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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

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the written and oral torah

The Written and Oral Torah

Prepared by Matt Pham & Felix Just, SJ

for SCTR 19 – “Religions of the Book”

meaning of torah
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
introduction origin
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)
written torah
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)
oral torah acc to rabbinic judaism
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
  • 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)
gemara and talmud
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
two talmuds
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
sample page of the talmud
Sample Pageof the Talmud

Text of the Mishnahis in the center;

Various commentaries, called Gemara, are around it.

groups of rabbinic scholars
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
more talmud images
More Talmud Images

For a closer look go to:

  • 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)
other rabbinic literature
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
recap main points to know
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