Evolution of Jewish law

By Jessica Katzen

Written Torah

The Written Torah is made up on the Torah, Nevi'im, Ketuvim (Tanach). The Torah was given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. Included in the Torah are the 5 books of Moses. There are two different attitudes. The Reform reaction is that the Torah wasn't necessarily written by God but by people inspired by him. Therefore since they weren't written by God, they don't have to obey the. The Orthodox reaction is that it was written only God, therefore they must obey them.

God reveled his law and will to Moshe and the people of Israel on Mount Sinai.

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Nevi'im is the section of the Torah that contains the writings of the Prophets. Some prophets are Joshua, Isaiah and Jeremiah.



Ketuvim is a section in the Torah meaning The Writings. Some writings that are in this section are Megillot and Psalms.

Toshba - Oral Law

The Oral has many different parts to it. These parts are the Mishna, Gemara, Talmud, Midrash, Rashi's commentaries, Tosafot, Mishneh Torah, Shulchan Aruch and Teshuvot. The Oral law explains how certain laws are to be carried out in daily life. It is needed to explain certain Torah Laws that would be problematic if carried out literally. Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi wrote it.


Talmud Yerushalmi - Made in about 350 C.E by Rav Muna and Rav Yossi (It was never finished)

Talmud Bavli - Made in 500 C.E by two Babylonian sages, Rav Ashi and Ravina

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The Mishna is a part of the Oral Law. There are 62 parts of the Mishna but it is divided into 6 books. Each book deals with different parts of Jewish life. For example, Nashim deals with marriage and family law.


The three centuries following the creating of the Mishna, Rabbis discussed and analysed it. They also discussed how the Mishna could be interpreted for real life. These discussions were recorded in the Gemara.


Rashi, Rambam and Tosafot were some well known commentators that contributed to the study and teaching or earlier texts. They help is understand the Torah and the Talmud. The commentaries are in a section in the Talmud.

Codes of Jewish Law

There were many volumes written on Jewish Law so the codes of Jewish Law were made. These codes separated the Halachic decisions from the discussions of the rabbis. The code's purpose was to record the bottom line.

Anyone can access it so it allows Jews to easily know what to do.

It makes Jewish Law less flexible for reinterpretation.

The most famous Codes of Jewish Law are Shulchan Aruch and the Mishnah Torah (by Rambam)


Responsa are answers to specific questions about Jewish Law. Well respected rabbis answer these questions. Responsa began in the Middle Ages and still continue today.