This is the third and last part of my writings on the Commandments as understood by the Jewish Bible. This time we have come to the Torah. The Jewish Bible is called “Tanach,” in non-Jewish circles it is called the “Old Testament.” The first part of the Jewish Bible is “Torah” (Greek; Pentateuch), the five books of Moses, but the name Torah can sometimes be used as a name for the whole Jewish Bible. Tanach is often spelled “Tanakh” in English, because the cha-sound can be difficult to pronounciate. The word Tanach is an acronym for Torah (The Law), Nevi’im (The Prophets) and Ketuvim (The Writings).
In Torah we follow the story about the creation, the first humans, G-d’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants, the Exodus from Egypt, the revelation at Mt. Sinai (where G-d gave us the Ten Commandments), the wanderings in the desert and after 40 years of toils and hardships, the entrance to the Promised Land! Shortly, the message of the Torah is the absolute unity of G-d, His creation of the world and His concern for it, and His everlasting covenant with the people of Israel.
So the Torah shows us the Jewish People’s heritage, the retelling of its history, guidelines for the People and the universal messages of monotheism and social conduct, which the Western society have embraced.
Sometimes when talking about the Jewish Bible, you have perhaps stumbled on the expressions “Written Torah” and “Oral Torah.” While the written Torah is our Bible, the Oral Torah was an old tradition going back to the time of Moses. The Word was spread from mouth to mouth, because there were no chance to write it down. Later on, from around 200 C.E. the Oral Torah was written down and compiled into something we call Mishnah. And now begins an interesting time in history, where rabbis and scribes wrote down commentaries and discussions that they held between eachother in different kinds of subjects. Mishnah soon expanded in size, so the next few centuries, additional commentaries were written down in Jerusalem and in Babylon. The two “Gemara” of Jerusalem and Babylon was born! Mishnah together with Gemara is called “Talmud.” You have probably heard that name before in different contexts, not least in discussions about conspiracy theories and mysticism, but there is nothing mysterious about this!
Many persons have contributed to these texts. One of the most known scribes was Rambam, Maimonides. Maimonides (1135-1204) or Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, was born in Spain shortly before the Muslim Almohades came to power there. He made major contributions to Jewish life through his code of Jewish law, the reason was to simplify the search and reading of the Talmud text.
We can also thank Rabbi Rashi for his contributions for giving us a new edition of Talmud, so we now have supplements called “Rashi commentaries.” Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac, or Shlomo Yitzhaki, known as “Rashi,” lived from 1040 to 1105 in Troyes, France. His commentaries in the Babylonian Talmud gives us important and adequate explanations of words, and of the logical structure of each Talmudic passage.
Talmud can, if it was written today, simply be described as theologians who hold seminars and studies in various Bible topics. Now I will not be tedious, so let’s go over what Torah has to say. Some basic rules concerning the Torah.
1 The Torah tells us to honor the old and wise
You shall rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
(Lev. 19:32, Hebr/Eng Bible, JPS 1917)
2 We are to learn Torah and to teach from it
and you shall teach them diligently unto your children, and shall talk of them when you sittest in your house, and when you walkest by the way, and when you liest down, and when you risest up.
(Deut. 6:7, Hebr/Eng Bible, JPS 1917)
3 To cleave to those who know Him (the Talmud states that cleaving to scholars is equivalent to cleaving to Him)
You shall fear the LORD your God; Him shall you serve; and to Him shall you cleave, and by His name shall you swear.
(Deut. 10:20, Hebr/Eng Bible, JPS 1917)
4 Not to add to the commandments of the Torah, whether in the Written Law or in its interpretation received by tradition
All this word which I command you, that shall you observe to do; you shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
(Deut. 13:1, Hebr/Eng Bible, JPS 1917)
5 Not to take away from the commandments of the Torah
(Also from Deut. 13:1)
6 That every person shall write a scroll of the Torah for himself
Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach thou it the children of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for Me against the children of Israel.
(Deut. 31:19, Hebr/Eng Bible, JPS 1917)
© 2012 Jonathan Axelsson
אתר הבית של יונתן