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In the 1960’s movie The Graduate, we have a story about a young man played by Dustin
Hoffman, who just graduated from college. The movie opens with a graduation party in his
honor, where people are going around offering him congratulations and advice. One of the
most humorous scenes from this is about one fellow who comes up to him and says that he
has one word of advice for him, and moves on. Again he sees him and says he has one
word. Finally he and Dustin Hoffman are alone together, and he says he's got one word for
him. "One word," asks Dustin? Yes, one word: "plastics."
Well in a sense, in trying to explain Judaism, and grasp its essence, if I am successful in
explaining one word, then I will have achieved my goal. And that one word is the Torah.
Often times when I speak to people, I like to open this topic with a very frank declaration. I
say “I don’t believe in Judaism.” Now after some shocked looks and some raised eyebrows,
most people think I am crazy to stand up and make such a claim. But if you understand
things, the point is quite clear.
First of all,
1. Nowhere in Tanach (Old Testament) does the word “Judaism” appear.
2. “Ism’s” are a Western idea. The problem with referring to the beliefs of the Jews as
“Judaism” is that you could lump it with all the other manmade “isms” like Buddhism,
Hinduism, Communism, Existentialism, hedonism etc. If man makes it, he can change it.
We believe in something that is Divinely revealed, not manmade.
3. When you call it is “Judaism,” you make it seem that Hashem (G-d) is only interested in
connecting with the Jews, and seems to totally exclude addressing non-Jews. And from our
perspective that is really not the case at all.
So what is the real name of the religion of the Jews if it is not Judaism? The real name for
our religion is “Torah.” We believe that it was given to the Jews at Mount Sinai directly from
Hashem through Moses, and has a message, not only for the Jews, but for all of mankind.
(For practical reasons, I will continue to use the word “Judaism” from time to time, since it is
What do we mean by “Torah?” That word actually has a few connotations and you need to
understand all of them to get true picture.
By “Torah”, we can mean specifically a Scroll of the first 5 Books of the Bible, which is
commonly referred to it as the Five Books of Moses. But that is actually a bit of a misnomer.
Calling it the five books of Moses, hides the name “Torah,” and if you want to truly
understand the message of the Jewish Bible, you must recognize that the word Torah is a
major theme. The same thing occurs repeatedly throughout any translation of the Jewish
Bible, the word Torah is eliminated. Also one might get the impression that Moses was the
author of the Torah, and that is not the case. Furthermore, one might think that the stature
and level of authority attributed to Moses as a prophet is the same (for instance) as that of
Isaiah who was as the author of Isaiah. This is also not so, and we will deal with this more
In more general terms, “Torah” can refer to a total world-view, or system of law and order,
and behavior that is G-d given. It is, in a sense, how G-d thinks and operates the world. Our
Sages say that the Torah was the blueprint of creation, and that G-d created the universe
according to the system of Torah. It is the instruction book for life. Our goal as G-d’s
creatures is to align ourselves with this eternal Torah, and by doing so align ourselves with G-
d and the way that G-d thinks. As a blueprint of creation, it is also the blueprint for how
history is going to play itself out.
As the prophets say in regards to the messianic Era:
For out of Zion shall go forth the Torah, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem .
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel ; after those days,
saith the LORD, I will put my Torah in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts…
If we are to understand Jewish scripture and the prophecies it contains, we must understand
what is the Torah and its perspective.
“Torah” can also mean something that is consistent with the “Torah.” For example, we
believe that the rest of the TANACH (specifically the Prophets & the Writings) is considered
“Torah” because it is consistent with the laws and beliefs of the “Torah.” This description
carries over to later works even until today, where you have a “Torah scholar” being
someone who is versed in Talmud. That is because the Talmud is in line with Hashem’s
Torah. Christianity in a sense asserts that the NT is also Torah, meaning its beliefs and
worldview are consistent with those found in the Torah as well. Judaism, however, has
analyzed the NT and rejects it because it is too inconsistent with the Torah to be accepted
Furthermore, when Jews mention “Torah”, it implies both a written document, as well as the
oral tradition that was given over by Hashem at Sinai as a way of understanding the written
Torah. The main reason way there has to be an oral tradition is that none of the 613
commandments given in the Torah is given with enough information to properly fulfill it. The
oral tradition fills that void.
Now let me give you some examples of major gaps left in the written text alone.
For instance, four times in the Torah it states that men are commanded to put on a sign upon
their arms and front lets between their eyes. In Hebrew these items are referred to as
tefillin. These are those two leather boxes: one goes on the arm, with a leather strap is
wrapped around the arm, and one goes on the head. These are worn during morning
prayers. Well how did I know all of that? How did I know what they're made out of? How do I
know what goes inside of them? When do I put them on? None of that is spelled out in the
written text. However in the oral tradition that we find in the Talmud, all of that is clearly
spelled out. To show how faithfully our oral tradition has been passed down concerning
tefillin, we can compare the tefillin of today with a set that were found along with the Dead
Sea Scrolls, that date back nearly 2000 years, and we see that they are identical.
