The Torah, also known as the Pentateuch (from the Greek for “five books”), is the first collection of texts in the Hebrew Bible. It deals with the origins of not only the Israelites but also the entire world. Though traditionally the Hebrew word torah has been translated into English as “law” because of its translation in the Septuagint (the Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible) as nomos (law), it is better understood and translated as “teaching” or “instruction.” The Torah is the result of a long process of editing (or redaction, as it is called by scholars). This means that there is no one date that one can be pointed to as the date of composition. Most scholars think that the final major redactions took place after 539 BCE when Cyrus the Great conquered the Neo-Babylonian Empire. The Torah was, and continues to be, the central set of sacred texts (scriptures) for Judaism because of its focus on the proper ways (ritually, ethically, theologically, etc.) for the tribes of Israel to live, though how exactly one is to live out the Torah was, and continues to be, a complicated issue.
The Torah is composed of five books, which present us with a complete narrative, from creation to the death of Moses on the banks of the Jordan River. The question of the relationship between history and the narratives of the Torah is complex. While the Torah mentions historical places (e.g. Ur in Genesis 11) and historical figures (e.g. Pharaoh in Exodus 1, perhaps Ramses II), we have no archaeological or other textual record of the specific events or the key players (e.g. Moses) described.
The Torah is comprised of five books which present us with a complete narrative, from creation to the death of Moses on the banks of the Jordan River.
Genesis is broken up into four literary movements. The first movement is known as the “primeval history,” which tells the story of the world from “creation” up to the call of Abraham. The second movement is the Abraham cycle, chapters 12.1-25.18, which tells the story of Abraham from his call to his death. The third movement, chapters 25.19-36.43, is the Jacob cycle which tells the story of Jacob from his birth up to the dreams of his son Joseph. The fourth movement, chapters 37-50, is the Joseph cycle which tells the story of Joseph and his brothers. The narrative of Genesis begins with the creation of the world, but with each movement the narrative becomes more focused. It moves from focusing on the entire created order to humanity to focusing on a specific family (that of Abraham) to focusing one of Abaraham's sons (Jacob/Israel) and culminating in the “creation” of the tribe of Israel and the presence of Israelites in Egypt.
Exodus can be broken up into three general sections: the liberation from Egypt (chapters 1.1-15.21), the giving of the Law to Moses on Sinai (15.22-31.18), and the start of the 40-year (one generation) desert wandering (32-40).
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In contrast to the rest of the Torah, Leviticus contains very little narrative material, but is dependent upon the narrative of Exodus. The material of the P source (see below) in Exodus primarily describes the construction of the cultic implements (e.g. the Ark of the Covenant). In Leviticus the focus is on the enactment of the cult, particularly the role of the Levites, which is to teach the distinction “between the holy and the common, and between the clean and unclean” (Lev 1.10; 15.31, NRSV).
There are two ways to understand the structure of Numbers. First, one can view its structure as geographic, with each section corresponding to a particular location in the desert wandering: Wilderness of Sinai (1.1-10.10), the land east of the Jordan River, also known as "Transjordan" (10.11-22.1), and the land of Moab (22.2-36.13). However there are two key events which can also be used to understand the structure of the book, the two military censuses of chapters 1 and 26.
Deuteronomy gets its English name from the Greek word deuteronomion (second law), which is a poor translation of the Hebrew phrase mishneh hattorah hazzot (a copy of this law) in Deuteronomy 17.18. It is also the only book of the Torah to make specific claims for Mosaic authorship.
Four editorial superscriptions make the structure of Deuteronomy clear. Part 1 (1.1-4.43) is primarily Moses reflecting on the story of the Israelites from Sinai (or Horeb as it is called in Deuteronomy) to Transjordan and a discussion on the destiny of God's people. Part 2 (4.44-28.68) is the key part of the book as it contains the giving of the Torah (the authoritative teaching and instruction) dictating how Israel is to live (ethically, cultically, politically, socially, etc.) if it wants to secure its political existence. Part 3 (29-32) contains a covenant Moses makes with Israel and relates the commissioning of Joshua. Part 4 (33-34) concludes with blessing of the tribes of Israel, and a narrative about the death and burial of Moses. Deuteronomy, and as such the Torah, concludes with the people of Israel poised to enter the promised land.
Traditionally, it was largely assumed (by Jews and Christians alike) that Moses was the author of the Torah. However, in the 17th century CE, this assumption began to be challenged. In the 19th century CE, German scholar Julius Wellhausen put forth the first major formulation of what is known as the Documentary Hypothesis in his Prolegomena zur Geschichte Israels (first published in German in 1878 CE, and in English as Prolegomena to the History of Israel in 1885 CE). Since then, the Documentary Hypothesis has undergone significant revision, and among many scholars, particularly those in North America, it remains the dominant theory for explaining the composition of the Torah.
Simply put, this theory states that the whole of the Torah is comprised of four main sources: J (Yahwist), E (Elohist), D (Deuteronomistic), and P (Priestly). It is most likely that these sources are not texts, but particular groups of individuals who were initially responsible for the composition and transmission of the sources (as oral traditions and/or written compositions) which were later incorporated into the Torah by the P source. Scholars use "source" in a very general way in this context to allow for the ambiguity of what these "sources" were.
The J source earns its name from the fact that it prefers the Tetragrammaton (“The four letters”), YWHW (usually pronounced as “Yahweh,” though this pronunciation is debated), for the name of the god of Israel. The reason that it is the "J" source and not the "Y" source is that the theory was first put forth in Germany, where YHWH is spelled with a J rather than a "Y." YHWH is made to appear very human (e.g. YHWH is said to walk with humans [see Genesis 2]), the characters of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not idealized in the narrative, and morality is not absolute. Further, it is the nation of Judah which is emphasized. This source is traditionally dated between 1000 BCE and 900 BCE, which possibly is contemporaneous with the courts of David and Solomon.
Like J, the E source gets its name from its preferred name for the god of Israel. It uses the generic Hebrew word elohim, which can mean “gods,” “god,” (as generic terms for other deities), or as “God” (referring specifically to the god of Israel). In contrast to J, E emphasizes the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Instead of directly speaking to humanity, the E source had God speaking directly to Abraham. This source is usually dated in the 8th or 9th centuries BCE and was likely an import from the Northern Kingdom of Israel. E and J were likely edited together at a point before the exilic period, with J being the primary source with E edited in. Therefore, some scholars treat J and E as one source (calling it the JE source) or leave out E altogether.
D, or the Deuteronomist, is most likely a school of scribal reformers from around the time of Josiah, c. 621 BCE, a king of the Kingdom of Judah. D is responsible for the book of Deuteronomy and little else in the Torah. However, it is likely responsible (as authors and/or editors) for the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings (known as the Deutronomistic History) as well as editor of Jeremiah and sections of the Book of the Twelve (Hosea-Malachi). D is characterized by absolute morality, worship centered in the Jerusalem Temple, and the cycle of sin and repentance. It is possible that some form of what we know as Deuteronomy was found by Josiah's High Priest as recorded in 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34.
