The Torah is the name generally given to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, or the Five Books of Moses. Christians refer to these books as the Old Testament. The word “Torah” also refer to the entire breadth of Jewish law encompassing several texts as well as oral tradition.
The Five Books of Moses are the basis for the 613 laws that govern the Jewish faith and they are the foundation for the world’s three great monotheistic faiths—-Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
The Five Books of Moses:
- Genesis: The story of the creation as well as the history of the Israelites, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their families.
- Exodus: Recounts the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan, including Moses receiving the Ten Commandments.
- Leviticus: Contains the rules and practices of warship.
- Numbers: Relates the journey of the Israelites in the wilderness.
- Deuteronomy: Consists of speeches made by Moses at the end of his life that recount Israelite history and ethical teachings.
The Five Books are traditionally believed to have been given to Moses on Mount Sinai. Alternative theories claim the beginning of the Torah was given on Mount Sinai but that the revelation continued throughout Moses’s life.
Historically, archaeologists have argued that the Torah was written sometime between the tenth and sixth centuries BC. Proponents of the Documentary Hypothesis (which according to Orthodox Jews is heretical) claim that the original five books came from four sources, eventually compiled into one by a fifth author or redactor. The arguments in favor of this theory are the multiple names used for God, varying writing styles, and the repetition of stories.
From the beginning, the Torah was accompanied by an oral tradition which was seen as a necessary for it’s complete understanding. Although it was thought to be blasphemous to write the oral tradition down, the necessity for doing so eventually became apparent, leading to the creation of the Mishna. As later rabbis discussed and debated these two texts, the Talmud was written in order to compile their arguments.
Jewish tradition uses the text of the Torah to derive innumerable laws and customs. Rabbinic scholars have spent entire lifetimes parsing every word for meaning.