What are the Sacred Writings of Judaism?

Judaism in its present form has two basic sacred texts as-well-as other writings used within the religion. The two sacred texts are the Tanakh and the Talmud. The Tanakh is an acronym for three sets of writings called the Torah (the law), Nevi’im (the prophets), and the Ketuvim (the writings).  The Talmud is the oral traditions, commentaries and rabbinic discussions dealing with the Tanakh or Hebrew bible.

The Tanakh has the same books as the Christian Old testament, but arranged in a different order. The Torah or law refers to the first five books of the Christian Old testament and is also known as the Pentateuch. Both Christianity and conservative Judaism ascribed authorship of the Torah to Moses. The Nevi’im, composed of eight different books, includes most of the history books of the Old testament (Joshua-Kings), the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel), and also the minor prophets (Hosea-Malachi). All twelve of the minor prophets are viewed as one book in the Nevi’im. The last division of the Tanakh is the Ketuvim which is composed of eleven books. The Ketuvim comprises the rest of the books found in the Christian Old testament.  Inspiration and the level of authority the Tanakh conveys depends on the thought in the three divisions of modern Judaism: orthodox, conservative, and reformed Judaism. Despite the divisions, all three groups believe the Tanakh possesses some form of authority. In Christ’s time on earth, the Pharisees and other Jewish sects believed in the inspiration of the Hebrew bible. However, the Sadducees believed only in the inspiration of the Pentateuch and the Pharisees also believed another book carried the same authority as the Tanakh, the Talmud.

The Talmud  is the written oral traditions passed down from generations of the Jewish Rabbis, Pharisees, Scribes, and other religious leaders that sought to explain, interpret, and apply the Tanakh to daily life.. The Talmud is composed of two different books: the Mishnah (200 A.D.) and the Gemara (500 A.D). The Mishnah is a compilation of the legal opinions and debates on the law amongst the rabbis. By Christ’s time, many traditions not found literally in the Tanakh were prevalent throughout second temple Judaism and were in turn condemned by Christ as having less authority as the “law and prophets (Matt. 15:2-3; Mark 7:3-13).” The Gemara is basically the legal commentary on the Mishnah and other various topics found in the Tanakh. The Talmud is viewed as equally authoritative and sacred as the Tanakh by Orthodox Jews, moderately authoritative by conservative Jews, and rejected completely by reformed Jews.

Other writings in Judaism that are not considered sacred are the Midrash and the Responsa. The Midrash is a vast plethora of rabbinic sermons expounding upon the Tanakh, Talmud, and other facades of the Jewish life. The Midrash was composed between the fourth and sixth century but modern forms of the technique continue until present times. Responsa is a collection of questions and answers dealing specific with the Jewish scriptures and laws. Both the Midrash and Responsa are easier to read and interpret making them more accessible to the average reader.

Through this small survey of the sacred writings of Judaism, one can observe the similarities and differences between the Judaistic and Christian scriptures. Judaism altogether rejects the New testament and Christianity discards the Talmud, Midrash, and Responsa. Christianity’s rejection of the Judaistic scriptures originate from Christ himself and the beliefs held about the inspiration of scripture, the Old and New testament. Judaism, at its core, fails to adhere to the authority the New Testament seems to possess and the Church accepted.


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