P, or the Priestly Source, is the most easily identified of the three sources responsible for Genesis – Numbers. This source is characterized by outlines, order, genealogy, and ritual and sacrifice. Like J, P focuses on Judah. Whereas JE is clearly narrative, P contains both narrative (such as the creation account in Genesis 1 and the flood narrative of Genesis 6—8) and ritual material (such as the Holiness Code of Leviticus 17—26). This makes it very difficult to characterize the genre of P. It is usually thought to be the last of the four sources to compose and redact the Torah, likely active sometime during the Persian period (539 - c. 330 BCE).
The Documentary Hypothesis is not without its problems. It has long been recognized that E lacks a clear narrative flow. If it was ever an independent source, it was long absorbed into J. For this reason, scholars are moving to talking about JE rather than J and E. Like E, it is difficult to identify a continuous J narrative running through the whole of the Torah.
Further, despite being the only source which can be readily identified running through the whole Torah, it seems that P is not really an independent source, but was intentionally composed so as to fit into the narrative material of J and E. Narrative disconnects between Genesis and Exodus make a continuous source running from Genesis to Numbers unlikely. For example, only a few verses (Genesis 50.14, 24; Exodus 1.8-7) superficially account for the transition from Joseph as the second most powerful person in Egypt to being unknown by the pharaoh, and the Israelites as nomads in Canaan to slaves in Egypt. Also, only a single passage in Genesis (15.13-16) gives any indication that the Israelites will have to leave Canaan first, and then return to the promised land.
In light of these issues, among European scholars there is a general move away from the traditional understanding of the Documentary Hypothesis, to understanding Genesis and the Moses story (Exodus and following) to be two competing origin narratives which were later edited together by the P source. They still see J and E (or JE) in Genesis, but do not think that J or E are complete sources running through the whole of the Torah. P is still seen as the final redactor and D is still responsible for the Deuteronomistic History.
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Tanakh, an acronym derived from the names of the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible: Torah (Instruction, or Law, also called the Pentateuch), Neviʾim (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings).
The Torah contains five books: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The Neviʾim comprise eight books subdivided into the Former Prophets, containing the four historical works Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings and the Latter Prophets, the oracular discourses of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve (Minor) Prophets—Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. The Twelve were all formerly written on a single scroll and thus reckoned as one book. The Ketuvim consist of religious poetry and wisdom literature—Psalms, Proverbs, and Job, a collection known as the “Five Megillot” (“scrolls” i.e., Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Esther, which have been grouped together according to the annual cycle of their public reading in the synagogue)—and the books of Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah, and Chronicles.
This article was most recently revised and updated by Kathleen Kuiper, Senior Editor.
Judaism: The Written Law - Torah
The Torah, or Jewish Written Law, consists of the five books of the Hebrew Bible - known more commonly to non-Jews as the "Old Testament" - that were given by G-d to Moses on Mount Sinai and include within them all of the biblical laws of Judaism. The Torah is also known as the Chumash, Pentateuch or Five Books of Moses.
The word "Torah" has multiple meanings including: A scroll made from kosher animal parchment, with the entire text of the Five Books of Moses written on it the text of the Five Books of Moses, written in any format and, the term "Torah" can mean the entire corpus of Jewish law. This includes the Written and the Oral Law.
Origin & Preexistence
Jewish tradition holds that "Moses received the Torah from Sinai," yet there is also an ancient tradition that the Torah existed in heaven not only before God revealed it to Moses, but even before the world was created.
In rabbinic literature, it was taught that the Torah was one of the six or seven things created prior to the creation of the world. According to Eliezer ben Yose the Galilean, for 974 generations before the creation of the world the Torah lay in God's bosom and joined the ministering angels in song. Simeon ben Lakish taught that the Torah preceded the world by 2,000 years and was written in black fire upon white fire. Akiva called the Torah "the precious instrument by which the world was created". Rav said that God created the world by looking into the Torah as an architect builds a palace by looking into blueprints. It was also taught that God took council with the Torah before He created the world.
Other Jewish sages, however, disregard the literal belief that the Torah existed before all else. Saadiah Gaon rejected this belief on the grounds that it contradicts the principle of creation ex nihilo. Judah Barzillai of Barcelona raised the problem of place. Where could God have kept a preexistent Torah? While allowing that God could conceivably have provided an ante-mundane place for a corporeal Torah, he preferred the interpretation that the Torah preexisted only as a thought in the divine mind. Similarly, the Ibn Ezra raised the problem of time. He wrote that it is impossible for the Torah to have preceded the world by 2,000 years or even by one moment, since time is an accident of motion, and there was no motion before God created the celestial spheres rather, he concluded, the teaching about the Torah's preexistence must be a metaphoric riddle.
Judah Halevi attempts to alleviate the argument by explaining that the Torah precedes the world in terms of teleology God created the world for the purpose of revealing the Torah therefore, since, as the philosophers say, "the first of thought is the end of the work," the Torah is said to have existed before the world.
Nature, Message & Purpose
In the Bible, the Torah is referred to both as the "Torah of the Lord" and as the "Torah of Moses," and is said to be given as an inheritance to the congregation of Jacob- the Jewish people. Its purpose seems to be to make Israel "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."
The Septuagint rendered the Hebrew torah by the Greek nomos ("law"), probably in the sense of a living network of traditions and customs of a people. The designation of the Torah by nomos, and by its Latin successor lex (whence, "the Law"), has historically given rise to the misunderstanding that Torah means legalism.
It was one of the very few real dogmas of rabbinic theology that the Torah is from heaven i.e., the Torah in its entirety was revealed by God. According to biblical stories, Moses ascended into heaven to capture the Torah from the angels. In one of the oldest mishnaic statements it is taught that Torah is one of the three things by which the world is sustained. Eleazar ben Shammua said: "Were it not for the Torah, heaven and earth would not continue to exist".
The Torah was often compared to fire, water, wine, oil, milk, honey, drugs, manna, the tree of life, and many other things it was considered the source of freedom, goodness, and life it was identified both with wisdom and with love. Hillel summarized the entire Torah in one sentence: "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow". Akiva said: "The fundamental principle of the Torah is the commandment, 'Love thy neighbor as thyself '".
The message of the Torah is for all mankind. Before giving the Torah to Israel, God offered it to the other nations, but they refused it and when He did give the Torah to Israel, He revealed it in the extraterritorial desert and simultaneously in all the 70 languages, so that men of all nations would have a right to it. Alongside this universalism, the rabbis taught the inseparability of Israel and the Torah. One rabbi held that the concept of Israel existed in God's mind even before He created the Torah. Yet, were it not for its accepting the Torah, Israel would not be "chosen," nor would it be different from all the idolatrous nations.
