Table of Contents
A quick introduction to Jewish holy books
Judaism is a religious culture formed and followed by the Jewish people. It is one of the most ancient and first recorded faiths in history with the oldest religious traditions and practices that are carried out to this date. The history and tenets of Judaism are seen as the biggest foundation of other religions, including Islam and Christianity. Apart from these reasons, Judaism is described as the biggest force taking shape all over the world.
Judaism has nothing common with Western religions and categories, including race, religion, ethnicity, and culture. Judaism, after all, is more than 4000 years old. During its existence, Jews who lived in the land of Israel experienced tyranny and slavery. Not just that, it was under anarchic self-government.
They went on exile for several years and were highly influenced by ancient Persian, Babylonian, Egyptian and Hellenic cultures. This also includes modern movements, including the Enlightenment, as well as nationalism’s rise.
Historian scholars and traditional Jews both believe that a certain number of qualities separate the Jewish faith from different faiths from the time it came into existence. The first one is called monotheism. It has been derived from the Torah itself, where God also makes it a big part of the 10 commandments.
The Jewish holy books
Judaism believes in not one buys several sacred and religious texts. Many ancient documents embody the religious precepts of Judaism and also provide historical, social, and cultural accounts of the Jewish people. In the holy land of Israel, sacred and ancient Jewish texts carry a whole variety of meanings.
The books contain spiritual guides, practical and moral guides that take them through various stages of life. The historical and cultural wealth is also studied and examined. The philosophies, ideas, and stories in these ancient texts speak volumes about Jewish thoughts and studies. Most of it is still evident in modern Jewish culture.
What are the Jewish Holy Books called?
The Jewish holy books is a general name for many books written in different periods. It is divided into written Torah and oral Torah. The written Torah includes the books of the Bible, which is the first and the most important. The Bible is also called the Tanakh (in Hebrew). The word Tanach (תנ”ך) is an acronym for three types of books: Torah (five Pentateuch of the Torah), Prophets, and Scriptures.
The second part is the Oral Torah. It is the Commentaries on the Canon that contain several Jewish sacred writings. The Oral Law (Torah) has the Mishnah, the Talmud, the Halakhic (Jewish law) Literature, Responsa, and The Codes. Each of these books contains historical and cultural aspects related to Jewish culture and religion. They also include spiritual, moral, and practical guides, as mentioned above.
When was the Jewish holy book written?
Here’s a breakdown of when several ancient and sacred Jewish texts were written:
- According to the Jewish tradition, the Torah was written in 1312 BCE. God gave it to Moses. Moses wrote it down and gave it to his people.
- The Mishnah was completed in the 3rd Century.
- The Babylonian Talmud was written from the beginning of the 3rd Century till the end of the 5th Century, in Babylon and the Land of Israel. It contains the different codes of rabbinic law.
- The Responsa was written in the 6th Century.
- The Kabbalah was written in 1200s CE
Facts about the Jewish holy books
- The word Torah stands for instruction or teaching in Hebrew. It contains five books of Moses that are also found in the Holy Bible. The names of Jewish Holy books are also found in the Bible, including Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These books are currently present in the Old Testament.
- The Torah contains approximately 4000 laws in writing. The writing was a difficult and challenging one, as no mistakes were allowed during the writing process. If there were any mistakes in the word God, the scribe would have to bathe themselves in a ritual pool, burn the scroll and write all over again.
- The Jewish holy book in English and other languages is read from the beginning to the end. One section is read every week, after which they begin afresh once the Jewish New Year has passed.
The hierarchy of the Jewish holy books
The laws, stories, and poetry of Jewish culture have been presented in all records found in the Torah. It starts from the time when according to Jewish tradition, God created the world, humankind, and the growth of various families, including Noah, Abraham, and his wife, Sarah, how the Hebrew people were held captive by Egypt and their redemption and freedom.
The Torah also tells about God’s covenant with the Jewish people, about receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai, and God’s laws to the people of Israel.
The five books of the Torah include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Genesis narrates the story of God and how he formed his people. Then it talks about Noah and the flood, the story of Abraham, and how he became the bearers of God’s covenant. The central part of the book of Genesis deals with the history of the Jewish nation’s fathers and mothers, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Leah, and Rachel. The story continues to unfold with the 12 sons of Jacob leaving the Land of Israel for Egypt because of the famine and settlement of Jacob and their families in Egypt.
