Thursday, August 28, 2008

Primary Sources

Here is a very brief summary of 5 important Jewish texts of the last 3,300 years.

Bible (Tanach): Its 24 books consist of: 5 Books of Moses (the Torah), 8 Books of Prophets, 11 miscellaneous Books of Writings. The first 5 books consist of the words of God as transmitted to Moses. The next 8 were composed by the prophets. The final 11 were written over a period of a thousand years by various authors, including prophets and other important figures. The basis for all laws, ethics, and homiletical lessons in Jewish life is found in the Hebrew Bible.

Mishnah: The Oral Torah, given at Sinai at the same time as the written one. Transmitted from Moses to generations of teachers and students until they were transcribed into 6 major “orders,” 63 volumes, by Rabbi Judah the Prince (app 200 C.E.), out of fear that these teachings might otherwise be forgotten and lost forever.

Gemarah: Hundreds of years of scholarly rabbinic discussions concerning the teachings of the Mishnah. The Gemarah represents the fundamental basis for Jewish law and practice for close to 1,500 years. Transcribed by Ravina and Rabbi Ashi in approximately 500 C.E. The Mishnah and Gemarah together are sometimes called the “Talmud.”

Mishnah Torah: A monumental 14 volume code of Jewish law organized by general subjects, authored by Maimonides (1135-1204). Maimonides also wrote the Sefer Hamitzvot, an enumeration and elaboration on the traditional count of 613 commandments in the Torah.

Shulchan Arukh: An abridged code of Jewish law, authored by Rabbi Joseph Caro (of Safed, Israel), with the glosses of Rabbi Moses Isserlis (of Krakow, Poland). Divided into 4 major sections addressing: Daily Living (includes Sabbath and holidays), Kosher Food and Miscellaneous Laws, Civil and Business Law, and Laws of Marriage and Divorce. The Shulchan Arukh is the authoritative resource of applied Jewish law and practice since it was written almost 500 years ago.

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