Saadiah Gaon expounded a rationalist theory according to which the ethical and religious-intellectual beliefs imparted by the Torah are all attainable by human reason. He held that the Torah is divisible into two parts:
(1) commandments which, in addition to being revealed, are demanded by reason (e.g., prohibitions of murder, fornication, theft, lying) and
(2) commandments whose authority is revelation alone (e.g., Sabbath and dietary laws), but which generally are understandable in terms of some personal or social benefit attained by their performance.
In the period between Saadiah and Maimonides, most Jewish writers who speculated on the nature of the Torah continued in this rationalist tradition.
Judah Halevi, however, opposed the rationalist interpretation. He allowed that the Torah contains rational and political laws, but considered them preliminary to the specifically divine laws and teachings which cannot be comprehended by reason, e.g., the laws of the Sabbath which teach the omnipotence of God and the creation of the world. The Torah makes it possible to approach God by awe, love, and joy. It is the essence of wisdom, and the outcome of the will of God to reveal His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.
While Judah Halevi held that Israel was created to fulfill the Torah, he wrote that there would be no Torah were there no Israel.
Maimonides emphasized that the Torah is the product of the unique prophecy of Moses. He maintained that the Torah has two purposes:
(1) The welfare of the body, which is a prerequisite of the ultimate purpose, is political, and "consists in the governance of the city and the well-being of the state of all its people according to their capacity.
(2) The welfare of the soul (intellect), which consists in the true perfection of man, his acquisition of immortality through intellection of the highest things.
Maimonides held that the Torah is similar to other laws in its concern with the welfare of the body but its divine nature is reflected in its concern for the welfare of the soul. Maimonides saw the Torah as a rationalizing force, warring against superstition, imagination, appetite, and idolatry. He cited the rabbinic dictum, "Everyone who disbelieves in idolatry professes the Torah in its entirety", and taught that the foundation of the Torah and the pivot around which it turns consists in the effacement of idolatry. He held that the Torah must be interpreted in the light of reason.
While Maimonides generally restricted analysis of the nature of the Torah to questions of its educational, moral, or political value, the Spanish kabbalists engaged in bold metaphysical speculation concerning its essence. The kabbalists taught that the Torah is a living organism. Some said the entire Torah consists of the names of God set in succession or interwoven into a fabric. Ultimately, it was said that the Torah is God. This identification of the Torah and God was understood to refer to the Torah in its true primordial essence, and not to its manifestation in the world of creation.
Influenced by Maimonides, Baruch Spinoza took the position that the Torah is an exclusively political law, however he broke radically with all rabbinic tradition by denying its divine nature, by making it an object of historical-critical investigation, and by maintaining that it was not written by Moses alone but by various authors living at different times. Moreover, he considered the Torah primitive, unscientific, and particularistic, and thus subversive to progress, reason, and universal morality. By portraying the Torah as a product of the Jewish people, he reversed the traditional opinion according to which the Jewish people are a product of the Torah.
Moses Mendelssohn considered the Torah a political law, but he affirmed its divine nature. He explained that the Torah does not intend to reveal new ideas about deism and morality, but rather, through its laws and institutions, to arouse men to be mindful of the true ideas attainable by all men through reason. By identifying the beliefs of the Torah with the truths of reason, Mendelssohn affirmed both its scientific respectability and its universalistic nature. By defining the Torah as a political law given to Israel by God, he preserved the traditional view that Israel is a product of the Torah, and not, as Spinoza claimed, vice versa.
With the rise of the science of Judaism (Wissenschaft des Judentums) in the 19 th century, and the advance of the historical-critical approach to the Torah, many Jewish intellectuals, including ideologists of Reform like Abraham Geiger, followed Spinoza in seeing the Torah, at least in part, as a product of the primitive history of the Jewish nation.
The increasing intellectualization of the Torah was opposed by Samuel David Luzzatto. He contended that the belief that God revealed the Torah is the starting point of Judaism, and that this belief, with its momentous implications concerning the nature of God and His relation to man, cannot be attained by philosophy. Luzzatto held that the foundation of the whole Torah is compassion.
In their German translation of the Bible, Martin Buber translated torah as Weisung or Unterweisung ("Instruction") and not as Gesetz ("Law"). In general, he agreed on the purpose of the Torah - to convert the universe and God from It to Thou - yet differed on several points concerning its nature. Buber saw the Torah as the past dialogue between Israel and God, and the present dialogue between the individual reader, the I, and God, the Thou. He concluded that while one must open himself to the entire teaching of the Torah, he need only accept a particular law of the Torah if he feels that it is being spoken now to him.
The secular Zionism of the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries gave religious thinkers new cause to define the relationship between the Torah and the Jewish nation. Some defined the Torah in terms of the nation. Thus, Mordecai Kaplan translated Ahad Ha-Am's sociological theory of the evolution of Jewish civilization into a religious, though naturalistic, theory of the Torah as the "religious civilization of the Jews."
Other thinkers defined the nation in terms of the Torah. Thus, Abraham Isaac Kook taught that the purpose of the Torah is to reveal the living light of the universe, the suprarational spiritual, to Israel and, through Israel, to all mankind. While the Written Torah, which reveals the light in the highest channel of our soul, is the product of God alone, the Oral Torah, which is inseparable from the Written Torah, and which reveals the light in a second channel of our soul, proximate to the life of deeds, derives its personality from the spirit of the nation. The Oral Torah can live in its fullness only when Israel lives in its fullness – in peace and independence in the Land of Israel. Thus, according to Kook, modern Zionism, whatever the intent of its secular ideologists, has universal religious significance, for it is acting in service of the Torah.
In the State of Israel, most writers and educators have maintained the secularist position of the early Zionists, namely, that the Torah was not revealed by God, in the traditional sense, but is the product of the national life of ancient Israel. Those who have discussed the Torah and its relation to the state from a religious point of view have mostly followed Kook or Buber. However, a radically rationalist approach to the nature of the Torah has been taught by Yeshayahu Leibowitz who emphasizes that the Torah is a law for the worship of God and for the consequent obliteration of the worship of men and things in this connection, he condemns the subordination of the Torah to nationalism or to religious sentimentalism or to any ideology or institution.
In the Bible there is no text unanimously understood to affirm explicitly the eternity or nonabrogability of the Torah however, many laws of the Torah are accompanied by phrases such as, "an everlasting injunction through your generations."