Exodus talks about Jacob’s family, the life of Moses, who became God’s prophet and rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians’ tyranny. It also talks about God’s revelation to Moses at Mount Sinai and the ten commandments’ story.
Leviticus contains the law of the Levites, which is sacrificial worship done by the Israelites. There are rules on Jewish dietary laws, laws on impurity and purity, the code for holiness, and what a sanctified life should look like for the Jewish people.
Numbers is about a group of people from Israel who spy on Canaan. Their report sends them into a dessert for 38 years. During this time, the Israelites did not change their behavior and continued to live in their sinful ways. They rebelled against Aaron and Moses and committed adultery with Morabito women.
This is where Moses delivers the last message to the Israelites before they cross Jordan’s river and move into Israel. Here, Moses tells people that God is the only one who saved them from the Egyptians’ tyranny and the covenant they have with God.
Moses also describes the various observance rewards and the punishment the Israelities can incur for their disobedience. Moses also passes all of his authority to Joshua, who leads the people after Him.
The Hebrew Bible, also known as Tanakh or Mikra, refers to the division of teachings found in the Bible. It consists of teachings, writings, and prophets. The Hebrew Bible lays the foundation of the Jewish faith. It is given the highest level of importance among the Jews and Israelites and contains the history, origins, and visions of society.
The word Bible is originally a Greek word, which means ‘books.’ It is a collection of several books, each having a different story and meaning. The Torah is the first part of the Jewish people that will be discussed below.
Apart from that, some writings contain wisdom literature, short stories, and poetry, whereas Prophets have two parts. The books of Samuel, Kings, Judges, and Joshua are some of the Jews’ prophets strongly believe in.
The Mishna contains the most ancient of Jewish oral laws that are authoritative and post-biblical. They were written in the 3rd Century AD by Judah ha-Nasi and supplemented the Pentateuch’s rules. Various scholars wrote it over two centuries.
The Mishnah contains many interpretations of legal traditions that have been preserved orally since 450 BC. The Mishnah has been divided into six orders. Each of these orders is also divided into tractates that are further divided into chapters. This structure is followed in all literature found in the Talmud.
The Jewish oral law
The Jewish oral law contains all the rules that Moses learned from God by heart. He did not write them down immediately but did transmit them orally to his successors. The traditions were then passed down from one generation to the other. It also contained ordinances, edicts that were enacted by sages throughout different ages, laws, teachings. The Jewish Oral Law is now found in Talmud, Mishnah, Sevurai, Geonim. Rishonim and Acharonim.
The Jewish holy book Talmud
The Bible is indeed the basis of the Jewish people, but there is no doubt that the Talmud is the one who shaped the people of Israel in the last 1500 years. The Talmud was written between the third and sixth centuries AD by a rabbis group in Babylon and Jerusalem.
While the Mishnah was a written summary of the Oral Torah, the Talmud was mainly discussing countless different aspects of Jewish law. On top of this, the Talmud includes Complements, stories, legends that teach about the nature of the period, morals, and courtesy. The Talmudic text was supplemented with other interpretive writings that continued the Jewish law discussions for many centuries.
The written Jewish law (Halacha)
The word Halacha means to go or to walk in Hebrew, like “how to walk in your life.” In simple terms, it means the Jewish law or the Jewish way of living. The Halacha, which is based on the Talmud, shows how one should live their lives. It also includes criminal, religious, and civil laws. The ordinances and rules found in this have evolved since the time the Bible was written.
It was made to help Jewish people conduct their daily lives in the best way possible. The nature of Halacha is quire different from Talmudic literature that contains ethical teachings and historical accounts. The books of Halacha are straight forward and to the point regarding religious law. There are no discussions or general stories. It’s built as a legal codex.
The responsibility is Rabbinic literature of questions and answers for more than a thousand seven hundred years. It is the religious-literary expression of the social structure of the Jewish people. While the Bible, the Mishnah, and the Talmud created the foundation for the Jewish way of life, Halacha’s books, such as the “Mishnah Torah” of Maimonides, laid the clear legal foundation for the right way of life according to Judaism.
And yet, life and the necessity of circumstances created innumerable new situations; also, most people were engrossed in their daily toil and did not go to school and therefore lacked halakhic knowledge. Many encountered various problems that required answers from people who were well acquainted with Jewish law knowledge.
