What Do the Various Sacred Texts Contribute to Judaism?
29 SEP 2017
The two main Jewish holy texts are the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud; each text contributes important values and practices to Judaism. The Hebrew Bible includes 24 chapters and is divided into three parts, which includes the Torah, the Neviim and the Ketuvim. The Talmud is also a significant interpretative text in Judaism and includes the written laws of the religion passed down through the oral tradition, as well as a section devoted to the different interpretations of these oral laws by respected rabbis.
1 The Torah
The Torah is composed of the first five chapters of the Hebrew Bible, which includes Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. It is also referred to as the Pentateuch, the "Teaching," the "Jewish Written Law," and the "Five Books of Moses." The Torah is considered Judaism's most vital and important text; through its listing of commandments, it has significantly shaped the practices and customs of the Jewish people. It describes important rituals that observant Jews practice, including the Sabbath, circumcision and the diet that observant Jews should follow.
2 The Neviim
The Neviim, which from Hebrew to English translates to "the Prophets," is the second section of the Hebrew Bible and includes books related to the "Former," "Latter," and "Minor" prophets. This includes: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve Minor Prophets. Judaism has always emphasized the importance of community and the nation, as the land designated as Israel -- the Jewish people's land -- plays a prominent role in the Hebrew Bible. The Neviim's most significant contribution, then, to the religion is its recording of Israel's history as a country for and of the Jewish people. The books of the prophets included in this section also emphasize the importance of monotheism, illuminating the importance of worshipping one God and one God alone.
3 The Ketuvim
The Ketuvim, meaning "the Writings," is the third and last section of the Hebrew Bible. It includes miscellaneous texts divided into four sections: Psalms, Proverbs and Job, described as the poetical section; the Scrolls, or Megillot, which include the Song of Solomon, Ruth, Jeremiah, Ecclesiastes and Esther; the book of Daniel, referred to as the prophecy; and lastly, the books of Ezra, Nehemiah and Chronicles I and II, described as the historical section. Due to the diversity of texts presented in the Ketuvim, its contributions to Judaism is varied. Much of its lyrical prose provides insight to Judaic thoughts and practices of the time, which many scholars believe was around the period of the Second Temple. Arguably, the Ketuvim also expresses the most human voice of any of the three sections of the Hebrew Bible, as many of its chapters focus on the difficult tests individuals endured for God. Many of the poetic books of the Ketuvim -- particularly Psalms -- are also read out loud during Judaic liturgical services and funerals.
After the Hebrew Bible, the most significant text is the Talmud. The Talmud is divided into two sections: the Mishnah, which is the written version of the oral laws in Judaism, and the Gemara, which includes the different readings and opinions related to the oral law by respected rabbis. The Talmud articulates and elucidates the laws related to important Judaic beliefs, traditions and customs, and is largely used as an instructional text by observant Jews. For example, the practice of "Daf Yomi," meaning "page of the day," is practiced by many Orthodox Jews, who read a page of the Talmud each day.
- 1 Britannica: Hebrew Bible
- 2 BBC: The Talmud
- 3 Britannica: Torah
- 4 Jewish Virtual Library: The Torah (Written Law) -- An Overview
- 5 Britannica: Neviim
- 6 BBC: Religions, Jewish Beliefs
- 7 Jewish Virtual Library: The Prophets (Nevi'im)
- 8 Britannica: Ketuvim
- 9 Jewish Virtual Library: Ketuvim - The Writings
- 10 My Jewish Learning: Ketuvim (Writings)