Whereas the rabbis understood the preexistence of the Torah in terms of its prerevelation existence in heaven, they understood the eternity or nonabrogability of the Torah in terms of its postrevelation existence, not in heaven i.e., the whole Torah was given to Moses and no part of it remained in heaven. When Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and Joshua ben Hananiah were debating a point of Torah and a voice from heaven dramatically announced that Eliezer's position was correct, Joshua refused to recognize its testimony, for the Torah "is not in heaven", and must be interpreted by men, unaided by the supernatural. It was a principle that "a prophet is henceforth not permitted to innovate a thing." The rabbis taught that the Torah would continue to exist in the world to come, although some of them were of the opinion that innovations would be made in the messianic era.
With the rise to political power of Christianity and Islam, two religions which sought to convert Jews and which argued that particular injunctions of the Torah had been abrogated, the question of the eternity or "nonabrogability" of the Torah became urgent.
Saadiah Gaon stated that the children of Israel have a clear tradition from the prophets that the laws of the Torah are not subject to abrogation. Presenting scriptural corroboration for this tradition, he appealed to phrases appended to certain commandments, e.g., "throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant." According to one novel argument of his, the Jewish nation is a nation only by virtue of its laws, namely, the Torah God has stated that the Jewish nation will endure as long as the heaven and earth therefore, the Torah will last as long as heaven and earth. He interpreted the verses, "Remember ye the Torah of Moses… Behold, I will send you Elijah…" , as teaching that the Torah will hold valid until the prophet Elijah returns to herald the resurrection.
Maimonides listed the belief in the eternity of the Torah as the ninth of his 13 principles of Judaism, and connected it with the belief that no prophet will surpass Moses, the only man to give people laws through prophecy. He contended that the eternity of the Torah is stated clearly in the Bible, particularly in the passages "thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it" and "the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this Torah". He offered the following explanation of the Torah's eternity, based on its perfection and on the theory of the mean: "The Torah of the Lord is perfect" (Ps. 19:8) in that its statutes are just, i.e., that they are equibalanced between the burdensome and the indulgent and "when a thing is perfect as it is possible to be within its species, it is impossible that within that species there should be found another thing that does not fall short of the perfection either because of excess or deficiency."
Joseph Albo criticized Maimonides for listing the belief in the eternity of the Torah as an independent fundamental belief of Judaism. In a long discussion he contended that nonabrogation is not a fundamental principle of the Torah, and that moreover, no text can be found in the Bible to establish it. Ironically, his ultimate position turned out to be closer to Maimonides' for he concluded that the belief in the nonabrogation of the Torah is a branch of the doctrine that no prophet will surpass the excellence of Moses.
After Albo, the question of the eternity of the Torah became routine in Jewish philosophical literature. However, in the Kabbalah it was never routine. In the 13 th -century Sefer ha-Temunah a doctrine of cosmic cycles (or shemittot cf. Deut. 15) was expounded, according to which creation is renewed every 7,000 years, at which times the letters of the Torah reassemble, and the Torah enters the new cycle bearing different words and meanings. Thus, while eternal in its unrevealed state, the Torah, in its manifestation in creation, is destined to be abrogated. This doctrine became popular in later kabbalistic and sidic literature, and was exploited by the heretic Shabbetai 𞤮vi and his followers, who claimed that a new cycle had begun, and in consequence he was able to teach that "the abrogation of the Torah is its fulfillment!"
Jewish philosophers of modern times have not concentrated on the question of the eternity or nonabrogability of the Torah. Nevertheless, it is not entirely untenable that the main distinction between Orthodox Judaism and non-Orthodox Judaism is that the latter rejects the literal interpretation of the ninth principle of Maimonides' Creed that there will be no change in the Torah.
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History of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah
The status of Shemini Atzeret can be confusing at first glance. Its name means the &ldquoeighth day of assembly&rdquo &mdash which would imply that it somehow belongs to the seven-day holiday that immediately precedes it, Sukkot. It is true that Shemini Atzeret is related to Sukkot, but its independence as a holiday is well established in the Talmud.
In Numbers 29:35 we learn that &ldquoOn the eighth day you should hold a solemn gathering you shall not work at your occupation.&rdquo This verse does not connect the eighth day specifically to any of the other traditions associated with Sukkot, begging the question: Is this its own distinct holiday or part of Sukkot? This confusion led to much debate over whether one should, for example, say Kiddush (the prayer of sanctification, recited over wine on holy days) in the sukkah on this day a custom followed by some, or whether Shemini Atzeret should warrant its own liturgical additions. [The fact that some have the custom to sit in the sukkah on Shemini Atzeret is based on the uncertainty surrounding yom tov sheni shel galuyot, that is, one would sit in the sukkah just in case Shemini Atzeret really is the seventh day of Sukkot.]
In his book The Jewish Holidays, Michael Strassfeld points out that Shemini Atzeret in many respects parallels Shavuot, which can be viewed as the long-distance conclusion to the seven-day holiday of Passover, coming as it does seven weeks after Passover. At that time of year, the weather would be clear enough to have people come back to Jerusalem for an additional pilgrimage some weeks later. Sukkot, however, marks the beginning of the rainy season, and since it would be difficult to ask people to make an additional trip to Jerusalem, Shemini Atzeret would best be placed immediately following Sukkot. [In the Talmud, Shavuot is called &ldquoAtzeret&rdquo making the parallel with Shemini Atzeret even stronger.]
Shemini Atzeret is a two-day festival in traditional Diaspora communities and a one-day holiday in Israel and in many liberal Diaspora communities, as with many other Jewish holidays. The only ritual that is unique to Shemini Atzeret is the prayer for rain (tefilat geshem), and this prayer is parallel to the prayer for dew which is recited on Passover. These two holidays serve as the bookends of the agricultural season, at the beginning and end of the rainy season. Whereas the Torah does describe the offering that was brought to the Temple on Shemini Atzeret, once the Temple was destroyed, there was nothing that remained from the holiday&rsquos ritual except the liturgy requesting rain for a bountiful year.
In the early Middle Ages, Shemini Atzeret began to be associated with the ritual of completing the yearly cycle of readings from the Torah, leading to the later development of Simchat Torah from what was likely the second day of Shemini Atzeret. Simchat Torah developed into the day on which we celebrate the ending of one cycle of Torah reading and the beginning of the next cycle.
Among traditional Diaspora communities, Simchat Torah is congruent with the second day of Shemini Atzeret, and in Israel and liberal Diaspora communities, it coincides with the single day of Shemini Atzeret. It is a joyous holiday with a relatively young history, since it is not mentioned in the Torah. It is traditionally the only time when the Torah is read at night, when we read the last section from Deuteronomy, to be followed the next day by the conclusion of Deuteronomy and the beginning of Genesis. There is a tradition on Simchat Torah morning of calling all members of the community to say the blessing over the Torah, known as an aliyah, and synagogues will often repeat the reading until all members have had their aliyot (plural) or split into smaller groups to chant the reading from several different Torah scrolls simultaneously, so everyone can have this honor.
