Torah

An important term in Judaism that has several related uses, all connected with Jewish teachings. Most literally, the Torah is a collection of texts also known as the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Tanakh, or Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Many synagogues traditionally maintain scrolls of the Pentateuch, which are known as sefer Torah, or book of the Torah. In the Rabbinic Jewish tradition this written Torah has been combined with an oral Torah. Both were handed down by God to Moses at Mount Sinai during the historical exodus. But while the book of the Torah was eventually committed to writing, the oral Torah was passed down to an inner circle of elders and teachers until it, too, was eventually written down. The Talmud is the tradition of commentary and interpretation of both the written and oral Torah. In a wider sense, Torah, which simply means teaching, is the entire Hebrew Bible, the entire collection of texts including the Hebrew Bible and Talmud, or even all Jewish teachings, history, and lore.

Most Jews view exploration of the Torah as an essential part of their faith. It is an ongoing process of continued examination and interpretation, a way for believers to actively take part in an evolving tradition. In another, different sense, the Torah is an object of devotion with sefer scrolls, again, maintaining prominent place in the synagogues. Jews view the Torah as the sign of the covenant between their people and God, an offering that God made to other peoples but which only the Jews accepted. It is therefore an essential part of their identity as well as their religious and intellectual practice. Torah is also, for most Jews, the guide to their behavior, the source of all laws, although those laws might be interpreted differently by the various Jewish sects. It is also the representation of their hope for eventual salvation.

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