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What is Torah?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht

  

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Torah literally means "instruction." It also is closely related to the Hebrew word which means "light." It is the instruction manual for the cosmos, illuminating us on how it’s supposed to work. G-d illuminated Moses and all the Children of Israel with it on Mt. Sinai a few thousand years back, and Jews have been studying and living it ever since.

Torah literally means "instruction." It is also related to the Hebrew word which means "light." It is the instruction manual for the cosmos, illuminating us on how it’s supposed to work
Most specifically, the word Torah refers to what’s commonly known as The Five Books of Moses. "A Torah" is that handwritten parchment scroll in your synagogue’s ark.

More generally, the word Torah includes anything that authentically1 explains or expands the instructions received at Sinai: the Prophets and Scriptures, the Mishnah, Talmud, Shulchan Aruch (that’s the Code of Jewish Law), and the thousands of books and commentaries on them all. They all fit under the vast, ever-expanding Torah umbrella.

See also How do I study Torah?  

Footnotes

  • 1. The criteria for explaining and expanding Torah also comes from Moses at Sinai, and only commentary and law that is based on that system is called Torah. For an overview of those criteria see Maimonides' preface to his commentary on the Mishnah (Oral Law).

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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Mishnah
First written rendition of the Oral Law which G-d spoke to Moses. Rabbi Judah the Prince compiled the Mishna in the 2nd century lest the Oral law be forgotten due to the hardships of the Jewish exiles.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.