The Hebrew Bible consists of three books: the Torah (Hebrew word meaning “teaching”), Nevi’im (the Prophets), and Ketuvim (the Writings). The Torah, also known as the Five Books of Moses, is the most important in everyday Jewish life. Jews believe that the words of the Torah are the words of God as revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai 3,000 years ago. As well as the early history of Jewish religion, it gives instructions on every aspect of daily life, and religious Jews show their obedience to God by following these laws. The Torah is always treated with reverence, from the moment a scroll is written by a skilled scribe to its use in synagogue services.
THE FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES
Genesis is the first of the five books found in the Torah. It tells the story of how the world was created and covers the stories of Adam and Eve (shown above) and the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy form the rest of the Torah.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Certain tools are used when writing a Torah scroll. The ink has to be specially prepared, and only a quill from a kosher bird can be used to write the text. The parchment for the scroll also has to come from a kosher animal, which cannot be killed just for its hide.
The Torah has always been written by hand, even to this day. It can take a scribe, or sofer, over a year to copy accurately every word. A scribe has to be a religious Jew and must train for seven years. When the Torah scroll is completed, it has to be checked several times before it can be used in the synagogue.
THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS
In 1947, fragments of ancient manuscripts were discovered in the caves of Qumran, near the Dead Sea, Israel. They consisted of text from almost every book of the Hebrew Bible. Written between 150 BCE and CE 68, the manuscripts would have belonged to the Essene community an ancient Jewish sect. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls shows that the Hebrew Bible has changed very little since Roman times.
The Torah is the holiest book in Jewish life. It contains 613 commandments. These are instructions for Jews on how to live a good and pious life. From the time of Moses, the laws were passed by word of mouth. Later they were written down so they would not be forgotten. Orthodox Jews adhere strictly to all the laws of the Torah. But there are also many Jews who only follow those laws that they feel apply to modern life.
The yad, meaning “hand” in Hebrew, is used by the person reading from the Torah to point to the words. This is to preserve the handwritten text and prevent it from being damaged. If a single letter of the Torah is smudged, the scroll is no longer considered fit to be used unless it is repaired by a scribe.
READING THE TORAH
The Torah scroll is read over the course of a year with a section chanted each Shabbat in the synagogue. Everyone in the congregation stands up as a mark of respect when the Torah is taken out of the Ark.