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Jewish holy books

What Are The 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 that has the oldest religious traditions and practices that are carried out to this date. The history and tenets of Judaism are seen as the biggest point of 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 Enlightenment as well as of nationalism’s rise.

Historian scholars and traditional Jews both believe that a certain number of qualities separate the Jewish faith from different other 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.

Why is the Jewish holy book called

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 found in these ancient texts speak volumes about Jewish thoughts and studies. Most of it is still evident in modern Jewish culture. 

The bible, most popular book ever. It's there, and with us, through our all life.

What are the Jewish Holy Books called?

The Jewish Holy Book is called The Holy Bible which is also called the Tanakh, the Torah that contains the five books of Prophet Moses, the Commentaries on the Canon that contain several Jewish sacred writings. The Oral Law contains the Mishnah and the Talmud, the Halakhic (Jewish law) Literature, Responsa, and The Codes. Each of these books contains several historic and cultural accounts related to Jewish culture and religion. They also contain spiritual and practical guides as mentioned above. 

Jewish holy book bible
A centuries-old Torah book, handwritten of course and came to Israel

When was the Jewish holy book written?

Here’s a breakdown of when the several ancient and sacred texts of Judaism was written:

  • According the Jewish tradition, the Torah was written in 1312 BCE. It was given by God 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 the rabbinic law
  • The Responsa was written in the 6th Century
  • The Kabbalah was written in 1200s CE
Jewish law book
Shulchan Aruch, the most fundamental Jewish law book

Facts about the Jewish holy books

  • The word Torah stands for instruction or teaching in Hebrew. It contains 5 books of Moses that are also found in the Holy Bible. The names of Jewish Holy books 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 process of writing was a difficult and challenging one as no mistakes were allowed during its writing. If there was any mistake 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 Torah

The laws, stories, and poetry of Jewish culture have been presented in all stories found in the Torah. It starts from the time when God created the world when he created mankind 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 the laws God gave to the people of Israel.

The five books of the Torah include Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy

Genesis

Genesis narrates the story of God and how he formed his people. Then it talks about Noah and the food, the story of Abraham and Sarah and how they became the bearers of God’s covenant. Other stories such as conflicts between siblings Cain and Abel. Jacob and Joseph are also found in this section.

Exodus

Exodus talks about the family of Jacob, the life of Moses who became God’s prophet and rescued the Israelites from the tyranny of the Egyptians. It also talks about God’s revelation to Moses at Mount Sinai and the story of the 10 commandments. 

Leviticus

This 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 for a true Jew should look like. 

Buy Jewish holy book
An old Eicha scroll. For Tisha Be'av, Memorial Day for the destruction of the Jewish Temple

Numbers

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. 

Deuteronomy

This is where Moses delivers the last message to the Israelites before they cross the river of Jordan and move into Israel. Here, Moses tells people that God is the only one who saved them from the tyranny of the Egyptians and the covenant they have with Hod. 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. 

How many Jewish holy books are there
An old Yemenite Torah book

The bible

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, 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 there are Prophets that contain two parts. The books of Samuel, Kings, Judges, and Joshua are some of the prophets the Jews strongly believe in. 

Torah scroll
Torah scroll. Thus the Torah is read every Saturday in the synagogues

Mishna

The Mishna, also known as Mishnah 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 supplement the laws written in the Pentateuch. It was written by various scholars over two centuries.

The Mishnah contains many interpretations of legal traditions that have been preserved orally since Ezra came into existence since 450 BC. The Mishnah has been divided into 6 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. 

Jewish holy book Mishna
The section enclosed in the blue square is the content that is taken from the Mishna. The other part, discussion about the Mishna, is the Talmud

The Jewish oral law

The Jewish oral law contains all the laws 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 generations, laws, teachings. The Jewish Oral Law is now found in Talmud, Mishnah, Sevurai, Geonim. Rishonim and Acharonim. 

The Jewish holy book Talmud

The Talmud is a generic term used for all the documents contained in the Mishnah. It is an extension of the Mishnah and is seen as the first work of rabbinic law. It was published by Rabbi Judah in 200CE in Israel. Even though Talmud focuses on law mostly, it must not be confused with other law codes or even commentaries that are found in the Torah. Because of its laconic style, the Talmud is not to be read but studied. Since the Talmud is not easy to understand, there are special schools from every generation that is apprenticed into the study. 

