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Thursday, December 3, 2009

In the Beginning: The Torah

The Torah (תּוֹרָה) is the most important document in Judaism, revered as the inspired word of God, traditionally said to have been revealed to Moses. The Torah, or Law, comprises the first five books of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible.

The five books of the Torah are:

Genesis (בראשית, Bereshit: "In the beginning...")
Exodus (שמות, Shemot: "Names")
Leviticus (ויקרא, Vayyiqra: "And he called...")
Numbers (במדבר, Bamidbar: "In the desert...")
Deuteronomy (דברים, Devarim: "Words", "Discourses", or "Things")
The Hebrew names are taken from initial words within the first verse of each book. See, for example, Genesis 1:1.

Jews have revered the Torah through the ages. It is traditionally accepted as the literal word of God as told to Moses.

Title

The word Torah means "teaching," "instruction," "scribe", or "law" in Hebrew. It is also known as the Five Books of Moses, the Book of Moses, the Law of Moses (Torat Moshe תּוֹרַת־מֹשֶׁה), Sefer Torah in Hebrew (which refers to the scroll cases in which the books were kept).

Other names current in Judaism include Hamisha Humshei Torah (חמשה חומשי תורה, "[the] five fifths/parts [of the] Torah") or simply the Humash (חוּמָשׁ "fifth"). A Sefer Torah is a formal written scroll of the five books, written by a Torah scribe under exceptionally strict requirements. The term 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.

Structure

The five books contain both a complete and ordered system of laws, particularly the 613 mitzvot (613 distinct "commandments", individually called a mitzvah), 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; 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) — Ein mukdam u'meuchar baTorah "[There is] not 'earlier' and 'later' in [the] Torah". This belief is accepted by Orthodox Judaism.

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