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The Written and Oral Torah. Prepared by Matt Pham & Felix Just, SJ for SCTR 19 – “Religions of the Book”. Meaning of “Torah”. Hebrew word “ Torah ” is not really “Law” Better translated “ teachings & instructions ” Limited sense: First section of the Tanak: Five Books of Moses

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The Written and Oral Torah

Prepared by Matt Pham & Felix Just, SJ

for SCTR 19 – “Religions of the Book”

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Meaning of “Torah”

  • Hebrew word “Torah” is not really “Law”

    • Better translated “teachings & instructions”

  • Limited sense:

    • First section of the Tanak: Five Books of Moses

  • Broader sense:

    • Entire Tanak: 24 books of the Hebrew Bible

  • Broadest sense:

    • Whole body of Jewish laws, teachings, and traditions

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Introduction / Origin

  • “Rabbi” = Teacher

    • Main leaders of Judaism in post-70 CE Era

    • Successors of the Pharisees of pre-70 Era

  • Traditions of “Rabbinic” Judaism:

    • Moses received both Written Torah and Oral Torah from God at Mt. Sinai (ca. 1250 BCE)

      • Much more than just two tablets with “Ten Commandments”

    • Neither is more important than the other

      • Oral Torah did not come from or after Written Torah

      • Written Torah needed to be accompanied by Oral Torah

      • Words (of the Written) + Meanings (of the Oral)

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Written Torah

  • Tanakh / Hebrew Bible / Mikra

    • Writing/editing process lasted 1000+ years

    • HB canon limited to 24 books, ca. 90 CE

  • Three Sections:

    • Torah = 5 Books of Moses (a.k.a. Pentateuch)

    • Nevi’im = Prophets (4 Former & 4 Latter Prophets)

    • Khetuvim = Writings (11 Poetic & Wisdom Books)

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Oral Torah(acc. to Rabbinic Judaism)

  • God gave it to Moses at Mt. Sinai

    • Thus of divine origin, just like the written Torah

  • Passed down orally till 2nd century CE

    • Finally written down in Mishnah and later Talmuds

  • Why was “Oral” Torah eventually written down?

    • Destruction of the Second Temple/Jerusalem

    • Jewish learning threatened by wartime deaths

    • Traditions better preserved if written

    • Rise and importance of Rabbinic Judaism

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  • Earliest written compilation of Oral Torah

    • “Mishnah” = “teaching” or “repetition”

    • Compiled 200 CE by Rabbi Judah ha-Nasi (“Judah the Prince”)

    • Oldest text of Rabbinic Judaism, recording their traditions

  • Legal opinions & debates about life without the Temple

    • How to live/apply/adapt the mitzvot (God’s commandments)

  • Six Sections or “Orders”:

    • Seeds  agricultural laws and prayers

    • Appointed Times  laws of the Sabbath and Festivals

    • Women  marriage and divorce

    • Damages  civil and criminal law

    • Holy Things  sacrificial rites, the Temple, dietary laws

    • Purities  purity and impurity rules (unclean things)

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Gemara and Talmud

  • Gemara = additional commentary on the Mishnah

    • “Gemara” = “learning” or “completion”

  • Mishnah + Gemara = Talmud

    • Mishnah = core of the Oral Torah

    • Gemara = further discussion of ideas in the Mishnah

  • Talmud = explanation, interpretation, application

    • Jewish law, ethics, customs, history

  • Two versions of the Talmud:

    • Two centers of Rabbinic scholarship: Palestine & Babylonia

    • So: Jerusalem Talmud & Babylonian Talmud

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Two Talmuds

  • Jerusalem Talmud:

    • Compiled in 5th Century CE (incomplete; lacks continuity)

    • Written in Western Aramaic  more difficult to read

    • Focuses on concerns pertinent to Land of Israel

  • Babylonian Talmud:

    • Completed in 6th Century CE (100+ more years of discussion)

    • Written in Eastern Aramaic  more precise expressions

    • Used by Jews living elsewhere throughout the ancient world

  • Today, “Talmud” usually refers to the Babylonian one

    • Decreased size & influence of Jewish community in Israel, Increased influence & use of Babylonian Talmud

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Sample Pageof the Talmud

Text of the Mishnahis in the center;

Various commentaries, called Gemara, are around it.

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Groups of Rabbinic Scholars

  • Tannaim (“repeaters”) – recorded Oral Torah in the Mishnah

  • Amoraim (“sayers”) – discussed opinions, decided conflicts, harmonized contradictions, applied laws to new circumstances

  • Seboraim (“reasoners”) – asked “why” and “what is the underlying concept” about their predecessors’ opinions

    • Discussion of Amoraim and Seboraim appear in the Gemara

  • Stammaim (“anonymous men”) – edited final text of Talmud

    • Compilers & final editors did not sign their names

    • Thought they were just faithfully passing on teachings of the “named ones” of previous generations

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More Talmud Images

For a closer look go to:

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  • Exegesis = interpretation of biblical texts

    • Analyzing the narratives of the HB to derive laws, principles, or moral lessons for Jewish life

  • Four Ways of Understanding HB texts:

    • Simple meaning; hints/clues; interpretation; “secret”

    • Midrash focuses on hints/clues and interpretations

  • Two Types of Subject Matter:

    • Halakhic (legal, how to “walk/conduct” one’s life well)

    • Aggadic (non-legal, mainly homiletic / inspirational)

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Other Rabbinic Literature

  • Books of the Tannaitic Rabbinic Era:

    • Mekilta on Genesis

    • Sifra on Leviticus

    • Sifre on Numbers and Deuteronomy

  • Tosefta= another compilation of oral traditions

    • “supplement” to the Mishnah

  • Targumim= Aramaic translations of HB books

    • often reflects interpretations of later rabbis

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Recap (main points to know)

  • Oral Torah – passed down orally through many generations along with the Written Torah

    • Belief of Rabbinic Judaism (from after 70 CE to today)

  • Two main categories: narrative and legal

    • Midrash deals with biblical stories

      • Interpretation of HB narratives

    • Mishnah & Talmuds deal with legal materials

      • Application of the mitzvot/commandments

  • Focus of Rabbinic Literature:

    • More on Mishnah and Talmuds, less on Midrash