Evolution Of Jewish Law

By Ryan Umansky

Written Law

The Torah she-bichtav is known as the written law. The first five books of the Torah is estimated to have been written between the 16th (BCE) and 12th Century (BCE) by Moses himself. The Torah was expertly passed down from generation to generation in the form of God to Moses on Mount Sinai, who later communicated it to Joshua who in turn, transmitted it to the prophets and subsequently to the sanhedrin. The section of the Torah known as Neviim (The Prophets) is literally the recordings of various prophets. The content included in Neviim are the important works of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah and the twelve "minor prophets", whilst also accommodating the vastly influential narrative books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings. The Neviim is believed to have been written between the 8th and 5th century (BCE). The third and final element of the Jewish written law is Ketuvim. According to theorists, Ketuvim was written from the 10th century (BCE) up to 70 CE. Ketuvim is occupied with various jewish writings. These writings include philosophy, prayer, poetry, the Proverbs, the Psalms, The Song of Songs, in addition to the insightful stories of Esther, Job, Ruth and Daniel and the lamentations of Jeremiah.


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Jewish Law, Things have just gotten serious

Oral Law- Mishnah and Gemara

Together, the Mishna and Gemara make up the Talmud. The Mishnah is the first captured written recording in regard to the Oral Torah for the Jewish people. The oral torah is said to have been recited from God to Moses approximately around the 15th century (BCE). Around the third century, after the loss of various important Jewish teachers, it was decided by Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi to ensure the safety for the Oral Law of Judaism by codifying it into 63 tractates called the Mishnah. The Mishnah consists of six sedarim and is highly considered as the first work of Rabbinic Judaism. The Gemara, which makes up the second half of the Talmud, is defined intriguingly as various sages in both Israel and Babylonia thouroughlly studied the Mishnah and later re-edited these teachings into a new format which brought more fluidity between biblical and rabbinic traditions. The laws of Mishnah were practically simplified in order to ultimately depict evidence and explanation for Jewish laws whilst also displaying comparisons between Rabbinic and biblical versions of laws. This is known as Gemara.

Oral Torah- Commentators, Codes and Responsa

The commentators of Jewish law, still to this day are famously recognized for their great contributions throughout Jewish history. The commentator Rashi (1040-1105 CE)
vastly contributed to the Jewish oral law as his commentary on the Torah was unparalleled in regard to attention to detail as Rashi would specifically define difficult or confusing words in great length. Rashi also made commentaries on the Talmud and significantly helped with oral law by helping to define and properly convey the Gemara. Rambam (Maimonides) (1135-1204) was and still today is a very historically important Jewish commentator. Rambam made various commentaries and contributions to Jewish law. However, his main contribution will always be known as the creation of the Mishneh Torah. Rashi's decedents to contributed to Jewish commentary as both Rambam and Rashi will be forever in the depths of Jewish history and commentary. The codification of Jewish law was extremely complex, and only a selected amount of intelligent individuals helped to attempt to fully successfully codified Jewish law. Despite there being various rules and details about the laws of the Talmud, there are still at times literal/moral or other questions that just are simply not answered in the Talmud. This is why codification was completely necessary. The most important book of Jewish codification was seemingly written by the great Maimonides as he developed the Mishneh Torah which helps fully explain the laws and customs of the written and oral laws of the Torah. The Mishneh Torah is said to have constructed between 1170 and 1180. Before Rambam had developed the Mishneh Torah, he had also contributed to Jewish codification by developing the Book of Commandments (Sefer Hamitzvot). The main objective of this codification was to successfully mention and interpret the 613 commandments contained in the Torah. Sefer Hamitzvot is said to have been written during the 12th century. Responsa in Judaism is defined as Rabbinic responses in regard to Jewish law. There are several complicated layers/elements related to Jewish Halakhik law. Therefore, there have always been moral dilemmas in regards to some laws. These laws can be based on marriage, divorce, death, money and so on. Responsa was and still is essential in Jewish law as when there are moral or personal questions about important Jewish law, the proper authority from a community based Rabbi can always help to ease the burden and fully attempt to answer an individuals questions which can be extremely helpful. Responsa is said to have started in biblical times. However, it only started to be recorded around the later centuries. It is said that from (750-1050) Responsa literature engulfed almost every aspect of Jewish law.


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Rambam (Maimonides)

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