The Scriptures and Authority
For Jews all authority comes from the Torah and so from G-d.
– Tenakh The Jewish Bible is written in Hebrew and the first five books are the Torah: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. This Jewish Bible is called in Hebrew the TeNaKh: Torah (Law), Nevi’im (Prophets), Ketuvim (Writings). (Sometimes the whole of the Jewish Bible is referred to as the Torah.)
Jewish belief is that the Torah was given to Moses by G-d. These five books are revealed scripture. This is the Written Torah. The Written Torah is unchanging and unchangeable, and all truth claims are based on the teachings it contains and the belief that it is the revealed word of G-d.
The teachings of the Torah influence all Jewish life as Jews are required to follow the 613 mitzvot (commandments or laws). These contain instructions for worship as well as for living, eating and clothing amongst many other things.
The rest of the Tenakh, Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings) are believed to be divinely inspired but not unchangeable or infallible as is the Torah.
The twenty-four books of the Tenakh are the history of the first 3500 years from the creation of the world until the building of the second Temple in Jerusalem. They contain details of the history of the Jews from the beginning, through the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai, and until the end of the first commonwealth.
The Tenakh provides details of G-d’s plan for the world and of G-d’s relationship with humanity.
– Talmud Moses received both the Written Torah, and the Oral Torah – the Talmud, direct from G-d. The Talmud (Oral Torah) has developed and grown through the work of the Rabbis who have added discussions to it over time offering further explanations of what it contains. All Jews recognise the authority of the Torah though there may be disagreement over the status accorded to the Talmud.
The Rabbis in Babylon produced a more detailed version of the Oral Law which is now called the Gemara (‘Study’). A similar work by the Rabbis of Israel was never completed because of persecutions. The Mishnah (‘Study by repetition’) and Gemara form the Talmud (teachings).
Rabbi Judah the Prince lived about 1700 years ago. Until this time the Oral Torah had been passed on by word of mouth. However, the continuing persecution of the Jews meant that people began to fear that it might be lost. Rabbi Judah wrote down the outline of Oral Torah in the Mishnah.
The Mishnah has 62 divisions (Mesechtos) which provide the background for every subject of Halakha or Jewish law found in the Oral Torah. Each division is a collection of about 50 to 100 Mishnayos. The 62 are divided into six sedarim or orders:
– Zeraim (seeds) – Moed (festivals) – Nashim (women) – Nezikin (damages) – Kedoshim (holy matters) – Taharos (purities)
The Mishnah provides a basis for discussion of these issues of Jewish life and belief. Also, in the Mishnah is Halakhah (‘The Way’) guidance on law and practical rulings, and Haggadah (‘Tellings’) which set out the order of the Passover Seder.
– Midrash The third religious book is the Midrash (rabbinic commentary and interpretation of the Scriptures). It dates from about 200CE.
The local Jewish community may be led by the Rabbi (teacher). A Rabbi is a learned person who leads the community, teaches the people and may lead them in worship. However, the authority of the Rabbi comes from learning in the Torah and Talmud and there is no sacramental or priestly role attached to the position.