Thus was born the responsa literature and developed over a very long period. Even today, it continues to exist in today’s media, TV, radio, websites, YouTube, and podcasts. The responsa represents the constant need of the ancient Jewish text to adapt to changing living conditions.
Kabbalah is the secret doctrine and Jewish mysticism. It deals with the invisible connection between the created, human beings, and God. The purpose of acceptance is to allow a person to get as close as possible to God through conscious and mystical experience.
By their very nature, humans are material beings, living within a material world and surrounded by material constraints. The need for food, sleep, sex, and property makes a slave enslaved to his carnal desires and desires and distanced him from God.
But according to the Jewish faith, we are not only flesh and blood but also a soul, which is the divine part that is in every one of us.
The soul is our connection to God, and it can also be our bridge to experiential and conscious oneness with God, if only we know how to find the right way to do it. The most central book in the theory of the stomach is the Book of Zohar. There are controversies about the date of its writing.
Most of the Book of Zohar is written in Aramaic and contains two main topics: Midrashim on this week’s Parshas (from the Torah) and Midrashim on the Torah commandments. The Book of Zohar also includes a paradise description for the righteous and hell for the wicked.
According to Jewish tradition, the Kabbalah book is allowed to be studied only from the age of 40 after studying a lot of Torah and Talmud to prevent religious confusion and incorrect interpretation of the Book of Zohar.
Kabbalah as an instruction of life
Kabbalah is a complementary extension to the Torah, which means instructions and guidance. Everything that falls under Kabbalah is seen as an instruction of life and a different aspect of life. Halacha is very practical and aimed at ordinary daily life, family life, relationships, property laws, religious rituals, holidays. Kabbalah, as I wrote earlier, is meant to connect the divine element in man, the soul, with God.
People who study Kabbalah study to reach a higher state and because they need purpose and inspiration. Kabbalists believe that everything in life has meaning and that nothing at all is trivial. Everything in life moves towards one goal in mind, spiritual and conscious connection with God. Understanding this allows people to accept the spiritual challenge.
Jewish tradition strongly believes that there are around four levels of Torah knowledge that play an essential role in the foundation of Kabbalah. The first one is called Peshat (a simple way of understanding the holy scriptures). It is vital, to begin with, the process of Peshat and complete it before moving on to the next level known as Remez (clue). Remez means to give a hint. It is seen as various Torah interpretations. They are not mentioned explicitly but have been hinted at gently.
The tradition of Mysticism is diverse and prosperous among the Jews. It has recently taken several forms too. Experts suggest that Jewish Mysticism has mainly two types of expressions: intensive and the other is called moderate.
The moderate one is entirely intellectual. It tries to understand the creation of God and make changes in the divine realm. It also has several aspects of Judaism, including the Torah’s performance and study and its several commandments. It also infuses several activities that have a mystical significance. If you compare intensive Mysticism, it can be seen as something experimental. It consists of religious activities that are nontraditional. It also includes meditation and chanting.
Jewish mysticism first emerged during the early centuries in the first millennium. Merkabah mysticism happens to be one of the earliest forms. The mystics also aim to experience and understand the vision of the throne discussed extensively in the chapter of Ezekiel in the Bible.
There are different forms of mysticism existing at the same time. Sefer Yetzirah is described as the most valuable creation of mysticism. It describes the world of creation with the help of numbers and letters.
The different codes of Jewish law
MIshna and Talmud
The Jewish law code started with Mishna and followed by Talmud that comes with 2,711 pages that are packed with discussions on all matters related to Jewish law. After the book was completed, several questions, commentaries, and explanations were added. It is known as the Code Of The Jewish Law and contains practical instructions derived from the rabbinic writings and Talmudic deliberation.
Need to understand, the Talmud is not a classical law book with instructions and laws. The Talmud contains endless discussions of Jewish law, but not only. The Talmud contains many stories and legends and is an inexhaustible source of understanding of ancient Jewish culture.
Yet, for the ordinary Jew, the Talmud was challenging to use as a law book that teaches him what to do on any subject. Understanding the bottom line required immense knowledge that had a few.
Reducing the Talmud into a practical law book
Rabbi Joseph Caro, one of the greatest Jewish rabbis, was born in Spain in 1488, and in his wanderings, finally came to Safed in Israel and settled there. For 32 years, he wrote one of the most monumental and essential books in the Jewish people’s history. The book is called Shulchan Aruch, which means a ready and orderly table for a meal.
