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Torah in Judaism Dr. Laurence Boxer – Jan., 2004

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1 Torah in Judaism Dr. Laurence Boxer – Jan., 2004

2 Meanings of Torah Law, teaching, instruction, tradition
Five Books of Moses Tanakh – the Jewish Bible Oral Torah, Written Torah

3 TaNaKH – Torah, Nevi’im, K’tuvim - the Written Torah
Torah – 5 Books of Moses Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy Nevi’im – Prophets Joshua Judges I Samuel II Samuel I Kings II Kings Isaiah Jeremiah Ezekiel Hosea Joel Amos Obadiah Jonah Micah Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai Zechariah Malachi

4 K’tuvim – Scriptures – “Wisdom Literature”
Psalms Proverbs Job Song of Songs Ruth Lamentations Ecclesiastes Esther Daniel Ezra Nehemiah I Chronicles II Chronicles

5 Talmud – Oral Torah Commentary, explanation, “filling in the holes” of Tanakh Evolution of legal system Originally, transmitted orally – thus, “Oral Torah” Persecution, increasing complexity necessitated putting into writing

6 Talmud - Mishnah Consists of Mishnah, Gemara
Mishnah – literally, 2nd – 2nd Torah – “Mishnah Torah” also used as nickname for Deuteronomy (Greek translation) - as Deuteronomy reviews much of earlier Torah, Mishnah expands & clarifies much Torah Mishnah compiled ~ year 200; Rabbi Judah haNasi (the Prince), ed., with teachings of many scholars of his & earlier times

7 Talmud - Gemara Gemara – completion (of Talmud), developed years ~ Mishnah raised many questions of interpretation; Gemara seeks to clarify, both with legal discussion and aggadah – interpretive stories (historical, legends, Biblical commentary, tall tales, jokes) Babylonian & Jerusalem Gemara, respectively, yield Babylonian & Jerusalem Talmud. Babylonian more highly regarded, as Roman persecutions drove many greatest scholars to Babylon. Talmud not “completed” – later scholars published commentaries that are part of standard modern editions – text side-by-side with commentary

8 Talmud & Christian Antisemitism
Many times, Christians burned Talmud as allegedly anti-Christian. Actually, Christians & Christianity are unimportant in Talmud. Talmud’s primary concerns: Jewish law & conduct of Jewish life; not relations with other religions. Most references to Christians via “sectarians” – minim – deviants, heretics – dismissive term, indicating unimportance; merely one of several sects deviating from mainstream Judaism of Talmudic era

9 Commandments of Torah 613, including many obsolete due to current lack of central sanctuary 7 for B’nai Noah – commandments expected of all mankind: Establish courts No blasphemy 3. No idolatry No incest No murder No robbery No cruelty (specifically, ripping limb from live animal for food)

10 Holiness What does holiness mean? Is it a term concerned only with ritual & prayer? Lev. 19:2: You shall be holy, for I, the Lord your G-d, am holy. Subsequent verses include matters of prayer & ritual, but also laws of kindness: Lev. 19:9-10, 13, 14, 18 (“Golden Rule”)

11 Holiness - Isaiah Isaiah often refers to G-d as “the Holy One of Israel” (e.g., 41:16, 43:3, 54:5, 55:5, 60:14). Isaiah 1 condemns sacrifices of those who fail to aid the oppressed, corrupt justice with bribes. On Yom Kippur (fast day; most intensely spiritual day of Jewish calendar), we read Isaiah 57:14 – 58:14; note condemnation of fast corrupted by business & oppression of poor (58:3-7).

12 Holiness Requires Kindness to others – imitating G-d, who clothes the naked (Gen. 3:23) and buries the dead (Deut. 34:6) Study: [Hillel said] an empty-headed person cannot be sin-fearing, nor can an ignorant person be pious… Avot (from Talmud) 2:5

13 Justice Amos 5:24: Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Deut. 16:20: Justice, justice shall you pursue…. Note tension implicit in wording – repetition of “justice” implies both zeal, and moderation – pursue justice justly – don’t allow zeal to lead you to think ends justify unjust means

14 Justice – An Eye for an Eye
Ex. 21: 22: And if men strive together…. 23: But if any harm follow, then thou shalt give life for life, 24: eye for eye, tooth for tooth, foot for foot …. Does this call for retaliatory mutilation? 26-27: And if a man smite the eye of his bondman, or the eye of his bondwoman, and destroy it, he shall let him go free…. Verses clarify that “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” calls for fair compensation, not retaliatory mutilation.

