6) and Kings (I Kings 2:3; II Kings 14:6; 23:25), but it cannot be said to refer there to the entire corpus. In contrast, there is every likelihood that its use in the post-Exilic works (Mal. 3:22; Dan. 9:11, 13; Ezra 3:2; 7:6; Neh. 8:1; II Chron. 23:18; 30:16) was intended to be comprehensive. Other early titles were "The Book of Moses" (Ezra 6:18; Neh. 13:1; II Chron. 35:12; 25:4; cf. II Kings 14:6) and "The Book of the Torah" (Neh. 8:3) which seems to be a contraction of a fuller name, "The Book of the Torah of God" (Neh. 8:8, 18; 10:29–30; cf. 9:3)."
In Judaism, the Torah in the specific sense is more formally called "Chamisha Chumshei Torah" (חמישה חומשי תורה, the "five fifths of the Torah,") or informally, "Chumash" (חומש, a derivation of "five") because of its division into five books. These terms can be used both to refer figuratively to the Torah as well as to the physical text, with the latter use usually restricted to printed versions (versus the handwritten Sefer Torah.) The term "Pentateuch" (Πεντάτευχος, literally "five cases) is a Greek word used to refer to the "Five Books of Moses. The first known use of this term dates to circa 150-175 CE, and it is used by Origen, Athanasius, and Tertullian, among others.
The Hebrew term "Sefer Torah" (ספר תורה, "book of Torah") refers to the Five Books of Moses written on a scroll of parchment in a formal, traditional manner by a specially trained Torah scribe under very strict requirements.
The rabbis of the Talmud (c. 200-500 CE) discussed exactly how the Torah was transmitted to Moses. In the Babylonian Talmud Gittin 60a it is written "Said R' Yochanan, the Torah was given in a series of small scrolls," implying that the Torah was written gradually and compiled from a variety of documents over time. Another opinion there that states that the entire Torah was given at one time. Menachem Mendel Kasher points to certain traditions of the Oral Torah that showed Moses quoting Genesis prior to the epiphany at Sinai. Based on a number of Bible verses and rabbinic statements, he suggests that Moses had certain documents authored by the Patriarchs that he made use of when redacting that book. According to Moses Maimonides, the 12th Century rabbi and philosopher, Moses was the Torah's author, receiving it from God either as divine inspiration or as direct dictation in the Hebrew year 2449 AM (1313 BCE).
Later rabbis (and the Talmudic rabbis as well - see tractate Bava Basra 15a) and Christian scholars noticed some difficulties with the idea of Mosaic authorship of the entire Torah, notably the fact that the book of Deuteronomy describes Moses' death; later versions of the tradition therefore held that some portions of the Torah were added by others - the death of Moses in particular was ascribed to Joshua. The Talmud explains this by saying that Moses wrote it tearfully, in anticipation of his death; another tradition is that Joshua added these words after Moses died (the next book is the Book of 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.
Mosaic authorship was accepted with very little discussion by both Jews and Christians until the 17th century, when the rise of secular scholarship and the associated willingness to subject even the Bible to the test of reason led to its rejection by mainstream biblical scholars. The majority of modern scholars believe that the Torah is the product of many hands, stretching over many centuries, reaching its final form only around the 6th and 5th centuries BCE.
According to the most influential version of the hypothesis, as formulated 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 Five Books of Moses of the Torah) by scribes after the exile.
The documentary hypothesis has been increasingly challenged since the 1970s, and alternative views now see the Torah as having been compiled from a multitude of small fragments rather than a handful of large coherent source texts, or as having gradually accreted over many centuries and through many hands. The shorthand Yahwist, Priestly and Deuteronomistic is still used nevertheless to characterise identifiable and differentiable content and style.
The 19th century dating of the final form of Genesis and the Pentateuch to c. 500-450 BCE continues to be widely accepted irrespective of the model adopted, although a minority of scholars known as biblical minimalists argue for a date largely or entirely within the last two centuries BCE.
The Hebrew names of the five books of the Torah are taken from initial words of the first verse of each book.
For example, the Hebrew name of the first book, Bereshit, is the first three words of Genesis 1:1.
According to the classical Jewish belief, the stories in the Torah are not always in chronological order. Sometimes they are ordered by concept as per the rule Ein mukdam u'meuchar baTorah, (אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה, "There is not 'earlier' and 'later' in the Torah"). 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.)
Shemot (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).
Vayikra (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).
Bamidbar (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.
Devarim (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, bequeathing to him the mantle of leadership. Soon afterwards Israel begins the conquest of Canaan.
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 dating of the text by Orthodox rabbis this occurred in 1280 BCE. 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 quotations that 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 subsequent events. 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.
Regular public reading of the Torah was introduced by Ezra the Scribe after the return of the Jewish people from the Babylonian captivity (c. 537 BCE), as described in the Book of Nehemiah. In the modern era, adherents of Orthodox Judaism practice Torah reading according to a set procedure they believe has remained unchanged in the two thousand years since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (70 CE). In the 19th and 20th centuries CE, new movements such as Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism have made adaptations to the practice of Torah reading, but the basic pattern of Torah reading has usually remained the same:
As a part of the morning or afternoon prayer services on certain days of the week or holidays, a section of the Pentateuch is read from a Torah scroll. On Shabbat (Saturday) mornings, a weekly section ("parasha") is read, selected so that the entire Pentateuch is read consecutively each year. On Saturday afternoons, Mondays, and Thursdays, the beginning of the following Saturday's portion is read. On Jewish holidays and fast days, special sections connected to the day are read.
Jews observe an annual holiday, Simchat Torah, to celebrate the completion of the year's cycle of readings.
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 among synagogues and denominations). Congregants traditionally stand when the Torah is brought to be read.
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.
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 ().
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.
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 CE 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.)
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.
According to Jewish law, a sefer Torah (plural: Sifrei Torah) is a copy of the formal Hebrew text of hand-written on gevil or qlaf (forms of parchment) by using a quill (or other permitted writing utensil) dipped in ink. Written entirely in Hebrew, a sefer Torah contains 304,805 letters, all of which must be duplicated precisely by a trained sofer (“scribe”), an effort which may take as long as approximately one and a half years. Most modern Sifrei Torah are written with forty-two lines of text per column (Yemenite Jews use fifty), and very strict rules about the position and appearance of the Hebrew letters are observed. See for example the Mishna Berura on the subject. Any of several Hebrew scripts may be used, most of which are fairly ornate and exacting.
The completion of the sefer Torah is a cause for great celebration, and it is a Mitzvah for every Jew to either write or have written for him a Sefer Torah. 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'.
In early Christianity a Koine Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, called in Latin the Septuagint was used, and as the Pentateuch, forms the beginning of the Old Testament that incorporate the Torah into the Christian Biblical canon that also includes some books not found in the Tanakh. Though different Christian denominations have slightly different versions of the Old Testament in their Bibles, the Torah as the "Five Books of Moses" (or "the Law") are common to them all.
Islam draws heavily upon the Torah for Islamic concepts, teachings, and history of the early World. from which it also derives that it is descended from Abraham's first son Ishmael, the half-brother of Isaac.
Muslims call the Torah the Tawrat and consider it the word of Allah given to Moses. However, Muslims also believe that this original revelation was corrupted (tahrif) over time by Jewish scribes and hence do not revere the present Jewish version Torah as much. A number of verses from the Qur'an are claimed to refer to Muhammed as the promised prophet to be found in the Torah. The Torah in the Qur'an is always mentioned with respect in Islam. The Muslims' belief in the Torah, as well as the Prophethood of Moses, is one of the fundamental tenets of Islam.