What is the Torah?

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    The Torah, Hebrew, is the first part of the Jewish bible and the central and most important document of Judaism, and has been used by Jews for thousands of years- a tradition still carried out today during Jewish ceremonies such as a Bar Mitzvah. The Torah is usually found written on a scroll of parchment in a formal and traditional manner under strict Jewish laws. Torah refers to the five books of Moses which are known in Hebrew, the oldest of the Jewish languages, as ‘Chameesa Choomsey Torah’- these are Bresheit (Genesis), Shermot (Exodus), Vayicra (Leviticus), Bamidbar (Numbers), and Devarim (Deuteronomy), all of which amounts up to the law of Moses.

    Tradition states that Moses himself wrote the Torah, but nowadays it is widely accepted by modern scholars that, like the bible, it has several different authors. Nowhere in the Torah does it claim to have been written by Moses, and there are many passages in it that have been found to be dated before and after Moses. The Torah is based on the traditional Jewish story that God dictated the Torah to Moses himself on Mount Sinai 50 days after Moses rescued the Egyptians from slavery, and that it shows Jews how God wants them to live. It contains 613 commandments, and the Jews live and refer to the top 10 known as ‘the 10 statements’.

    The name Torah has many different meanings in the English language including teaching, law, and instruction, and for the Jews the Torah means all of these in accordance with Jewish law. The Torah is used in a very special way- the scrolls are taken out from the Ark (Aron ha kodesh) and ‘portions’ of it are read in the synagogue three times a week, though on Mondays and Thursdays only small sections are read- this is the time when women may do the reading if desired, or for a Bat Mitzvah (a girl’s coming of age). The main reading is done on the morning of the Sabbath (Saturday mornings). The reading cycle starts at the end of Sukkot, an autumn festival, and the Jewish celebrate a special annual holiday called Simchat Torah; the completion of the year’s cycle of readings.

    As the scroll is made from a special parchment, it is not to be directly touched when unrolled on the Bimah (the raised platform in the middle of the synagogue made just for this), and so a special pointer or Yad is used instead. The reading or the chanting is usually performed by a person especially trained to so such as a Rabbi, or a boy or girl for their Bar Mitzvah. The reason being is because mistakes must not be made despite the letters being written without corresponding vows. When being read aloud, it is usually conducted to a traditional Jewish tune and is sung instead of just spoken. The Torah scroll is extra special and most important; it is said that if it gets dropped in the synagogue, the whole congregation must fast for 40 days to repent. This shows to us just how important the Torah is to the Jewish population.