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Scared Texts – Where do Jewish
Ethics come from?
• What is Torah?
• The Torah is a sacred book of stories, history
and law. It is the word of God, given with love
and for all eternity. Torah is an intergenerational
sacred text about us, our children, and our
children’s children. It forms the basis of what we
Jews hold important.
Jewish Beliefs
• All the Jewish beliefs, practices and writings that
have been handed down from generation to
generation are considered ‘Torah’. ‘Torah’
means ‘guidance’ or ‘instruction’. We receive
instruction from the Bible stories, and from the
laws and customs in the Torah.
• We are told not to simply know Torah - we are to
live it. Therefore we must seek out from the
Torah the wisdom that we need to live with
others, and not simply seek out its theoretical
Moral & Spiritual Goals
• Jewish intellectuality must be linked to
moral and spiritual goals, as study alone is
not sufficient to enable us to live a good
life. “He who only studies Torah is
considered as one who has no God”, the
Talmud in Avodah Zarah points out
• The Torah instructs and enlightens our
soul through its teaching. The mitzvot
(commandments) outlined in the Torah
provide us with guidelines for a course of
thought, speech and action that will lead
us to the fulfilment of our potential. When
we observe the mitzvot of the Torah, we
are living according to God’s plan
Seventy Faces of the Torah
• The sages said that “The Torah has seventy
faces. Turn it around and around, for everything
is in it”. The breadth of the Torah mirrors the
astounding interaction of a people in a changing
environment. The Torah is an interpretation of
the genesis, development and growing selfawareness of a people in its search for sacred
meaning. By understanding our patriarchs and
matriarchs, we are more able to understand our
spiritual roots
Oral & Written Torah
• There are two parts to the Torah – the Oral and
the Written. The Oral Torah was given by God to
Moses on Mt Sinai by word of mouth. It explains
the written words. The essence of the Oral Torah
is its flexibility, whereas a written text is rigid.
However, as a concession to human limitations,
eventually the Oral Torah needed to be written
down to ensure it would not be forgotten. The
written version of the Oral Torah became the
The Books of Moses
• Moses wrote the Written Torah given by God into five
books, namely, Genesis (Bereshit), Exodus (Shemot),
Leviticus (Vayikra), Numbers (Bemidbar) and
Deuteronomy (Devarim). These books contain all the
commandments and ideas central to Judaism and
Jewish thought. Jews regard these books as very holy.
Jews live by the writings of the Torah; they have read it,
studied it and have written commentaries to try to explain
it. The Torah has always been the most precious
possession of the Jewish people. Parents try to teach
their children to listen to and learn from the teachings of
the Torah
• 1. Genesis
• This book deals with God’s creation of the
world. It describes how people become
wicked and God destroys them with a
flood, sparing Noah and his family. It
continues with a description of the lives of
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It concludes
with Jacob’s son (Joseph) settling in Egypt
and his subsequent death
• 2. Exodus
• This book describes how the Jews
become slaves in Egypt and how Moses
redeems them. They cross the Red Sea to
freedom and then sin by worshipping the
Golden Calf. God forgives them and they
receive the Torah on Mount Sinai
• 3. Leviticus
• This book describes how sacrifices were made
in the Temple, the foods we are allowed and
forbidden to eat, the times of the major
festivals and which mitzvot we are to observe
during these festivals
• 4. Numbers
• This book describes how the Jews
continue their journey through the
wilderness. It tells of their rebellion against
Moses, how hostile nations try to defeat
them, and concludes with Israel at the
border of the Promised Land about forty
years after leaving Egypt
• 5. Deuteronomy
• This concluding book is also known as
Mishnah Torah, the repetition of the Torah.
This book takes the form of speeches
given by Moses just before the Jews
entered the Promised Land. This book
contains many laws and teachings and
concludes with the death of Moses
• In a synagogue, the Torah is traditionally read
from a scroll of parchment called the Sefer
Torah. The word ‘sefer’ means ‘book’, but the
scroll of parchment is called the ‘Sefer Torah’. In
ancient times there were no bound books, only
writing on parchment. The Sefer Torah is a
scrolled, parchment version of the Chumash (an
abbreviation of Chamisha chumahei Torah which
means ‘The five books of the Torah’, also known
as ‘the five books of Moses’.) The riting in the
Sefer Torah contains no vowels or punctuation,
only handwritten letters