Similar to Sukkot, there are several (three, or more commonly, seven depending on the custom of the synagogue) circuits around the synagogue on Simchat Torah. These are known as hakafot (singular: hakafah). In distinction to the hakafot on Sukkot, they are done holding the Torah, not the lulav and etrog. They are accompanied by joyous dancing that often spills onto the street outside.
In Kabbalah (the mystical tradition) the seven hakafot on Simhat Torah became a kind of unification of the seven days of Sukkot and also representative of the seven sephirot (emanations of God). This spiritual and mystical understanding of Simchat Torah accords with the very physical tradition of turning the hakafot into joyous dancing. The Torah reading that follows the wild dancing is often very playful and humorous, as it is a celebration of the great gift of God&rsquos Torah.
In recent times, Simchat Torah has also become a very &ldquochild-friendly&rdquo holiday. Many synagogues invite all the children up for a group aliyah and give out flags for the children to march around with during their own hakafah.
While Simchat Torah&rsquos origins are not specifically biblical, it has become a Bible-centered holiday on which the hearts of Jews are drawn to celebrate the Torah.
Oral Torah: The Talmud
In addition to the written scriptures we have an "Oral Torah," a tradition explaining what the above scriptures mean and how to interpret them and apply the Laws. Orthodox Jews believe G-d taught the Oral Torah to Moses, and he taught it to others, down to the present day. This tradition was maintained only in oral form until about the 2d century C.E., when the oral law was compiled and written down in a document called the Mishnah.
Over the next few centuries, additional commentaries elaborating on the Mishnah were written down in Jerusalem and Babylon. These additional commentaries are known as the Gemara. The Gemara and the Mishnah together are known as the Talmud. This was completed in the 5th century C.E.
There are actually two Talmuds: the Jerusalem Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud. The Babylonian Talmud is more comprehensive, and is the one most people mean if they just say "the Talmud" without specifying which one.
There have been additional commentaries on the Talmud by such noted Jewish scholars as Rashi and Rambam. Adin Steinsaltz recently completed a new edition of the Talmud, with his own commentary supplementing the Mishnah, Gemara, and Rashi commentaries.
The Talmud is not easy to read. It reminds me of someone else's class notes for a college lecture you never attended. There are often gaps in the reasoning where it is assumed that you already know what they are talking about, and concepts are often expressed in a sort of shorthand. Biblical verses that support a teaching are often referenced by only two or three words. The Talmud preserves a variety of views on every issue, and does not always clearly identify which view is the accepted one.
The Mishnah is divided into six sections called sedarim (in English, orders). Each seder contains one or more divisions called masekhtot (in English, tractates). There are 63 masekhtot in the Mishnah. Approximately half of these masekhtot have been addressed in the Talmud. Although these divisions seem to indicate subject matter, it is important to note that the Mishnah and the Talmud engage in quite a bit of free-association, thus widely diverse subjects may be discussed in a seder or masekhtah. Below is the division of the Mishnah into sedarim and masekhtot:
- Zera'im (Seeds), dealing with agricultural laws
- Maaser Sheni
- Rosh Hashanah
- Moed Qatan
- Baba Qamma
- Baba Mesia
- Baba Batra
- Avodah Zarah
- Avot (also known as Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers)
In recent times, many observant Jews have taken up the practice of studying a page of Talmud every day. This practice, referred to as daf yomi (page of the day), was started at the First International Congress of the Agudath Yisrael World Movement in August, 1923. Rav Meir Shapiro, the rav of Lublin, Poland, proposed uniting people worldwide through the daily study of a page of Talmud. Daf Yomi started its 12th cycle on March 2, 2005. The 13th cycle will begin on August 3, 2012. A calendar of the cycle and other resources can be found at Daf Yomi Calendar. You can see what today's page of Talmud looks like at this Daf Yomi page, That site also has audio discussing today's daf, but it can be difficult for beginners because it is very fast and bounces between Hebrew and English and it assumes you come to the recording with a high level of background knowledge.
Ashkenaz (Heb. אַשְׁכְּנָז) refers to a people and a country bordering on Armenia and the upper Euphrates listed in Genesis 10:3 and I Chronicles 1:6 among the descendants of Gomer. The name Ashkenaz also occurs once in Jeremiah 51:27 in a passage calling upon the kingdoms of Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz to rise and destroy Babylon. Scholars have identified the Ashkenaz as the people called Ashkuza (Ashguza, Ishguza) in Akkadian. According to Assyrian royal inscriptions the Ashkuza fought the Assyrians in the reign of Esharhaddon (680&ndash669 B.C.E.) as allies of the Minni (Manneans). Since the Ashkuza are mentioned in conjunction with the Gimirrai-Cimmerians and the Ashkenaz with Gomer in Genesis, it is reasonable to infer that Ashkenaz is a dialectal form of Akkadian Ashkuza, identical with a group of Iranian-speaking people organized in confederations of tribes called Saka in Old Persian, whom Greek writers (e.g., Herodotus 1:103) called Scythians. They ranged from southern Russia through the Caucasus and into the Near East. Some scholars, however, have argued against this identification on philological grounds because of the presence of the "n" in the word Ashkenaz. In medieval rabbinical literature the name was used for Germany.
The name Ashkenaz was applied in the Middle Ages to Jews living along the Rhine River in northern France and western Germany. The center of Ashkenazi Jews later spread to Poland-Lithuania and now there are Ashkenazi settlements all over the world. The term "Ashkenaz" became identified primarily with German customs and descendants of German Jews.
In the 10 th and 11 th century, the first Ashkenazim, Jewish merchants in France and Germany, were economic pioneers, treated well because of their trading connections with the Mediterranean and the East. Jewish communities appeared in many urban centers. Early Ashkenaz communities were small and homogeneous. Until Christian guilds were formed, Jews were craftsmen and artisans. In France, many Jews owned vineyards and made wine. They carried arms and knew how to use them in self-defense. The Jews of each town constituted an independent, self-governing entity. Each community, or kahal, established its own regulations made up by an elected board and judicial courts. They enforced their rulings with the threat of excommunication. The Ashkenazim generally shied away from outside influences and concentrated on internal Jewish sources, ideas and customs.
Ashkenazim focused on biblical and Talmudic studies. Centers of rabbinic scholarship appeared in the tenth century in Mainz and Worms in the Rhineland and in Troyes and Sens in France. Ashkenazi scholarship centered around oral discussion. Sages focused on understanding the minutiae of the texts instead of extracting general principles. The most famous early teacher was Rabbenu Gershom of Mainz. Some of his decrees, such as that forbidding polygamy, are still in existence today. The first major Ashkenazi literary figure was Rashi (Solomon ben Isaac of Troyes, 1040-1105), whose commentaries on the Bible and Talmud are today considered fundamental to Jewish study. The tosafists, Ashkenazi Talmudic scholars in northern France and Germany, introduced new methods and insights into Talmudic study that are also still in use. Early Ashkenazi Jews composed religious poetry modeled after the fifth and sixth century piyyutim (liturgical poems). While prayer liturgy varied even among Ashkenazi countries, the differences were almost insignificant compared to the differences between Sephardi and Ashkenazi liturgy.
