Jewish Scriptures and Sacred Texts

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” — Psalm 119:105

Jews have been called the "People of the Book," an appropriate title. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE and the subsequent exile, sacrifices became impossible and Jewish religious life turned to study of the scriptures and prayer in the synagogue. Study of Torah and other Jewish texts has been central to religious life ever since.

Importance of Scripture in Judaism

Jewish sacred texts are considered precious sources of Jewish history and divine commandments (the mitzvot), both of which continue to play a dominant part in Judaism. To remember the great things God has done for the Jewish people in history, and what he asks of them in return, selections from the Torah and the Prophets are read in the synagogue several times a week.

Study of the Jewish scriptures (preferably in the original Hebrew) is an integral part of a Jewish child's education and even Jewish mysticism is focused on intensive textual study. To assist in proper interpretation and application of the Jewish scriptures, a great body of rabbinical writings has developed and continues to develop to this day.

Overview of Jewish Sacred Texts

The primary Jewish sacred text is the Tanakh, also known as the Jewish Bible or "Written Torah." It contains the same books as the Christian Old Testament, with slightly different organization. It consists of the Torah ("Law") (five books attributed to Moses), the Prophets, and the Writings. Sometimes the term "Torah" is used to refer to the whole of the Tanakh.

The Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Jewish Bible dating from 300-200 BCE, which was used by early Christians. It also contains the Apocrypha, a group of Jewish texts written in the 5th-1st centuries BCE that are not considered scripture in Judaism but were incorporated in the Christian Bible.

The Talmud, also known as the "Oral Torah", is a collection of rabbinical writings that interpret, explain and apply the Jewish Bible, dating from the 2nd-5th century CE. There is a Jerusalem Talmud and a Babylonian Talmud, but the latter is the one usually meant by "the Talmud." It consists of the Midrash, which is commentary on the Bible, and the Gemara, which is commentary on the Midrash.

The responsa is a vast collection (thousands of volumes) of answers to specific questions on Jewish law.

The Zohar (Book of Splendor) is the central text of Kabbalah, the mystical branch of Judaism.