Jews regard the Torah, the scrolled, handwritten version of the Five Books of Moses, as a fundamental part of their religious practice. They treat it with reverence, both in form -- the Torah as a physical object -- and in content -- as the written word of God. As a text, the Torah underlines the basic tenets of Judaism.

Origin

According to Jewish lore, Moses gave the first parts of the Torah, the books of Genesis and part of Exodus, to the Jewish people, then climbed Mount Sinai. He received the torah directly from God over a period of 40 days. Most agree that some of the Torah existed in some form through oral tradition, storytelling and civic law, but Moses' writing was its first compilation into a singular text. Archivists have discovered almost all parts of the Torah in the Dead Sea Scrolls, some of which, such as the Leviticus Scroll, are named for the portion of the Torah they contain.

Torah Instructions

The Torah contains instruction on how to live a righteous Jewish life through 613 commandments, most of which have to do with community, worship and reparation, or how to right something that has been wronged. Translated from Hebrew, the word means "teaching," "instruction" or "law," and the word is sometimes used in a more general sense to mean all the teachings of the Jewish faith. Much like for other religious texts, theologists debate over whether the torah should be interpreted literally or figuratively, and if the latter, what God meant by each passage.

Ceremonies

Each year, the torah is read from beginning to end in synagogues. These readings consist of two smaller readings and a longer reading on Saturday, the Jewish sabbath. Jews consider it a great honor to read from the torah, though generally rabbis sing this longer portion. Reading a torah portion aloud is also part of the bar or bat mitzvah ceremony. The traditional torah itself is written by hand on the skin of a kosher animal, and must not be touched by human hands or dropped, lest it be desecrated.

Contemporary Torah

Though the text of the torah itself has not changed, Jewish scholars continually reinterpret its teachings and apply them to contemporary issues. For example, they consider the torah as it relates to current events, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Zionist movement, or reflect on past scholars' reading of the text. Jewish scholars like Rashi and Ramban had philosophical arguments, such as whether God's standards of morality apply to the figure of God himself, and contemporary theologists use both the torah and these arguments to ponder similar questions. Such philosophical disputes may never be fully resolved, but the torah is the first place Jews look to answer their spiritual questions.