While Ashkenazi Jews occasionally experience anti-Semitism, mob violence first erupted against them an the end of the 11 th century. Many Jews were killed in what Robert Seltzer calls a "supercharged religious atmosphere." Many were willing to die as martyrs rather than convert.
In the 12 th and 13 th centuries, many Ashkenazi Jews became moneylenders. They were supported by the secular rulers who benefited from taxes imposed on the Jews. The rulers did not totally protect them, however, and blood libels cropped up accompanied by violence. In 1182, Jews were expelled from France. Ashkenazi Jews continued to build communities in Germany until they faced riots and massacres in the 1200s and 1300s. Some Jews moved to Sephardi Spain while others set up Ashkenazi communities in Poland.
The center of Ashkenazi Jewry shifted to Poland, Lithuania, Bohemia and Moravia in the beginning of the 16 th century. Jews were for the first time concentrated in Eastern Europe instead of Western Europe. Polish Jews adopted the Ashkenazi rites, liturgy, and religious customs of the German Jews. The Ashkenazi mahzor (holiday prayer book) included prayers composed by poets of Germany and Northern France. In Poland, the Jews became fiscal agents, tax collectors, estate managers for noblemen, merchants and craftsmen. In the 1500-1600s, Polish Jewry grew to be the largest Jewish community in the diaspora. Many Jews lived in shtetls, small towns where the majority of the inhabitants were Jewish. They set up kehillot like those in the Middle Ages that elected a board of trustees to collect taxes, set up education systems and deal with other necessities of Jewish life. The Jews even had their own craft guilds. Each kahal had a yeshiva, where boys over the age of 13 learned Talmudic and rabbinic texts. Yiddish was the language of oral translation and of discussion of Torah and Talmud. Ashkenazi scholars focused on careful readings of the text and also on summarizing legal interpretations of former Ashkenazi and Sephardi scholars of Jewish law.
Ashkenazim focused on Hebrew, Torah and especially Talmud. They used religion to protect themselves from outside influences. The Jews at this time were largely middle class. By choice, they mostly lived in self-contained communities surrounding their synagogue and other communal institutions. Yiddish was the common language of Ashkenazi Jews in eastern and central Europe. With the start of the Renaissance and religious wars in the late 16 th century, a divide grew between central and eastern European Jews. In central Europe, particularly in Germany, rulers forced the Jews to live apart from the rest of society in ghettos with between 100 and 500 inhabitants. The ghettos were generally clean and in good condition. Eastern European Jews lived in the shtetls, where Jews and gentiles lived side by side.
In the 1600s and 1700s, Jews in Poland, the center of Ashkenazi Jewry, faced blood libels and riots. The growth of Hasidism in Poland drew many Jews away from typical Ashkenazi practice. After the Chmielnicki massacres in Poland in 1648, Polish Jews spread through Western Europe, some even crossing the Atlantic. Many Ashkenazi Polish Jews fled to Amsterdam and joined previously existing communities of German Jews. Sephardim there considered the Ashkenazim to be socially and culturally inferior. While the Sephardim were generally wealthy, the Ashkenazim were poor peddlers, petty traders, artisans, diamond polishers, jewelry workers and silversmiths. As the Sephardim became poorer in the 18 th century, the communities became more equal and more united.
The Jewish community in England also changed in the 1700s. It had been primarily Sephardi throughout the 1600s, but it became more Ashkenazi in culture as growing numbers of German and Polish Jews arrived.
By 1750, out of 2,500 Jews in the American Colonies, the majority was Ashkenazi. They were Yiddish-speaking Jews from Holland, Germany, Poland and England. The first Jews were merchants and traders. Since then, Ashkenazi Jews have built up communities throughout the United States.
By the end of the 19 th century, as a result of Russian persecution, there was massive Ashkenazi emigration from Eastern Europe to other areas of Europe, Australia, South Africa, the United States and Israel. Ashkenazim outnumbered Sephardim everywhere except North Africa, Italy, the Middle East and parts of Asia. Before World War II, Ashkenazim comprised 90% of world Jewry.
The destruction of European Jewry in World War II reduced the number of Ashkenazim and, to some extent, their numeric superiority over Sephardim. The United States became the main center for Ashkenazi Jews.
Over time Ashkenazim and Sephardim developed different prayer liturgies, Torah services, Hebrew pronunciation and ways of life. Originally, most Ashkenazim spoke Yiddish. Ashkenazi and Sephardi tunes for both prayers and Torah reading are different. An Ashkenazi Torah lies flat while being read, while a Sephardi Torah stands up. Ashkenazi scribes developed a distinctive script. One major difference is in the source used for deciding Jewish law. Sephardim follow Rabbi Joseph Caro&rsquos Shulhan Arukh. The Ashkenazim go by Rabbi Moses Isserles, who wrote a commentary on the Shulhan Arukh citing Ashkenazi practice. There are differences in many aspects of Jewish law, from which laws women are exempt from to what food one is allowed to eat on Passover. Today, many of the distinctions between Ashkenazim and Sephardim have disappeared. In both Israel and the United States today, Ashkenazim and Sephardim live side by side, though they generally have separate institutions.
In Israel, political tensions continue to exist because of feelings on the part of many Sephardim that they have been discriminated against and still don&rsquot get the respect they deserve. Historically, the political elite of the nation have been Ashkenazim however, this is gradually changing. Shas, a religious Sephardi party, has become one of the most powerful in the country and individual Sephardi politicians now hold powerful positions. Moroccan-born David Levy, for example, has served as foreign minister and, in July 2000, Iranian-born Moshe Katsav was elected president.
An international team of scientists announced on September 9 2014 that they had come to the conclusion that all Ashkenazi Jews are descended from an original group of about 350 individuals who lived between 600 and 800 years ago. These people were of Middle-Eastern and European descent. The analysis was done by comparing the DNA data of 128 Ashkenazi Jews with the DNA of a reference group of 26 Flemmish people from Belgium, and then working out which genetic markers are unique to people of Ashkenazi descent. The similarities in the Ashkenazi genomes allowed the scientists to identify a base point from which all Ashkenazi Jews descend. According to the scientists, this effectively makes all modern Ashkenazi Jews 30th cousins, stemming from the same population almost 800 years ago. This discovery may help medical professionals treat genetic diseases, because diseases like Tay Sachs and certain types of cancers are more prevalent in the Ashkenazi Jewish population. In order to treat these diseases doctors will now have a better idea of where to sequence an individuals genome to test for disease succeptability. This discovery also effectively disproves the idea that Ashkenazi Jews were descended from Khazars who converted to Judaism during the 8th or 9th centuries C.E.