Jewish holy scripture
An old Hagada, the holy Jewish book for Passover

The written Jewish law (Halacha)

The word Halacha means to go or to walk in Hebrew. In simple words, it means Jewish law or Jewish way of living. The Halacha shows how one should live their lives. This also includes criminal, religious and civil laws. The ordinances and laws 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 Halacha has existed since ancient times and is not a part of the Pentateuchal part of the Bible. 

Holy books of Jewish religion
A holy Jewish prayer book for Tishrei holidays

Responsa

Responsa is a religious text that contains all decisions and rulings written down by legal scholars in response to all the questions that were addressed towards them. In today’s world, Responsa is understood as rulings and decisions that were created by scholars who studied religious laws. Roman law saw responsa is the thoughts and responses of various jurists as a source of written law given by the emperor or Senate. 

Responsa is followed both in the Roman Catholic Church as well as Judaism. Among the Catholics, a response is an answer which is given on matters of morals and faith by the congregation of faith. Among Jews and as said in the Rabbinic literature, Responsa is also called question and answer. This consists of a body of decisions that are written. It is a modern term devoted to the scriptures found in the Talmud, Mishnah and Hebrew Bible. It has existed for more than 1700 years and works towards the development of Jewish literature, especially all the codes. 

In short, responsa contains all important and valuable information related to Jewish culture. It also contains social and moral relations, customs, occupations and expressions of sorrow, joy, and recreations that existed thousands of years ago. 

How to dispose of Jewish holy books
Commentary on the Talmud. The main commentators of the Talmud appear within the Talmud

Kabbalah

Kabbalah is often understood as occult knowledge or mysticism. It is a segment of Jewish culture and tradition that speaks vastly about the essence of God. People who believe in Kabbalah also believe God works in ways that are beyond one’s imagination. However, they also believe that understanding, wisdom, and knowledge is a mysterious process and it can be obtained if one has an intimate and deep connection with God. 

A small section of the Torah, also known as Zohar contains important facts about Kabbalah. It was written in medieval Hebrew and Aramaic times and guides Kabbalists throughout their spiritual journey. It helps attain a higher level of connection with God and foster a holy and strong relationship. People who practice Kabbalah see the Creator as a continuum and not as some discrete entity. They wish to experience a deeper sense of intimacy with God. Kabbalists believe that within every human being is a hidden part where God resides and it is strengthened when a relationship with God is formed. 

The grave of Rabi Isaac Luria Ashkenazi (1534 - 1572), the father of contemporary Kabbalah. Known as HA'ARI KAKADOSH

Kabbalah is seen as an instruction of life

Kabbalah is a part of the Torah which means instructions and guidance. Everything that falls under Kabbalah is seen as an instruction of life. People who study Kabbalah study is not just to reach a higher state but also because they need purpose and inspiration. It also provides practical guidance and direction. 

Kabbalists believe that everything in life has meaning and that nothing at all is trivial. Everything in life moves towards on purpose with one goal in mind. Understanding this allows people to take over these challenges and complete their journey. 

The holy Jewish book Kabbalah
The holy Jewish Kabbalah books series

The origins of Kabbalah

Jewish tradition strongly believes that there are around four levels of Torah knowledge that play an important role in the foundation of Kabbalah. The first one is called peshat. It is important, to begin with, the process of peshat and complete it before moving on to the next level which is known as remez. Remez means to give a hint. Remez is seen as various Torah interpretations. They are not mentioned explicitly but have been hinted gently.

Mysticism

The tradition of Mysticism is diverse and rich among the Jews. It has recently taken several forms too. Experts suggest that Jewish mysticism has mainly two types of expressions: one is called intensive and the other is called moderate. The moderate one is quite intellectual. It tries to understand the creation of God and make changes in the divine realm. It also has several aspects of Judaism, which includes the performance and study of the Torah 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. This also includes meditation and chanting. 

Origins

Jewish mysticism first emerged during the early centuries in the first millennium. Merkavah mysticism happens to be one of the earliest forms. The mystics also aim at experiencing and understanding the vision of the throne that was 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. 

Jewish holy books facts
Passover Haggadah, the Jews read the Haggadah, on the first evening of Passover, LEL HASEDER

The different codes of Jewish law

The meaning of the Hebrew name

The Jewish holy book list starts with Talmud that comes with 2,711 pages that are packed with discussions on all matters that are 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 is known to contain practical instructions derived from the rabbinic commentaries and Talmudic deliberation. 

