The Torah is inarguably the cornerstone of Judaism. The word “Torah” is sometimes translated as “the Law.” It also means “a teaching,” because it represents God's instructions regarding how Jews should live and what they ought to believe.
In its most limited sense, the Torah comprises the Five Books of Moses, also called the Pentateuch. However, in its broadest sense, Torah encompasses everything that follows the Pentateuch — the whole body of Jewish law and teachings.
Avoid referring to the Holy (Hebrew) Bible as the “Old Testament.” What Christians call the “New Testament” is not part of Jewish scripture. Consequently, there can be nothing “old” about the Hebrew Bible!
The Torah is the first part of the Bible, which is sometimes called the Hebrew or Holy Scriptures. The Bible is also known by the acronym “TaNaKH” (or Tanach), formed from the first letter of the three sections of the Bible: Torah (Pentateuch), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings).
The Written Torah
In its most general sense, the Torah is composed of two components. First, there is the Written Torah (Torah Shebichtav), which in turn has three parts. The first part is the Pentateuch, also known as the Five Books of Moses or Chumash. The Pentateuch includes the following five books:
The Torah scrolls
The second part of the Written Torah is Nevi'im (Prophets), which contains the following eight books:
Shmuel (Samuel I and II)
Melachim (Kings I and II)
Trey Asar (the Twelve)
The last book in Prophets, Trey Asar, encompasses the remaining twelve prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zachariah, and Malachi.
Finally, the third part of the Written Torah is the Ketuvim (Writings), which consists of eleven books:
Shir Ha-Shirim (Song of Songs)
Ezra and Nechemiah
Divrei Ha-Yamim (Chronicles)
In total, there are twenty-four books in the Written Torah.
The Oral Torah
In addition to giving Moses the written Torah, God also provided explanations that are called the Torah Sheb'al Peh or the oral Torah. These exegeses, which were not written down, were meant to be passed from teacher to student.
Perhaps you are beginning to wonder just how God imparted this rather immense amount of information. You may have heard it said that God whispered the additional 613 commandments into Moses' ear. It would serve you well to remember that anthropomorphic features are there to help you understand how God acted in history and communed with mortals. But who is to say what means of communication God really employed? Perhaps it's something akin to “inspiration” or “intuition” or “ESP.”
The point is that God transmitted the Torah to His chosen people through Moses. Beginning around the year 200
Torah Is Eternal
It is axiomatic in Judaism that the Torah is everlasting and immutable. Since Torah comes from God and God is eternal, it follows that the Torah also shares this feature.
Undoubtedly, this is one reason Judaism takes upon itself the responsibility to be true to the Torah and to maintain it as part of the Jews' very existence. According to Judaism, God chose the Hebrews for the task of receiving and preserving the Torah, and this task cannot be abrogated.
Judaism is a vibrant and pulsating religion that deals with the application of the Law to everyday life. New thoughts, new questions, new ideas, and new answers are always taking shape as scholars study the Torah and its precepts are applied. This has given rise to other great works — this time written by men — that also play an integral role in Judaism.