E.A. Speiser, Genesis (Eng., 1964), 66 U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, 2 (1964), 192 EM, 1 (1965), 762&ndash3 (incl. bibl.). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: W. Holladay, Jeremiah, 2 (1989), 427 P. Briant, From Cyrus to Alexander (2002), 39.
Sources: Yehoshua M. Grintz, Ashkenaz, Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.
Butnick, Stephanie. Study Says All Ashkenazi Jews Are 30th Cousins, Tablet Magazine. September 10, 2014.
Ausubel, Nathan. Pictorial History of the Jewish People. New York: Crown Publishers, 1953.
Dimont, Max. Jews, God and History. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962.
Seltzer, Robert. Jewish People, Jewish Thought. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1980.
Map of the locations in Abraham's story
The story of Abraham and his descendents is found in the book of Genesis. We first meet him in Genesis chapter 11, although at this stage his name is Abram. There is very little biographical detail about him apart from the fact that he was a shepherd and came from Ur in Mesopotamia - modern day Iraq - after which he and his family moved, with his father Terah, to Haran.
This is a polytheistic age, an age when people believed in and worshipped many gods. Yet within this atmosphere, Abram answers the call of God and it is because of this that he accepts and realises the reality of there being only one true God.
In the Jewish tradition called Midrash (a Hebrew word which means 'interpretation' and relates to the way readings or biblical verses are understood), there are a number of stories about Abraham smashing his father's idols when he realises that there can be only one God of heaven and earth. It doesn't matter whether the stories are true or not. They acknowledge that Abraham was the first person to recognise and worship the one God. And so, monotheism was born.
At the beginning of Genesis chapter 12, God asked Abram to leave his home and country and he makes Abram three promises: the promise of a relationship with God, numerous descendents and land.
I will make you a great nation
And I will bless you
I will make your name great,
And you will be a blessing
I will bless those who bless you,
And whoever curses you I will curse
And all the peoples of the earth
Will be blessed through you
The only problem is that both Abram and his wife, Sarai (later called Sarah) are old people and childless. They will have to leave their homeland and they don't even know who this God is! They seem to be an almost impossible set of promises for God to keep. But the amazing fact about Abram is that he does what he is asked. There are no signs or miracles he has no scriptures or traditions on which to draw, so Abram has to place his trust in this nameless God. Consequently, Abram has gone down in history as a man of tremendous faith. As a result of his obedience, God changes his name to Abraham, meaning 'father of the people'.
The ultimate test of Abraham's obedience, however, comes in Genesis 22 when he is asked to sacrifice his son by Sarah - Isaac. God had promised that Abraham's descendents would come through Isaac, so the level of faith he displays is quite astonishing. Abraham trusts God and takes his son, as directed, up a mountain. At the very last minute, God intervenes and spares Isaac's life by providing another animal (a ram) for sacrifice. The test is complete and God once more reiterates his promises to Abraham of land, descendents and a personal relationship.
According to the Bible, Abraham is humanity's last chance to establish a relationship with God. At the beginning of the Bible in the creation narratives, Adam and Eve set in train a pattern of disobedience to God's commands which takes root. Even after the Great Flood, in which only Noah was saved, humanity once again comes perilously close to alienating themselves from their creator God. They build the tower of Babel (Genesis 11), a tower that seems like it will almost break through to the heavens and God again intervenes and scatters the people across the earth.
Many scholars believe these stories were written to explain to people why the world is like it is and why humans are like they are. What is our place in the world? Why do we die? They address questions of life and death, rather than being simply explanations about how the world was created.
At the end of Genesis 11, we are provided with a genealogy and Abraham becomes the new hope through which God will try and create a people to live by a certain set of values. The important thing to learn here is the uniqueness of the Covenant relationship between God and Abraham. For the first time, we see the beginning of a two-way relationship: God doing something for Abraham, and Abraham doing something for God. The blessings of God are passed on from one generation to another.
The story of Abraham is about obedience to the will of God - not blind obedience, because the Bible stories tell us that Abraham frequently challenged God and asked questions. But in the end, he trusted this God who had made such extraordinary promises and in so doing formed a very special and personal relationship with God which, believers will argue, has continued through to the present day.
Torah - History
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The New Testament and Judaism (Article)
The New Testament was written by Jews in a Jewish culture. When the New Testament is read from a jewish perspective, new understandings arise.
10 surprising facts about Jesus we’ve had wrong all these years (Article)
There is much more to Jesus than we have been taught.
Interpreting the events of Act 2 from a Jewish perspective (Article)
When Acts 2 is interpreted from a Jewish perspective, the true meaning behind the events described in the first few verses of this chapter are revealed.
A New Heart: Covenant relationship with God (Article)
God has made an everlasting covenant with all men that exists throughout all time.
Exodus 20:10-11 | What and When is the Sabbath? (Article)
There are differing views on what the Sabbath is and when it is to be celebrated. Interpreting the Sabbath through the eyes of the Ancient Hebrews will assist in understanding this day from a Biblical perspective.
Flash cards can greatly help with the memorization of the Hebrew alphabet and language.
Benner's Translation of the Torah (Book)
Jeff A. Benner's translation of the Torah from his ground-breaking work, The Torah: A Mechanical Translation.
Benner's Commentary on the Torah (Book)
Jeff A. Benner's commentary on selected verses, names, topics expounding on the linguistics and cultural background of the Hebrew people.
Introduction to Ancient Hebrew (Article)
An introduction to the ancient Hebrew alphabet, the Hebrew language and their philosophy.
The Untold Story of Cain and Abel (Article)
We have all heard the story of Cain and Abel. But a careful reading of the Hebrew reveals some interesting insights.
Hebrew Alphabet Chart (Chart)
A detailed chart showing the different stages of the Hebrew alphabet from ancient to modern times.
How many came out of the exodus of Egypt (Article)
From the text it would appear that the nation of Israel served at least 400 years in captivity in Egypt. But Exodus 6 and 1 Chronicles 6 come trading this.
The Aaronic Blessing from a Hebrew Perspective (Article)
When we interpret the Aaronic Blessing from their cultural perspective the passage comes to life in a way never seen before.
The meaning of Grace from a Hebrew perspective (Article)
Most theologians will define "grace" as "unmerited favor." But we must be careful not to interject a theological bias into the text.
Sabbath in Ancient Hebrew (Video)
Each letter in the Hebrew alphabet was originally a picture with meaning. In this video we will examine the letters in the Hebrew word shabbat.
Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions (Video)
Examples of ancient Hebrew writings that have been discovered, which show the early pictographic script, Paleo-Hebrew and the Aramaic script.