The book became the most important book in Jewish law literature. Rabbi Yosef Caro summed up all the vast halachic knowledge accumulated since the writing of the Mishnah 1200 years earlier and made all the long and endless discussions into simple and straightforward rules and rules.
The Shulchan Aruch has become one of the essential books for every Jew, along with the Bible, the Mishnah, and the Talmud.
The Shulchan Aruch is divided into four books, out of which each is dedicated to other areas in Jewish life. The first one is called Orach Chaim, which means a way of life.
It covers prayers, holidays, and Shabbat. It also covers issues that people encounter in daily life. The second is Yoreh Deah (means to instruct wisdom), which also contains many kosher laws, vows, and usury.
The third is Even Ha’ezer (Stone of Assistance) also has laws related to divorce and marriage. The fourth is Choshen Mishpat, devoted to torts, monetary regulations, and different issues associated with all rabbinic courts.
The first print of Shulchan Aruch
The Shulchan Aruch was first printed and produced in Venice in the year 1566. It also included the works of scholars and rabbis such as Yosef Caro. When the first edition came out, it contained all the essential teachings that rabbis printed in 1578.
What is Kitzur Shulchan Aruch
Shulchan Aruch is the accessibility of Jewish law to the general public after refining Halacha’s rulings on a variety of different issues that the Mishnah and the Talmud deal with. Still, these are four large volumes, and together with the commentary added to them, it is a comprehensive text, and most people will have a hard time understanding what to do in case of a halakhic question.
Therefore another solution was born, shortening the Shulchan Aruch. The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (meaning, an abbreviation of Shulchan Aruch) summarizes the four volumes to only one book that makes Jewish law accessible to the general public in the simplest way possible. It is a must-read book found in every religious Jewish home, and anyone can easily find most of the Jewish laws he will need in daily life.
A Rashi and Regular Script Exists
The first edition, known as Cracow, did not come with any commentaries. All words had been printed in Rashi script by the rabbis. In the following printed editions, content by Rabbi Caro was published. Along with that, Rabbi Moshe Isserle’s comments were added. However, the writings were made simple enough so that people could distinguish between the rabbis.
How to treat Jewish holy books
Jewish people believe that God is overall the highest and eternal one. He is sovereign, and nobody can exceed him. Therefore, the Sefer Torah has always dressed in clothes mantles that are elaborate and ornate. They are decorated with precious stones and a breastplate.
In many communities, the Sefer Torah has its case, usually made of wood, decorated with silver ornaments. Many also like to adorn it with a crown. Decorating the Sefer Torah is given high importance in Jewish communities as the religious text contains the word of God.
- Every time the Torah is lifted, everyone in the synagogue stands up. When it is taken all over the congregation, people face the Torah and kiss it to show respect. Scholars have also said that the Torah’s carrying should be looked upon as carrying the king’s clothes.
- Jews also have a separate set of rules as to how they should treat books in general. The books should be kept in a prominent place, and it should be well protected with massive pieces of cloth. Traps should be used to protect the books from destruction by cats or rodents.
- In case the book has been shelved upside down, it should be turned towards the right side. One must never shame the holy book by placing it on the bench on which one has been seated. Also, it should never be taken to the washroom.
- If the Sefer Torah ever touches the ground, people say that the one who has made this mistake should fast. The person who saw it falling should also fast along with that.
Where to buy Jewish holy books
Best apps for Jewish holy books, Kosher and Alef Bet
Tanach Bible App
The Tanach Bible is a brilliant study tool for studying the Jewish Bible on their iPhone, iPod, IPad, or Touch. It is a new version of the Tanach that features many crisp texts that contain precise placements of vowels and cantillation marks. There is also a verse by verse synchronization between English, Hebrew, and Rashi’s commentary.
This app gets you ready for the next time you open the Torah. It lets you practice and learns blessings before the reading and after it. The technology also allows you to hear every word individually. It also has a record feature that allows you to listen and practice at the same time. The I-Torah also teaches you the blessings you can pray over your children. It also has video demonstrations you can apply in real life.
