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TORAH (Heb. תּוֹרָה).

The Term

Torah is derived from the root ירה which in the hifil conjugation means "to teach" (cf. Lev. 10:11). The meaning of the word is therefore "teaching," "doctrine," or "instruction"; the commonly accepted "law" gives a wrong impression. The word is used in different ways but the underlying idea of "teaching" is common to all.

In the Pentateuch it is used for all the body of laws referring to a specific subject, e.g., "the torah of the meal offering" (Lev. 6:7), of the guilt offering (7:1), and of the Nazirite (Num. 6:21), and especially as a summation of all the separate torot (cf. Lev. 7:37–38; 14:54–56). In verses, however, such as Deuteronomy 4:44, "and this is the Torah which Moses set before the children of Israel" and ibid. 33:4, "Moses commanded us a Torah, an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob" and the references in the Bible to "the Torah of Moses" (cf. Josh. 1:7; Ezra 3:2; 7:6; 8:1, 8; Mal. 3:22), it refers particularly to the Pentateuch as distinct from the rest of the Bible. In later literature the whole Bible was referred to as Tanakh, the initial letters of Torah (Pentateuch), Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Hagiographia), a meaning it retained in halakhic literature to differentiate between the laws which are of biblical origin (in its Aramaic form, de-Oraita, "from the Torah") and those of rabbinic provenance (de-rabbanan). The term is, however, also used loosely to designate the Bible as a whole.

A further extension of the term came with the distinction made between the Written Torah (Torah she-bi-khetav) and the Oral Torah (Torah she-be-al peh). The use of the plural Torot (e.g., Gen. 26:5) was taken to refer to those two branches of divine revelation which were traditionally regarded as having been given to Moses on Mount Sinai (Yoma 28b, and see *Oral Law). Justification was found in the verse of Exodus 34:27, which can be translated literally as "Write thou these words for by the mouth of these words I have made a covenant." The word "write" (ketav) was regarded as the authority for the Written Law (hence Torah she-bi-khetav, i.e., the Torah included in the word ketav) while "by the mouth" (al pi) was taken to refer to the Torah she-be-al peh (i.e., the Torah referred to in the phrase al pi; cf. Git. 60b). Lastly, the word is used for the whole corpus of Jewish traditional law from the Bible to the latest development of the halakhah. In modern Hebrew the word is used to designate the system of a thinker or scholar, e.g., "the torah of Spinoza."


S. Schechter, Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (19602); C.G. Montefiore and H. Loewe, A Rabbinic Anthology (19602), index; G.G. Scholem, On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism (1965), index; S.Y. Agnon, Attem Re'item (1959); A.J. Heschel, Torah min ha-Shamayim ba-Aspaklaryah shel ha-Dorot, 2 (1965); F.E. Urbach, Ḥazal Pirkei Emunot ve-De'ot (1969), index.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.