The Connection Between Language and Culture (Video)
In every culture, past and present, the language is closely connected to the culture of the people.
The Pronunciation of the name YHWH (Video)
Examining the rules of pronunciation and grammar as it applies to the name YHWH.
The Image of God (Video)
Uncovering the meaning behind the image of God and what it means to take his name in vain.
The Horns of Moses (Video)
According to Exodus 7:1 YHWH made Moses God to Pharoah. In Hebrew thought a god is one who has "power" and "authority."
Comments from Pastors and Teachers
I've been a teacher of Hebraic thought for around 25 years. I discovered your work around 3 years ago and I wanted to let you know that it is really helpful in my work. I teach my students from restored Name Hebrew/English translation that I have compiled and edited over the years. I'm looking forward to the soon coming Mechanical Translation of the Torah. Your books are fantastic, and I cited them when I completed my dissertation. Thanks again for the time and effort that you have put into the AHRC.
-- Michael A Trinkman D.Th.
Shalom! I just wanted to commend you for the work you do and for your website. I first learned Hebrew as a seminarian at Concordia Seminary (a Lutheran seminary in St. Louis), however, it was not until I became good friends with an orthodox rabbi that I truly learned Hebrew. Only then, did I begin to understand Hebraic thought vs. Western/Hellenistic thought, etc. The material you present is excellent, top notch, and yet very accessible to any interested lay person. I have promoted your work to my congregation and a few have bought some of your books.
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Though we have never met, you have become a wonderful friend in my life. You research, writings and CD's have helped me tremendously. I am a pastor going on 23 years of ministry and have loved the Greek and Hebrew language of scripture for some time, but. about two years ago I came across your ministry and it has totally blessed me. I own most everything you have written or recorded. Thank you so much.
--Dr. John L. Mastrogiovanni, Senior Pastor
[Jeff Benner's] Revised Mechanical Translation is an awesome translation that is faithful for any biblical or entry level bible student.
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I want to personally thank you for all your research. While attending a baptist seminary my first exposure to Hebrew was a one-year required class that at best taught me the aleph-bet and some translation techniques, while at worst, presented a dry, sterile course that lacked the breadth and depth I wanted from this beautiful language. I find your website and links refreshing, enlightening, and thought-provoking. It has rekindled my love for the original text and weened me from relying on the Greek text for my new testament studies.
-- Stephan Shardy, PhD
I received my Ph.D. from Hebrew Union College--JIR, Cincinnati, June 7, 1968, in Ancient Near Eastern Languages and Literature and I find your work extremely well done. It's unfortunate no one before now has shown the interest and commitment that you have! Your work reminds us that we forget the concreteness of the Hebrew/Aramaic languages and we continue to try to project our abstract mind--set upon this powerful and down to earth language!
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Heroes and Humans
One of the things I love most about the Bible is that it presents humans, not heroes. Even the Bible’s greatest figures have virtues and vices.
JTS Rabbinic Convocation, June 2021
Korah Had Options and So Do We
Korah is most famous for challenging Moses’s authority, framing rebellion in the guise of populism, and calling on Moses to share power and religious titles. The Rabbis understand Korah’s call for shared leadership and responsibility as a selfish desire to see himself awarded the role of the kohen gadol. He did not actually want “people” to have power rather, he personally wanted authority and prestige and framed rebellion as something he was doing for the greater good.
Jewish Bible Translations: Personalities, Passions, Politics, Progress
Author Leonard J. Greenspoon discussed his book, Jewish Bible Translations: Personalities, Passions, Politics, Progress , in which he highlights distinctive features of Jewish Bible translations and offers new insights regarding their shared characteristics and their limitations.
The Old Testament - A Brief Overview
We now move on to another very important subject. That is the subject of Abraham, who became the first Hebrew, and whose family God chose to weave His scarlet thread through the linen of humanity. It was through Abraham's descendants that the Jewish nation would arise, a people who would receive the covenant of the Lord, and that One of those descendants would be the Savior, not only for the Jews but for the whole world.
Abraham lived in the city of Ur (capital of the ancient kingdom of Sumer). Sometime around 2,000 BC. God called Abraham to leave his home and go to a new land that God would show Him. The Bible traces Abraham's steps from Ur to Haran (north of Canaan), through the land of Canaan, into Egypt, and back into Canaan (which later became Israel).
God promised to give Abraham a son through his wife Sarah who was barren (unable to bear children). Through this son, a mighty nation would arise and also an uncountable amount of descendants, and One of those descendants would be a blessing to all the nations in the world.
This promise seemed impossible because they were so old but Abraham believed what God said, though later he doubted and tried to force God's hand by having a son through Sarah's servant girl, Hagar. In ancient times this was accepted, but not in God's sight. It violated His law for marriage (Gen 2), and Abraham suffered greatly for his sin. His son from Hagar, Ishmael, turned against Isaac, Abraham's son of the promise, who was born 13 years after Ishmael, when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90. So Ishmael had to leave Abraham's household.
Abraham was called the first "Hebrew" which probably means "to cross over" because he was supposedly so foolish for thinking that there was just one God and if he crosses over the Euphrates river that he would find this new land that God had promised. But it was with Abraham that God established His covenant. This was God's promise:
Gen 12:1-3 Now the LORD had said to Abram: "Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation I will bless you and make your name great and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
Abraham believed the Lord as it says:
Gen 15:6 And he believed in the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
Circumcision was the seal and reminder of the covenant, and so all of Abraham's male descendants would be circumcised to remind them that God would someday fulfill all the promises that He made to Abraham. Notice that Abraham believed before he was circumcised. Faith came before works. This is an important point that Paul makes in the book of Romans that salvation is by grace through faith alone (Rom 4).
There was a very beautiful yet wicked place in Canaan called Sodom and Gomorrah and the Lord told Abraham that He was going to destroy it but Abraham pleaded with God to spare the sinful cities for that is where his nephew Lot lived. God sent an angel to rescue Lot and his family but destroyed the cities because of their homosexuality and other abominations.
Now there were many important events that took place in Abraham's life but there is one that is important to mention. As Abraham grew stronger in faith, God told him to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering to prove his faith (Gen 22), Abraham obeyed and brought Isaac to Mount Moriah, laid him on the altar and at the last minute the Lord told him not to kill Isaac and gave him a ram for the sacrifice. Here we see Abraham's faith (Heb 11:17-19) and a beautiful picture of Christ. The Bible calls Abraham a friend of God:
Isa 41:8 "But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham My friend.
Before we move on keep in mind that the Lord made this peculiar promise to Abraham:
Gen 15:13-14 Then He said to Abram: "Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. "And also the nation whom they serve I will judge afterward they shall come out with great possessions.
Watch the video: The Torah: a Quick Overview. Whiteboard Bible Study (January 2022).