Another example, concerns the laws of the Sabbath, where it says that we are to do no form
of work on the Sabbath., The Torah is also very clear that one who violates the Sabbath is
liable for a severe punishment. Well, what constitutes work? What if I enjoy working in my
garden on Saturday? Is working in the garden considered work or is it not? What about
cooking? What about lighting a flame? What about walking? It says that on the Sabbath a
person should not go out from their place. What does that mean? Does it mean that I have
to remain in bed or can't leave my house, or maybe it means I can't leave my city? The
written text doesn't tell us, the oral tradition does.
By having an Oral Law, you are able to convey the little details and nuances that can only be
expressed from teacher to student. In fact, by depending upon an oral tradition you force a
tighter bond between teacher and student, between generation to generation, ensuring the
continuity of your culture.
Think of our own lives, and how much we learned about our daily routines, our jobs, driving a
car, how much do we learned from reading and harmless and we learned from someone
showing us what to do. The fact is most of what we know about how we conduct our daily
lives, has been conveyed to us through an oral tradition.
Now let us turn to the text to examine that there may indications in the written Torah of an
Oral Torah that coexists parallel with the written Torah.
We will now examine some verses that also underscore the necessity of studying Jewish
Scriptures in their original Hebrew, because much of the message to be found in the Torah
is lost in any translation.
Let us start in Genesis Chapter 26 verse three. This is God talking to Isaac, and it says:
Genesis 26: 3. Sojourn in this land, and I will be with you, and will bless you; for to you, In English, this point is totally missed. The word that God used in writing the Torah is
and to your seed, I will give all these countries, and I will perform the oath which I swore
to Abraham your father;
4. And I will make your seed multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give to your seed
all these countries; and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;
5. Because Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my
statutes, and my Torahs.
“Sorosai,” that means my Torahs. Plural. The original Hebrew clearly says Torah, which is
commonly translated as laws; however we have always held that this implies both the written
Torah and the oral Torah. We believe that the patriarchs Abraham Isaac and Jacob
instinctively knew the written and Oral Law.
Other examples of where we find the word “Torahs”:
Exodus 16:28. And the Lord said to Moses, How long do you refuse to keep my
commandments and my Torahs (laws)?
Ezekiel 44:24. And in a controversy they act as judges; and they shall judge it
according to my judgments; and they shall keep my Torahs (laws) and my statutes in all
my appointed times; and they shall sanctify my Sabbaths.
Now we are going to look at some cases where the written text strongly suggests that there
is some other (Oral) information, not found in the text of the Torah.
Numbers 8:4. And the workmanship of the Menorah was of hammered gold, its shaft,
its flowers, was hammered work; according to the pattern which the Lord had shown
Moses, so he made the Menorah.
“…The pattern which the Lord had shown Moses…” What pattern? There are no diagrams
in the Torah. Obviously, there was an image of the menorah that God had shown Moses that
was not in writing. How did Moses convey this pattern to the Jews, other than through an
Deuteronomy 12:21. If the place which the Lord your G-d has chosen to put His name
there is too far from you, then you shall kill of your herd and of your flock, which the Lord
has given you, as I have commanded you, and you shall eat in your gates, to your heart’
Here Moses is talking about the permission for Jews to eat meat for daily consumption
wherever they are, without having to come to the Temple to slaughter it. However, Moses
says “you shall kill of your herd…as I have commanded you….” Where did Moses ever
command us how to slaughter animals in a kosher manner? Certainly not in the written text.
It appears nowhere. Kosher slaughter is a very intricate process that is dealt with at length in
the oral tradition. The Torah tells us about a 40 year long discussion and interaction
between G-d & Moses, and Moses & Israel in the wilderness that produced our oral
tradition. What was happening during this time? There was a tremendous amount of
educating and studying going on that formed the foundation of Jewish practice and beliefs.
Where is the Oral Law today? It is alive and well. It is found primarily in the Talmud, and has
been applied to the daily lives of Jews for the last 3300+ years, wherever they have lived.
This shows that the Torah is a living document, and a livable document, showing that God's
word is a way of life for all-time.
Next let us examine the stature of the Torah among the other texts of the Jewish Bible. Is it
of the same or a higher authority than the rest of Tanach? We will find that the Torah is
preeminent among all of Jewish Scripture.
The Torah’s Preeminent Standing Among All of Jewish Scripture.
In the Talmud (Mesechta Succah), the question is asked: “What is the first passage from the
Torah that one should teach your child once they are able to speak?” You might think it is:
Shema Yisroel… (Hear O Israel …) or Beraishis Bara Elokim Es Hashamayim V’es Ha’
aretz (In the beginning Hashem created the heavens and the earth.) Our sages tell us that
we should teach our children first: Torah Tziva Lanu Moshe (Moses commanded us the
Torah). In fact, numerous children’s tunes accompany this passage to make it enjoyable and
easier to remember.
