Doctrinal Dimension – Jewish Sacred Texts – The Torah


View the following explanation of the sacred texts



The word Torah actually means ‘teaching’.

The Torah is the first part of the Jewish bible. It is the central and most important document of Judaism. Traditional Jewish people believe that God told Moses all of the Torah on Mount Sinai, and that Moses wrote down his exact words.

  • Less traditional Jewish people believe that people inspired by God wrote the Torah.
  • Almost all Jewish people believe that God gave Moses the ten commandments. Can you name any?

Torah refers to the five books of Moses which are Bresheit (Genesis), Shemot (Exodus), Vayicra (Leviticus), Bamidbar (Numbers), and Devarim (Deuteronomy).

Jews believe that God dictated the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai 50 days after their exodus from Egyptian slavery. They believe that the Torah shows how God wants Jews to live. The books contains 613 commandments and Jews refer to the ten best known of these as the ‘ten statements’. They tell Jewish people how to pray, what to eat and which festivals to celebrate. The Torah is the “instruction manual” for being Jewish. Not every Jewish person follows all the rules, but all Jews see the Torah as being sacred and special. It has lots of stories in it that make up the ‘Old Testament’ for Christians and Muslims too.

The Torah scrolls are taken out from the Ark and portions are read in the synagogue three times each week. Over the course of the year the whole scroll is read in sequence. This begins from the end of Sukkot which is an autumn festival.

The special portions for the readings are called parshioth and are usually three to five chapters in length. The reading is conducted using an ancient tune and is sung rather than spoken.

The scrolls are not directly touched when unfurled on the Bimah. A pointer, or Yad(hand), is used instead. This is in the shape of a hand with an outstretched finger.

Yad- Creative Commons Image

The reading or chanting is performed by a person who has been trained in this task. The weekly portion or Sedrah is followed by the recitation of part of another of the Jewish holy writings.

The Torah scrolls are entirely handwritten in Hebrew by a sofer (scribe) on parchment from a kosher animal. This is usually a cow. It can take up to 18 months to complete the whole process from the complex preparation of the animal skins to the writing of the final words. The completed scroll is known as a SeferTorah.

A Sefer Torah is so sacred to Jews it is said that if one is accidentally dropped in the synagogue the whole congregation must fast for 40 days.

The Torah is written in Hebrew, the oldest of Jewish languages. It is also known as Torat Moshe, the Law of Moses. The Torah is the first section or first five books of the Jewish bible. However, Tanach is more commonly used to describe the whole of Jewish scriptures.

Similarly, the term Torah is sometimes used in a more general sense to incorporate Judaism’s written and oral law. This definition encompasses Jewish scripture in its entirety including all authoritative Jewish religious teachings throughout history.




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