15 Justice – Capital Punishment
Several forms of capital punishment are mentioned in Torah – stoning, burning, sword, strangling (note not crucifixion) Deut. 19:15: One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity … at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall a matter be established. Note origin of 5th Amendment – this verse prevents torturing a confession from accused. Further, witnesses were required to be mature and of high character. Further, in capital case, witnesses were required to warn accused during commission of crime of possible capital punishment. Further, accused was allowed to interrupt execution with additional testimony - repeatedly Result: capital punishment rare in Jewish justice – a court that executed a criminal twice in 70 years was called destructive.

16 Justice – Right and Good
Deut. 6:18: And you shall do that which is right and good…. Why “and good”? Sometimes “right” (legal entitlement) is not “good.” D’varim Rabbah 3:3: Simon ben Shetach bought a donkey and found a gem in the animal’s collar. It was his legal right to keep the gem, but he insisted on returning it to the animal’s seller. In civil suits, Jewish ideal is compromise settlement – “good” above “right”

17 Government King must be student & scribe (Deut. 17:18-19) of Torah, and is subject to Torah. Divided government – separation of courts, king (tribe of Judah), priests (Levites descended from Aaron), prophets; see esp. Deut. 16:18 – 18:22 System of multi-tiered appellate courts recommended by Jethro (Ex. 18:13-26); judges to be learned in law, capable and hating bribes

18 Torah Study – Religious Obligation
Hillel taught: Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving thy fellow creatures and drawing them near to Torah … Avot 1:12 …He who does not study, deserves to die…. Avot 1:13 ... Do not say, when I have leisure I will study; perhaps you will have no leisure. Avot 2:5 Shammai taught: Fix a period for your study of Torah…. Avot 1:15

19 Torah is compared to Water, wine, milk, bread in Isaiah 55:1-2 (urges buy these without money and without price – thus, they represent Torah wisdom, acquired without money). As one can’t go without water for 3 days, Torah is read in public every Mon., Thurs., Sat. Light, fire: Deut. 33: 2, 4: The Lord came from Sinai … at His right hand was a fiery law …. Moses commanded us the Torah ….

20 Torah compared to fig tree
Proverbs 27:18: One who tends a fig tree will enjoy its fruit.... Why is Torah compared to a fig tree? Most trees & vines -- olive, grape, date -- have their fruit ripen together, but fig tree's fruit is picked gradually over a long time. Similarly with the Torah: “You learn some today and more tomorrow; you cannot learn it all at once.” Further, fig trees are beautiful & give pleasant shade; Torah is described in Proverbs 3:13-18: Happy is the one that finds wisdom .... Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her, and happy is every one that holds her fast.

21 Torah compared to Song Deut. 31:30: And Moses spoke in the ears of Israel the words of this song … Direct reference of “song” is Deut. 32:1-47, but reference is extended to entire Torah. Why? Much of Torah is difficult. However, unlike many other areas of intellectual activity that appeal only to specialists, but like song, all can enjoy & learn Torah at their own level. As a professional musician or songwriter appreciates a song differently than average person, a Torah scholar appreciates Torah differently from the average person, but both can learn & enjoy.

22 Methods of Torah Study Avot 5: 24: Ben Bag-Bag taught: Turn it [Torah] over, turn it over, for in it is contained everything …. Torah is studied using a variety of methods. For an introduction to several of them, with examples, see my presentation at

23 Torah Commentators Torah is studied with the aid of the commentary of great scholars. Some of these commentaries: Talmud – English version from Soncino, 18 vol. Midrash Rabbah – English version from Soncino, ~12 vol. - compilation developed over several centuries from teachings of many Rashi – Rabbi Shlomo (Solomon) ben Yitzhak, French, – “Father of Commentators” Ramban – Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (Nachmanides), Spanish, R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, German,

24 Torah Commentators More commentators:
R. Joseph Hertz – British, 20th Cent. – Pentateuch and Haftorahs, Soncino – a popular commentary Nechama Leibowitz – Israeli, 20th Century – New Studies in Bereshit/Shmot/Vayikra/Bamidbar/Devarim, Jerusalem, World Zionist Organization – interprets & compares great commentators’ work Etz Hayim, Jewish Publication Society, 2001 – a popular commentary compiled by modern scholars


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