The Torah, or the first five chapters of the Hebrew Bible, is Judaism's most sacred text. According to Jewish doctrine, it is the section of the Hebrew Bible that contains God's many commandments for the Jewish people. Traditionally, practitioners have accepted that Moses, one of Judaism's most important prophets, is the author of the Torah. Today, the Torah is carefully studied by observant Jews and used for liturgical purposes at the synagogue.
What is the Torah?
Although the Torah can broadly denote Judaism's oral and written laws, it specifically refers to the first five chapters of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The Talmud, an important interpretive text within Judaism, states that 613 commandments are included in this first section of the Hebrew Bible. The Torah is also referred to as the Law of Moses or Torat Moshe.
One of the main ways that the Torah is used today is for liturgical purposes. In all synagogues, Torah scrolls are kept in a special cabinet called the 'Aron ha kodesh,' more commonly referred to as the Ark. During Monday and Thursday services, sections from the Torah are read out loud. The most important reading, however, occurs during the Sabbath service, where the 'aliyah' takes place. This is when a person from the congregation is honored to read a section of a passage from the Torah. Passages from the Torah read during the Sabbath service are divided into seven sections, thus seven people are chosen to read.
The Talmud, the religion's most important interpretive text, states that the Torah includes 613 commandments from God. As Judaism is a religion that emphasizes actions and good deeds, the laws held in the Torah, referred to as the Jewish Written Law, act as an important moral and ethical compass for Jews and are carefully studied by many observant Jews.
Rites and Traditions
The Torah also shapes many Judaic customs and traditions. For example, circumcision, which takes place for all Jewish male babies of observant families, becomes an important rite, as it was recorded and commanded in the Hebrew Bible in Genesis 17, "This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised." Observing the Sabbath, one of Judaism's most crucial customs, is also shaped by the Torah, and several Jewish sects practice these customs through strict literal interpretations of the Torah. Orthodox Jewish men also wear the tefillin -- two leather black boxes, with leather straps -- for morning week prayers, as described within the Torah.
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images