*Disclaimer: In the next weeks, I begin a series covering concepts in Judaism. It is not exhaustive, but it is meant to go over in a general way what are Jewish beliefs and where they are found in the Hebrew bible (What Christians call the “Old Testament”).
These articles are for education purposes only. If you have further questions, you should ask your religious leader, or you can email me, for further information. (End of Disclaimer)*
This week we will discuss the Hebrew Scriptures, what they are and how they are seen in Judaism.
First, let us understand what is in the Hebrew Scriptures.
The Hebrew Scriptures are broken down into three parts:
The Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy)
2 Naviim (Prophets): Joshua, Judges, 1st&2nd Samuel, 1st&2nd Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
- Kethuvim (Writings): Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, 1st &2nd Chronicles.
As you can see if you are a Christian, that the entire (100%) Hebrew Scriptures are what you call the “Old Testament” in your bible.
The difference is how we approach the volumes of what is called in Hebrew, the TNaKH , pronounced,(“Tenach”). This is an acronym of the three parts T-N-K.
Now, in comparison, Christians (Protestants) see their Bible as “Wholly True”; meaning that ever word from Genesis to Revelation has equal weight as to its authority.
In Judaism, this is quite different.
We see the Torah as that which has the most authority.
The reason is quite simple:
Both the Prophet (Moses) and the Commandments their within say they are the quintessential authors of G-D’s will and instruction. The Torah says that nothing in it can be added or taken away (Deuteronomy 4:2-3, 13:1) and that there hasn’t, nor, ever will be a greater prophet, other than Moses alone (Deuteronomy 34:10-12). Also, there is a warning that if anyone tries to direct people away from the Torah, even if they show miracles, and their prophecies come true, that they are a false prophet, not to be trusted, because it is a test from the Almighty to see if you trust in HIS words in the Torah, alone(Deuteronomy 13:1-7).
So, it is quite clear that the “Law of Moses”, the Torah has the most weight bar none.
As we move away from the Torah, the further away relative to its place in the Hebrew Scriptures, the less authority it has as rule.
The purpose of the Prophets:
So, as you can see from the list above, there are a few “prophets” missing from the list: They being Daniel, Ezra, and, Nehemiah. That is because they are not considered prophets in Judaism. Why? Well, because they have to cover the main tenets of what makes a prophet: That they were in the Land of Israel when they were prophesizing and that their prophecies came true during their lifetime from the point they made the prophecy. Ezra and Nehemiah, as well as Daniel were in Babylon when they wrote their works.
The remainder of those prophets in the list above all saw their prophecies come to fruition. Isaiah, being the longest and most prolific, predicted the building of the second Temple and King Cyrus freeing the Jewish people from Babylon, to return to Israel (Judea).
So, why do we have the book of Prophets in the first place, if their prophecies have come to be?
To give us hope. There are clear universals that are found in the Prophets such as Obedience to the Commandments. That G-D doesn’t forget his people (Israel) when they stray and that G-D is constantly looking for us to return and observe his commandments, not just the Law, but applying mercy to the Poor, the Widow and the orphan (Isaiah 1:10-17).
So, the Prophets give us a historical record of what happens when we do take hold of the Torah, and when we do, G-D shows that through history HE redeems us back to our land (Israel).
The Writings: Their purpose is to as well point back to the Torah, yet they do it with music, prose, and stories. Fun fact: The book of Esther which is read during Purim, never once mentions G-D directly or indirectly. Yet, it is a historical story that points to our resilience to survive even when the odds are against us. The poetry and Psalms are some of the greatest hymns that were ever written. Proverbs which are exactly 31 chapters (31 days in a month) are to give instruction/wisdom once a day for both child and adult.
The Torah was codified (standardized) around 540 BCE (BC). The Prophets and Writings were Codified around 300CE (AD). The reason for the latter being set as cannon so late was because of the “Christianization” of Rome at that same time.
It, along with the Oral Tradition called the Talmud (We’ll talk about that next week) was to give the Jewish people a portable library that all Jews, regardless where we were, could read the same books and know that if we were loyal to our observance and followed the Torah, we would have the hope of the Prophets that we would one day return to the Land of Israel, to sing the songs of Psalms, and, rejoice.
We no matter where we are, we continually delve into our history, heritage, and we are guided by Moses and G-D’s Commandments (Mitzvos) toward that day.
Next week: What is the Talmud?
Dir. Rel. Ed and History