Written Torah

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The term Written Torah usually refers in the Talmudic literature to the Pentateuch, the Torah of Moses, in contradistinction to the Oral Torah, the traditional explanation of the Written Torah. In a homily by the third-century teacher, Rabbi Johanan (Gittin 60b), a verse (Exodus 34: 27) is read so as to refer to both the Written and the Oral Torah: ‘And the Lord said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for by the mouth of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.’ Rabbi Johanan comments that God only made a covenant with Israel for the sake of the Oral Torah, meaning that Israel alone posses the true meaning of the Written Torah which is conveyed only in the Oral Torah. Usually, in the Rabbinic literature, the term Written Torah refers only to the Pentateuch, not to the other books of the Bible, as when the same Rabbi Johanan says (Megillah 31a) that a teaching is found in the Torah, in the Prophets, and in the Sacred Writings (the Hagiographa). Teachings found in the other sections of the Bible are sometimes referred to (e.g. in Bava Kama 2b) as ‘words of tradition’, meaning that although these teachings are also part of the Written Torah they are stated only in the later books, the authors of which know them by tradition. Occasionally, however, a verse from other parts of the Bible is also referred to as the Torah (e.g. in Sanhedrin 34a). In the Talmudic passage in which is discussed proof ‘from the Torah’ for the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead (Sanhedrin 91b), texts are quoted from the Prophets and the Hagiographa. It can be said, therefore, that the term Written Torah, at first denoting the Pentateuch, was later extended to include the other biblical books and then both the Written and the Oral Torah were referred by the embracing term ‘Torah’ and this eventually came to include all the teachings of Judaism. The Samaritans, on the other hand, accepted only the Pentateuch as the Torah and the Karaites, while applying the Written Torah to the other books of the Bible as well as the Pentateuch, rejected the doctrine that there is an Oral Torah which explains the Written Torah.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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