Moses commanded us the Torah, the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.
What is the significance of this passage that it should be first? First of all, don’t think that it
is saying that Moses is the author of the Torah. We absolutely believe that Hashem gave us
the Torah; and He gave it through Moses His servant. Moses was Hashem’s unique
messenger that “took dictation,” and literally wrote done the 5 Books of the Torah directly
dictated by Hashem.
(We say this passage in synagogue when we raise the Torah after having read from it, prior
to returning it to the ark.)
And this is the Torah which Moses set before the people of Israel … In addition, Moses also received the intricate oral tradition we discussed before that
…At the commandment of the Lord by the hand of Moses.
Hashem created to accompany the written text. Moses’ understanding of the Torah was in
essence the “official spin” on understanding Hashem’s word until today. To understand what
Judaism believes, we must understand what Moses understood and what he commanded
us. For those who want to reinterpret the Torah their own way, they must undermine Moses’
teachings and Moses’ standing as Hashem’s unique, supreme messenger.
How do we know that Moses was the most special of all prophets? Look at the very last
words of the Torah itself.
And there has not arisen since in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew
face to face, in all the signs and the wonders, which the Lord sent him to do in the land
of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to all his land, And in all that mighty
hand, and in all the great and awesome deeds which Moses performed in the sight of
Moses’ level of prophesy was unique among all prophets because Hashem spoke with him
directly and not through dreams or visions, which was the case for all other prophets.
And the Lord came down in the pillar of the cloud, and stood in the door of the Tent,
and called Aaron and Miriam; and they both came forth. And he said, Hear now my
words, If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known to him in a
vision, and will speak to him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses, for he is the
trusted one in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, manifestly, and not in
dark speech; and he beholds the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to
speak against my servant Moses?
The preeminent position that the Torah has among all of Jewish scripture is underscored by
the status Hashem gave to Moses. Since Moses’ level of humility and prophesy were so
great to enable him to receive and transmit the Torah, he stands above all later prophets and
To support this view, it is important to look throughout the rest of the Tanach to see what later
prophets and writers of the Tanach said about the Torah. They themselves place the Torah
as preeminent, and urge the Jewish people to keep its laws and beliefs. Never would they
state that their own writings are of the same significance as the Torah.
Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the
Torah, which Moses my servant commanded you; turn not from it to the right hand or to
the left, that you may prosper wherever you go.
And the days of David drew near that he should die; and he charged Solomon his son,
saying, I go the way of all the earth; be you strong therefore, and show yourself a man;
And keep the charge of the Lord your God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes,
and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies, as it is written in the
Torah of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do, and wherever you turn
Blessed be the Lord, who has given rest to his people Israel, according to all that he
promised, there has not failed one word of all his good promise, which he promised by
the hand of Moses his servant.
1Kings 8:56 .
And many people shall go and say, Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the
Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will
walk in his paths; for from Zion shall go forth Torah, and the word of the Lord from
But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days,
says the Lord, I will put my Torah in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and
will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every
man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all
know me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord; for I will forgive
their iniquity, and I will no longer remember their sin.
Throughout the world, we see that in every ark, in every synagogue is a Torah scroll and no
other scripture. We even have guidelines in Jewish law about stacking books. Which
should go on top, which on the bottom? A Chumash (5 books of Torah in book form) always
goes on top, followed by Prophets, Writings, Mishnah, Gemorrah, other holy books, secular
books. This is done to show our respect for Jewish scripture in general and the Torah in
Christians tend to view all of the Tanach as being on the same level of authority and de-
emphasize the Torah’s significance, as they de-emphasize the importance of the law in
favor of faith and grace. Also, there are very few verses that Christians cite to build their
case from the Torah. At best, they are merely faint hints or suggestions, but never a clear,
open reference to someone like Jesus. Most of their “strongest” verses come from the
Prophets and Writings, but even those passages are taken out of context in one form or
Since Jews believe that our holy Torah gives us insight into life, and prepares for us for the
eventualities we will face, we hold that the Torah even prepares us for someone like Jesus.
If there arises among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives you a sign or
a wonder, And the sign or the wonder, comes to pass, of which he spoke to you,
saying, Let us go after other gods, which you have not known, and let us serve them;
You shall not listen to the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord
your God tests you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and
with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God, and fear him, and keep his
commandments, and obey his voice, and you shall serve him, and hold fast to him.
And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he has
spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of
Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to thrust you out of the way which
the Lord your God commanded you to walk in. So shall you purge the evil away from
the midst of you.
In conclusion, Jewish scripture is clear that the Torah is Hashem’s preeminent Book, and
Moses His preeminent prophet. The lessons that Hashem teaches the Jewish people
through this Book and the man Moses form the foundation of what Judaism is all about.
|INTRODUCTION TO THE TORAH