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What Is the Torah?

What Is the Torah?

The Bible’s answer

 The English word “Torah” comes from the Hebrew word toh·rahʹ, which can be translated as “instruction,” “teaching,” or “law.” a (Proverbs 1:8; 3:1; 28:4) The following examples show how this Hebrew word is used in the Bible.

  •   Toh·rahʹ often refers to the first five books of the Bible​—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These are also called the Pentateuch, from a Greek word meaning “fivefold volume.” The Torah was written by Moses, so it is called “the book of the Law of Moses.” (Joshua 8:​31; Nehemiah 8:1) Evidently, it was originally written as one book but was later divided for easier handling.

  •   Toh·rahʹ is also used for the laws given to Israel on a particular subject, such as “the law [toh·rahʹ] of the sin offering,” “the law about leprosy,” and “the law about the Nazirite.”​—Leviticus 6:​25; 14:57; Numbers 6:​13.

  •   Toh·rahʹ sometimes refers to instruction and teaching, whether from parents, wise ones, or God himself.​—Proverbs 1:8; 3:1; 13:14; Isaiah 2:3, footnote.

What is in the Torah, or Pentateuch?

  •   The history of God’s dealings with humankind from creation to the death of Moses.​—Genesis 1:​27, 28; Deuteronomy 34:5.

  •   The regulations of the Mosaic Law. (Exodus 24:3) That Law is made up of more than 600 statutes. Prominent among them is the Shema, or Jewish confession of faith. One portion of the Shema says: “You must love Jehovah your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:​4-9) Jesus described this as “the greatest and first commandment.”​—Matthew 22:36-​38.

  •   Some 1,800 occurrences of the divine name, Jehovah. Rather than prohibit the use of God’s name, the Torah contains commands that required God’s people to pronounce it.​—Numbers 6:​22-​27; Deuteronomy 6:​13; 10:8; 21:5.

Misconceptions about the Torah

 Misconception: The laws of the Torah are eternal, never to be set aside.

 Fact: Some Bible translations do refer to specific statutes of the Torah​—including those related to the Sabbath, the priesthood, and the Day of Atonement​—as being “perpetual” or “everlasting.” (Exodus 31:16; 40:15; Leviticus 16:33, 34, King James Version) However, the Hebrew word used in these verses can also mean lasting into the indefinite future, not necessarily lasting forever. b After the Mosaic Law covenant had been in force for about 900 years, God foretold that he would replace it with “a new covenant.” (Jeremiah 31:31-​33) By “saying ‘a new covenant,’ [God] made the former [covenant] obsolete.” (Hebrews 8:​7-​13) It was replaced about 2,000 years ago on the basis of the death of Jesus Christ.​—Ephesians 2:​15.

 Misconception: Jewish oral traditions and the Talmud have authority equal to the written Torah.

 Fact: There is no Scriptural evidence that God gave Moses an oral law to accompany the written Torah. Instead, the Bible states: “Jehovah went on to say to Moses: ‘You are to write down these words.’” (Exodus 34:27) The oral law, later written down and known as the Mishnah and finally expanded into the Talmud, consists of Jewish traditions that began with the Pharisees. These traditions often conflicted with the Torah. For this reason, Jesus told the Pharisees: “You have made the word of God invalid because of your tradition.”​—Matthew 15:​1-9.

 Misconception: Women should not be taught the Torah.

 Fact: The Mosaic Law included a regulation that the entire Law be read to all the people of Israel, including the women and children. Why? “In order that they may listen and learn about and fear Jehovah [their] God and take care to carry out all the words of [the] Law.”​—Deuteronomy 31:10-​12. c

 Misconception: The Torah contains hidden messages.

 Fact: Moses, who recorded the Torah, stated that its message is clear and accessible to all, not hidden in a code. (Deuteronomy 30:11-​14) The theory that there are hidden messages in the Torah is rooted in Kabbalah, or traditional Jewish mysticism, which uses “artfully contrived” methods to interpret the Scriptures. d​—2 Peter 1:​16.

a See the Revised Edition of The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, entry 8451 in the section “Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary-Index to the Old Testament.”

b See the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Volume 2, pages 672-​673.

c In contrast to what the Torah itself teaches, Jewish legal tradition often prohibited women from studying the Torah. For example, the Mishnah quotes Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus as saying: “Whoever teaches his daughter Torah, it is as though he teaches her obscenity.” (Sotah 3:4) The Jerusalem Talmud includes his statement: “Let the words of the Torah rather be destroyed by fire than imparted to women.”​—Sotah 3:​19a.

d For example, the Encyclopaedia Judaica describes the Kabbalistic attitude toward the Torah: “The Torah does not so much mean anything specific, though it in fact means many different things on many different levels.”—Second edition, Volume 11, page 659.