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The Torah is the most important document in Judaism, revered as the inspired word of God, traditionally said to have been revealed to Moses. The word Torah means "teaching," "instruction," "scribe", or "law" in Hebrew. It is also known as the Five Books of Moses, the Book of Moses, the Law of Moses (Torat Moshe) or Sefer Torah (which refers to the scroll cases in which the books were kept), in Greek called Pentateuch ("five rolls or cases").
Other names current in Judaism include Hamisha Humshei Torah ("[the] five fifths/parts [of the] Torah") or simply the Humash ("fifth"). A Sefer Torah is a formal written scroll of the five books, written by a Torah scribe under exceptionally strict requirements. The term is sometimes also used in the general sense to also include both Judaism's written law and oral law, encompassing the entire spectrum of authoritative Jewish religious teachings throughout history, including the Mishnah, the Talmud, the Midrash, and more.
The Torah comprises the first five books of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible. Christian Bibles incorporate the Hebrew Bible into its canon, where it is known as the Old Testament. Though different Christian denominations have slightly different versions of the Old Testament in their Bibles, the five books of Moses (which are also called the Pentateuch or "the Law") are common to them all.
The five books of the Torah, their names and pronunciations in the original Hebrew, are as follows:
* Genesis (Bereshit: "In the beginning...")
* Exodus (Shemot: "Names")
* Leviticus (Vayyiqra: "And he called...")
* Numbers (Bamidbar: "In the desert...")
* Deuteronomy (Devarim: "Words", "Discourses", or "Things")
The Hebrew names are taken from initial words within the first verse of each book. See, for example, Genesis 1:1.
Jews have revered the Torah through the ages, as have Samaritans and Christians. It is traditionally accepted as the literal word of God as told to Moses. For many, it is neither exactly history, nor theology, nor a legal and ritual guide, but something beyond all three. It is the primary guide to the relationship between God and man, and the whole meaning and purpose of that relationship, a living document that unfolds over generations and millennia.
The five books contain both a complete and ordered system of laws, particularly the 613 mitzvot (613 distinct "commandments", individually called a mitzvah), as well as a historical description of the beginnings of what came to be known as Judaism. The five books (particularly Genesis, the first part of Exodus, and much of Numbers) are, primarily, a collection of seemingly historical narratives rather than a continuous list of laws; moreover, many of the most important concepts and ideas from the Torah are found in these stories. The book of Deuteronomy is different from the previous books; it consists of Moses' final speeches to the Children of Israel at the end of his life.
According to the classical Jewish belief, the stories in the Torah are not always in chronological order. Sometimes they are ordered by concept (Talmud tractate Pesachim 7a) — Ein mukdam u'meuchar baTorah "[There is] not 'earlier' and 'later' in [the] Torah". This belief is accepted by Orthodox Judaism. Non-Orthodox Jews generally understand the same texts as signs that the current text of the Torah was redacted from earlier sources (see documentary hypothesis.)
This is a brief summary of the contents of the books of the Pentateuch. For details see the individual books.
Genesis begins with the story of Creation (Genesis 1-3) and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, as well the account of their descendants. Following these are the accounts of Noah and the great flood (Genesis 3-9), and his descendants. The Tower of Babel and the story of (Abraham)'s covenant with God (Genesis 10-11) are followed by the story of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the life of Joseph (Genesis 12-50). God gives to the Patriarchs a promise of the land of Canaan, but at the end of Genesis the sons of Jacob end up leaving Canaan for Egypt because of a famine.
Exodus is the story of Moses, who leads Israelites out of Pharaoh's Egypt (Exodus 1-18) with a promise to take them to the promised land. On the way, they camp at Mount Sinai/Horeb where Moses receives the Ten Commandments from God, and mediates His laws and Covenant (Exodus 19-24) the people of Israel. Exodus also deals with the violation of the commandment against idolatry when Aaron took part in the construction of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32-34). Exodus concludes with the instructions on building the Tabernacle (Exodus 25-31; 35-40).
Leviticus Begins with instructions to the Israelites on how to use the Tabernacle, which they had just built (Leviticus 1-10). This is followed by rules of clean and unclean (Leviticus 11-15), which includes the laws of slaughter and animals permissible to eat (see also: Kashrut), the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16), and various moral and ritual laws sometimes called the Holiness Code (Leviticus 17-26).
Numbers takes two censuses where the number of Israelites are counted (Numbers 1-3, 26), and has many laws mixed among the narratives. The narratives tell how Israel consolidated itself as a community at Sinai (Numbers 1-9), set out from Sinai to move towards Canaan and spied out the land (Numbers 10-13). Because of unbelief at various points, but especially at Kadesh Barnea (Numbers 14), the Israelites were condemned to wander for forty years in the desert in the vicinity of Kadesh instead of immediately entering the land of promise. Even Moses sins and is told he would not live to enter the land (Numbers 20). At the end of Numbers (Numbers 26-35) Israel moves from the area of Kadesh towards the promised land. They leave the Sinai desert and go around Edom and through Moab where Balak and Balaam oppose them (Numbers 22-24; 31:8, 15-16). They defeat two Transjordan kings, Og and Sihon (Numbers 21), and so come to occupy some territory outside of Canaan. At the end of the book they are on the plains of Moab opposite Jericho ready to enter the Promised Land.
Deuteronomy consists primarily of a series of speeches by Moses on the plains of Moab opposite Jericho exhorting Israel to obey God and further instruction on His Laws. At the end of the book (Deuteronomy 34), Moses is allowed to see the promised land from a mountain, but dies and is buried by God before Israel begins the conquest of Canaan.
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