The Hebrew word
for "Teaching" or "Instruction." After
the Babylonian exile (6th c. BCE),
the term was used by Jews
to designate a written text containing commandments
[mitzwoth] of God. By
extension, Torah became the collective term for the
five scrolls [Greek: Pentateuch] of Hebrew scripture
that were traditionally ascribed to Moses. These scrolls were
the textbooks for all Jewish education as well as the basic
source for Jewish law. Scribes [sopherim] who copied
& interpreted these scrolls eventually identified 613
distinct commandments credited to God.
During the period
of the Jewish commonwealth (165 BCE - 70
CE) the Mosaic Torah
was generally recognized as the basis of Jewish social order.
Yet, there were frequent debates regarding how these
commandments were to be interpreted or applied. These debates
resulted in the formation of competing religious parties
& rival schools of interpretation. A major issue was the
extent to which customs, interpretations & other oral
lore that was not found written in the Torah were to
be considered normative. The Pharisees distinguished
themselves from other Jewish parties by their insistence on
observance of oral Torah that their teachers had transmitted.
Because they regarded these oral principles as essential to the correct
observance of the written Torah, teachers in the Pharisaic tradition
often insisted that the oral Torah went back to Moses himself. But most
of the extra-biblical regulations & traditions that have been
transmitted by Jewish teachers since the
1st c. CE were
preserved in the name of a teacher who was regarded as a
preeminent authority [e.g., Hillel].
The purpose of this ascription is itself
subject to debate. It is often hard to determine whether the
tradant in whose name a tradition has been preserved was
introducing a new interpretation, or was simply transmitting
instruction that he had received or whether the saying was
posthumously credited to him by some later source. While some
Jews indiscriminately refer to all biblical &
extra-biblical traditions as Torah, most modern
scholars, Jewish or not, restrict that term to the study of
the Mosaic Pentateuch itself.
titles commonly used today for each
of the five books of Torah are derived from the names found
in the Greek Septuagint. The equivalent traditional
Hebrew names, are derived from the opening words of each
||"In the beginning"
||"Book of Levi"
||"And he called"
||"In the desert"
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