The Torah (/ˈtɔːrə/; Hebrew: תּוֹרָה, “Instruction”, “Teaching”) is the Jewish name for the first five books of the Jewish Bible. In Hebrew the five books are named by the first phrase in the text: Bereshit (“In [the] beginning,” Genesis), Shemot (“Names,” Exodus), Vayikra (“He called”, Leviticus), Bamidbar (“In the desert,” Numbers) and Devarim (“Words,” Deuteronomy).
In rabbinic literature the word Torah denotes both these five books, Torah Shebichtav (תורה שבכתב, “Torah that is written”), and an Oral Torah, Torah Shebe’al Peh (תורה שבעל פה, “Torah that is spoken”). The Oral Torah consists of the traditional interpretations and amplifications handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation and now embodied in the Talmud (תַּלְמוּד) and Midrash (מדרש) . The words of the Torah are written on a scroll by a Sofer on parchment in Hebrew. A Torah portion must be read publicly at least once every three days, in the halachically prescribed tune, in the presence of a congregation, which is the basis for Jewish communal life.
According to Jewish tradition, all of the laws found in the Torah, both written and oral, were given by God to Moses, some of them at Mount Sinai and others at the Tabernacle, and all the teachings were written down by Moses, which resulted in the Torah we have today. According to a Midrash, the Torah was created prior to the creation of the world, and was used as the blueprint for Creation. Most modern biblical scholars believe that the written books were a product of the Babylonian exilic period (c. 600 BCE) and that it was completed by the Persian period (c. 400 BCE).
Meaning and names
The word “Torah” in Hebrew is derived from the root ירה which in the hifil conjugation means “to guide/teach” (cf. Lev. 10:11). The meaning of the word is therefore “teaching,” “doctrine,” or “instruction”; the commonly accepted “law” gives a wrong impression. Other translational contexts in the English language include custom, theory, guidance,[disambiguation needed] or system.
The Hebrew word for law is din. The term “Torah” is therefore also used in the general sense to include both Judaism’s written law and oral law, serving to encompass the entire spectrum of authoritative Jewish religious teachings throughout history, including the Mishnah, the Talmud, the Midrash and more, and the inaccurate rendering of “Torah” as “Law” may be an obstacle to “understanding the ideal that is summed up in the term talmud torah (תלמוד תורה, “study of Torah”).
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).
Scholars usually refer to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible as the Pentateuch, a term first used in the Hellenistic Judaism of Alexandria, meaning five books, or as the Law, or Law of Moses. Muslims refer to the Torah as Tawrat (توراة, “Law”), an Arabic word for the revelations given to the Islamic prophet Musa (موسى, Moses in Arabic).
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