Torah, definition and study. A-Z index of Cognitio.

Torah “education, teaching” is the central reference of Jewish religious tradition. In rabbinic literature the word “Torah” denotes both the first five biblical books, the, and the Oral Torah.

The Oral Torah includes interpretations and expansions which, according to rabbinic tradition, have been transmitted from generation to generation and are now codified and included in the Talmud and Midrash. According to rabbinic tradition, all the teachings present in the Torah, both written and oral, were given by God to Moses, a prophet, some on Mount Sinai and others near the Tabernacle, and all were written and collected by Moses in the present Torah.

According to a Midrash, the Torah was created before the creation of the world, and was used as a matrix for Creation.

The Christian biblists usually refer to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible with the title “Pentateuch”, a term used for the first time by Hellenistic Jewry of Alexandria, to indicate the containers of the scrolls of papyrus on which the five books were written. In the New Testament the five books are simply called “the Law”. Traditionally, the words of the Torah are written in Hebrew on a scroll of parchment by a sofer (scribe). Furthermore, it is necessary to specify that the Torah should be read from right to left, turning the roll with the left knob. 

torah scrolls

Torah scrolls

The form of the Torah is narrative, from the beginning when God creates the world, through the beginnings of the people of Israel, their descent into Egypt, until the delivery of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai.

Egypt, definition and study. A-Z index of Cognitio.


It ends with the death of Moses, just before the Israelite’s arrive in the Promised Land of Canaan. The Hebrew titles of the Torah are taken from the opening words of the first verse of the respective books reflecting the essential themes, which are:

Genesis: “In the beginning …”

Genesis, definition and study. A-Z index of Cognitio.


Exodus: “Names”

Leviticus “And he called …”

Numbers: “In the desert …”

Deuteronomy “Words” or “Speeches”

Rabbinic tradition holds that Moses came to learn the whole Torah while he lived on Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights, and both the oral and written Torah were transmitted in parallel with each other. Where the Torah leaves undefined words and concepts, and cites procedures without giving an explanation or instructions, the reader must look for the missing particulars in supplementary sources known as oral law or oral Torah. The Cabalists maintain that not only do the words of the Torah contain a divine message, they also indicate a more important message that extends far beyond words alone.

Therefore they affirm that even a simple sine such as the kotzo shel yod (קוצו של יוד), the serif of the Hebrew letter yod (י), the smaller letter, or decorative markings, or repeated words, were transmitted by God to teach many lessons . The scrolls of the Torah manuscripts are still used and copied by scribes (soferim) for ritual purposes; The texts are written using a particular methodology, laborious and meticulous, by highly qualified scribes.

It is believed that every word, or sign, has a divine meaning, and that absolutely no part can be changed inadvertently, lest it fall into error. The fidelity of the Hebrew text of the Torah in particular, is considered of supreme importance, up to the last letter: translations or transcripts are frowned upon in the formal use of religious functions, and the transcription is performed with utmost care. An error of a single letter, ornament, or symbol of the 304,805 stylized letters that make up the Hebrew text of the Torah, makes a scroll unsuitable, so a special skill is required and a parchment takes a long time to write and control it.

Whatever the origins, two features of the “secret” teachings came to have a profound effect on the Jewish interpretation of the nature and content of the Torah.

One was the Gnostic emphasis of the redeeming power of esoteric knowledge, that is, of acquired knowledge not by learning or empirical observation but by special divine revelation to chosen individuals. The Jewish apocalyptic developed within this context, perhaps on the basis of Babylonian models, and people who belonged to apocalyptic circles spread the notion that a secret upper Torah had been revealed to Moses together with the public Torah Written and Oral. The idea that there was a secret and important body of knowledge for redemption persisted in the cabal and in successive Judaism. There was a distinctive retelling of the notion of the divinely revealed Torah thanks to the Sefer Yetzirah (“Book of Creation”), a mystical treatise of unknown origins, but which must have existed in some form since the sixth century, as quoted by the poet Kallir. Sefer Yetzirah deals with cosmology and cosmogony: what is the world and how was it created? According to Genesis, God created the world by pronouncing things, that is, with his “word”.

Cosmology, definition and study. A-Z index of Cognitio.


What words? Genesis certainly gives the impression that God said things like “Let there be light!” However this simplistic reading does not satisfy the author of Sefer Yetzirah. According to him, God created the world through the “letters of the Torah”, that is, the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, along with the ten numbers of the decimal system.

Torah, definition and study. A-Z index of Cognitio.



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Torah, definition and study. A-Z index of Cognitio.