Nקקג 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 ancient Jewish culture and yet, for the common Jew, the Talmud could not be used as a law book that teaches him what to do on any subject. Understanding the bottom line required immense knowledge that was in the possession of a few.

Psalms Jewish holy book
Psalms 23: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want

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 important books in the history of the Jewish people, the book is called Sulchan Aruch, which means a ready and orderly table for dinner.

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 clear rules and rules. The Shulchan Aruch has become one of the most important books for every Jew, along with the Bible, the Mishnah and the Talmud.

The Shulchan Aruch divided to four books out of which each is dedicated to other areas in Jewish life. The first one is called Orach Chaim which is known as a way of life. It covers prayers, holidays and Shabbat. It also covers issues that people encounter today. Yoreh Deah also contains many kosher laws, vows, and usury. The stone of Assistance also contains laws related to divorce and marriage. Choshen Mishpat is also devoted to torts, monetary laws, and different issues that are related to all rabbinic courts. 

The typiocal look of Talmud book

The first print

The Shulchan Aruch was first printed and produced in Venice in the year 1566. This also included the works of scholars and rabbis such as Yosef Caro. When the first edition came out, it contained all the important teachings that rabbis printed in the year 1578. 

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, words by Rabbi Caro were also printed. Along with that, Rabbi Moshe Isserle’s words 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 is 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 which is usually made of silver. 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 carrying of the Torah 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 place that is prominent and it should be well protected with heavy 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 the mistake should fast. The person who saw it falling should also fast along with that. 
names of jewish holy books
The Jewish holy Sidur, where you can find all daily and weekly prayers

Where to buy Jewish holy books

There are several websites you can buy holy books of Jewish religion, gifts, and jewelry. The best ones so far are Amazon.com, Ahuva, Judaica, Jewish gift place and Moderntribe. 

Best apps for Jewish holy books, Kosher and Alef Bet

Tanach Bible App

The Tanach Bible is a brilliant study tool for those who want to study 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. 

Tanach bible app
Click the photo to download (no affiliate)

iBless Torah

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. 

Torah application
iBless Torah app (affiliate)

Alef Bet for Children

This app works on iPod, touch, iPad devices, and the iPhone at the same time. It makes Jewish law learning a fun and exciting experience for kids. The app features sound, animation, pictures and encourages more interaction. Every letter of the Alef-Bet app has been accompanied by English and Hebrew pronunciation. It also has a word picture alongside. 

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 options of kosher available near their homes. Users can easily peruse their kosher food choices. This also includes takeout, grocery stores, restaurants from everywhere. This includes countries like France, United Kingdom, Gibraltar, Ecuador, France, South Korea, and Israel. 

Kosher near me application - click to open the image (no affiliate)

Minyan Now

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. 

Minyan now application
Minyan now application - click to open the image (no affiliate)

Digital Prayer Books available for Jewish people

Several 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 tend to avoid these tech prayer books. However, they might require some of them during the weekend. On that note, here are some of the options currently available among digital prayer books. 

  1. 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. 
  2. The Online Siddur also contains Hebrew texts that can be used for evening, morning and afternoon services.
  3. An online prayer book called Chabad is also available. It contains English, Hebrew, and commentary. 
  4. There are siddur apps available on iPhones and Android devices too. There are several translations available so that everyone can read it. 
  5. 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 level of secular education compared to 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 that is also called the ultra-Orthodox Jews. 

2. They are mystics

Those who believe in Hasidism also believe in Kabbalistic writings that were given by Rabbi Shimon bar 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. Every Hasidic group is 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 as well as the unvarnished truth. Experts also give a lot of importance to joyful dispositions along and believe in having faith in God at all times. There are several groups today that have a similar approach towards self-preservation. Few of them get more important than others. 

Ultra orthodox Jews
Toldos Aharon kids prepare for Shabbat

4. They also use technology

Hasidim people also use drive cars, mobile and different kinds of technology. This is because they believe that everything that God created in this world was created to give Him glory and honor. Experts say that this belief also applies in all scientific discoveries made in recent years. The purpose was to add honor by 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 important to grow a beard in among Hasidim. Beards have been considered to be quite appealing and important 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 that represent the 13 attributes of mercy shown by God. 

6. They are regular people at the end of the day

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 also 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 the purpose of God 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 millions). 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. 

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