Alef Bet Animals for kids
This app works on iPhone and iPad devices. It makes Alef Bet learning a fun and exciting experience for kids. A Hebrew learning game for kids gives a fun introduction to the Hebrew Alef-Bet by solving animal puzzles. While solving the puzzles, the children learn to read and pronounce the Hebrew alphabet during a fun and amusing game with various animals, humorous animations, animal voices, and interactive actions.
Kosher Near Me
The Kosher app is ideal for those who travel a lot. It also works perfectly for people who would like to explore new kosher options near their homes. Users can quickly peruse their kosher food choices. It also includes takeout, grocery stores, restaurants from everywhere. It includes countries like France, United Kingdom, Gibraltar, Ecuador, France, South Korea, and Israel.
Minyan Now works perfectly if you need to pray but cannot find any synagogues near you. It alerts all Jews when to pray and what prayers they can say. They can also connect with others, figure out a place to meet, and finish their prayers together. It does follow all Orthodox customs as well.
Digital Jewish Holy Books
More online Jewish resources, holy books, and prayer books have been launched in the past couple of years. Some of them are available on the internet for free, while some can be found on mobile apps. People who observe holiday restrictions and Shabbat with electricity generally can’t use these books during Shabbat, however. On that note, here are some of the options currently available among digital prayer books.
- Sefaria– This one is a repository of religious Hebrew Jewish texts. It also has orthodox prayer books and English texts available. The three prayer books are called Mizhari, Sephardic, and Ashkenazi.
- The Online Siddur also contains Hebrew texts that can be used for the evening, morning, and afternoon services.
- An online prayer book from Chabad is also available. It contains English, Hebrew, and commentary.
- There are siddur apps available on iPhones and Android devices too. There are several translations available so that everyone can read it.
- Print-ready prayer books are also available in the open Siddur project.
Facts To Know About Orthodox Jews
1. The Modern Orthodox Jews
Jews who see themselves as Modern Orthodox tend to have a much higher secular education level than those who identify themselves as Yeshivish and Hasidic. Jews have also surveyed to have graduated from different colleagues comparatively within around 20 percent of people who combined with Yeshivish and Hasidic category called the ultra-Orthodox Jews.
2. They are mystics
Those who belong to the Hasidism section also believe in Kabbalistic writings given by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Rabbi Isaac Luria. The masters also made them by using mystical teachings that were accessible as well as practical for people. A Hasid is someone who studies and reflects on teachings daily. He works on developing his relationship with God and with the world. He strives to be an improved person each day and tries to be a better servant of God by contemplating Hasidic teachings.
3. Hasidic groups are not the same
Every Hasidic group comes with its unique focus and flavor. For example, every Hasidic group is also influenced by Pshicha. They value austerity, simplicity, and have a great devotion towards the stark and the unvarnished truth. Experts also give a lot of importance to joyful dispositions and believe in having faith in God. There are several groups today that have a similar approach towards self-preservation. Few of them get more important than others.
4. They also use technology
Hasidim people also use drive cars, mobile and different kinds of technology. They believe that everything that God created in this world was designed to give Him glory and honor. This belief also applies to all scientific discoveries made in recent years. The purpose was to add glory to God and use them for holiness
Mitzvot and Torah were made to bring the messianic state to the world. In almost all of the Hasidic communities, people are also allowed very little access to the Internet. People who have access to the Internet, however, follow filters and safeguards to control their content. They keep themselves away from FOMO addictions, adult content, or anything associated with compulsive behaviors.
5. Growing a beard is a must
It is essential to growing a beard among Hasidim. Beards have been considered to be quite appealing and meaningful since Biblical times. The Torah also strictly forbids a man to cut off any facial hair. It also attaches much more importance to the beard and gives great importance to the thirteen locks representing the 13 attributes of God’s mercy.
6. At the end of the day they are regular people
However, Hasidic are regular people at the end of the day. They have likes, hobbies, dislikes, interests, and different life experiences. They also have good days and bad days and even some in-between. Some of them can be shy, while some are diligent. There are leaders, and there are followers, there are daydreamers, and then there are boisterous.
All types of people exist in this community. So if you meet someone like them in the future, always keep in mind that they are regular people who are trying their best to serve God’s purpose during the time they are here on this earth.
Currently, Jews are spread across the world. Most of them are in the holy land of Israel (~8 million). However, the United States of America has the second biggest population of Jews. Estimates also reveal that around 5.7 million Jews are within the United States. Only two nations at the moment have more than 1 million Jews.