What is Torah?

~ by ~
Michael Dallen                                

When the Law of Sinai came into the world, freedom came into the world. — Mishnah Torah, Pirke Avot [Sayings of the Fathers] 6:2

Torah is Hebrew for "teaching," "guidance," "way" or "law." In its narrowest sense, Torah means the Five Books of Moses (The Pentateuch, or in Hebrew, the Chumash - the Five), the first five books of the Bible. Beyond that, the word Torah denotes all the details of all the laws, statutes, "testimonies" and ordinances that God revealed to man at Sinai. This includes the whole Oral Torah, the Written Torah's "other half." The Written Torah was, for the most part, eventually put into writing. It consists primarily of the Mishnah Torah (the "Repetition [or "teaching"] of the Torah"), the Gemara ("learning" or "complete learning" from Aramaic, the primary language of the Talmud) or Talmud ("Teaching" or "learning," from the Hebrew ), and the commentaries associated with them.

The inner meaning of Talmudism is unshakeable trust in God and unreserved obedience to His declared Will. - Robert Travers Herford

Israel calls the Bible the Tanach, an acronym: T - Torah; N - Nevi'im (prophets); Ch - Chetuvim (writings, such as Psalms, Proverbs, and histories). However, in its most commonly used sense, the word Torah means the whole Bible, and the entirety of the Hebrew Revolutionary Tradition developed and handed down from Sinai.

Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof. — Leviticus 25:10

Every word and letter of the Five Books, the Written Torah, was canonized, or firmly set into the current form, by the time of the prophet Ezra (Nehemiah 8-13). This was in the 4th century before the common era (BCE). Long before that, Israel had the Oral Torah. Most non-Jews (that is, b'nai noach) don't even know of the Oral Torah's existence. But the Bible cannot be understood without it. Even the Christian scriptures, which are not part of the Hebrew Bible and are not always friendly to the Hebrews themselves, acknowledge this.

See Matthew 23:1-3: "Then spoke Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying, 'The scribes and Pharisees [that is, the rabbis of Israel, masters and teachers of the Oral Torah) sit in Moses' seat: All that they bid you to observe, that observe and do.' Moses, God and history appointed the people of Israel custodians, interpreters and guardians of the Torah. You are My witnesses, says God, and My servant, whom I have chosen. (Isaiah 43:10)

One of Israel's greatest geniuses explained the Oral Torah thus:

Whatever is mentioned there received the full assent of all Israel, and those Sages who instituted its ordinances, issued the decrees, introduced the customs, gave the decisions, and taught the correct rulings, constituted the whole body or the majority of Israel's wisest members. They were the leaders who received the traditions concerning the fundamentals of Judaism in unbroken succession back to our teacher Moses. (Maimonides*, Mishneh Torah, Introduction)

The essence of the Torah is revolutionary. We speak throughout this website, and throughout the book, The Rainbow Covenant, of the Hebrew Revolution - really, the Righteousness Revolution. God, HaShem, is the God Who acts in history to set men free. The greatest and most revolutionary gift the Torah offers, the most fundamental of all principles and the basis of all learning (See Psalm 83:19), is simply this: the knowledge of the existence of the Supreme Being. Man may have only one true Master — HaShem, God, the One.

No other idea, philosophy or worldview has done more to elevate mankind.

God has concentrated Himself in the Torah. - R' Dov Ber, Or HaEmet 15

The laws pertaining to B'nai Noah are known principally through the Oral Torah. See Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin, folio 56, 59. Other references include the Mishnah Tosefta, Avodah Zorah 8.4 (in some editions, chapter 9); Talmud, Hullin 141 and Bava Kamma 38a; the Jerusalem Talmud, Kiddushin 1; the Midrash (ancient rabbinic commentary), Genesis Rabbah 16:9, 24:5, 34:8, Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:17, 2:25; Song of Songs (Shir haShirim) Rabbah 1:16; Seder Olam Rabbah chapter 5, Kuzari, 3:73; Rashi on Genesis 9, Exodus 15:25, and Sanhedrin 56.

O, how I love Your Torah! It is my meditation all the day. - Psalm 2:4

One of the main source-books for this body of wisdom is the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (*Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, or Rambam, c. 1135-1204 CE), Hilchot Melachim (Laws of Kings).

That they may know that You alone, Whose Name is God [HaShem], is the Most High over all the earth. - Psalm 83:18

The law [Toras] of the Lord [HaShem] is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the ordinances of the Lord ar true, they are altogether righteous. - Psalm 19:8-10

Read more about Torah revelation

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