Evolution Of Jewish Law

Evolving Halacha

Halacha is the Jewish legal system and is Jewish law. Halacha includes religious law, biblical law, laws from the Talmudic as well as Rabbinic law. The term 'Halacha' comes from the hebrew word "holech' which means to walk, the reason behind this is that halacha is a direction or which is followed.

Written Law

The written law is made up of the Torah, Nevi'im & Ketuvim which all together combine to make up the Tanach. God explained these laws to Moses, who wrote it down around 1250 BCE.

Orthodox Jews believe the torah was written by God, and since all the laws come exactly from God they must obey then completely.

Reform Jews believe that the torah was not necessarily written by God but may have been inspire by God. Since they don't think the laws come straight from God they don't have to completely follow them.


The Torah was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The torah is made up of the five books of Moses (Bereshit,Shemot, VaYikra,BaMidbar and Devarim). The Torah is the Jewish holy book which contains much of the Jewish peoples ancient history. It is a very sacred book and is highly respected and is still used up to this day.


Tanach is an acronym. The acronym translates to T (Torah), N (Nevi’im-prophets) and K (Ketuvim-writings).


Ketuvim is the book of writings. The books which make up Ketuvim are not considered to have been written by God. Ketuvim is the third part of the Tanach. Ketuvim includes: poetical books, the Megillot, scrolls, prophecy and the history. Ketuvim was composed over a very long period of time.


Nevi’im is a subdivision of the Tanach. Nevi’im means the prophets in English. Nevi’im is about the lives of some prophets and about their teachings.

Oral Law

The Oral law is an explanation on how to carry out the laws that are in the written Torah. The oral law was ultimately recorded in the Talmud. The Oral Law was not originally written down however Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi of Yavneh decided to codify it. He did this to ensure that the law did not change and that when the Jews moved all over the world the religion would survive. The oral law is a device which unites the Jewish people and makes sure that the religion will always survive and stay the same.


The mishna was written down and edited by Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi. This was around 200 CE. The Mishna is decisions and discussions of different Scholars and Rabbis. The Mishna is divided into 6 books and each one deals with a different part of the law.


Three centuries after the Mishna was written down, Rabbis debated, discussed and intently analysed the Mishnah which was then recorded put together to form the Gemara, this led it to be written down in about 500CE. The Gemara helps Jewish people understand the Mishnah, it is a source of explanation. Discussions of the Torah and Mishna make up the Gemara.

Talmud Balvi (Babylonian Talmud)

The Talmud was complied in the year 500 C.E. It was put together by two Babylonian sages, Ravina and Rav Ashi.The babylonian (Talmud Balvi) is considered to be the more commonly studied Talmud to date however it is not the only one. The first edition of the Babylonian Talmud was printed in Venice in 1520-23.

Talmud Yerushalim (Jerusalem Talmud)

Talmud Yerushalim was complied in 350 C.E. Rav Muna and Ruv Yossi were the ones who put it together. Talmud Yerushalim can also be called the Palestinian Talmud or the Talmud Eretz Yisrael. Talmud Yerushalim isn't studied and recognised as much as Talmud Balvi.


After the Talmud was complied, the evolution of Jewish Laws did not come to a holt. It still continued to develop. Commentators began to interpret texts from the Torah and the from the Talmud. They helped Jews all over the world understand important foundations of Judaism and Jewish texts.


The vast range and amount of information written on the topic of Jewish law brought about the need for it to be codified and separated. The most famous codes of Jewish law are Shulchan Aruch which was written by Rabbi Yosef Karo in around the 1560's as well as the Mishneh Torah which was written by Rambam.

Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki- Rashi

Rashi is probably the one of the most famous Jewish commentator who wrote about the Tanach and the Talmud. Rashi wrote his commentary in very simple language, so that every Jewish person could learn, understand and interpret his work. Rashi's commentaries will always be on the right of the page.

Moses Maimonides- Rambam

Moses Maimonides is probably known as one of the absolutley greatest Jewish philosophers and codifiers of Jewish laws. Rambam codified the Mishneh Torah (one of the greatest codification of Jewish law). He still carries great influence over Jewish law and the way texts are interpreted and studied today.


Responsa are the answers to questions in Jewish law. Responsa's are written by Rabbis who have been asked a certain question and then describe the situation and answer it in depth relating it to Jewish law. The Rabbis will explain why this is the answer they have concluded with and use the Talmud as well as other answers to help come to their own decision. Responsa's started being written in the middle ages and continue to this day. Responsa was not printed until the late 19th Century however the answers to many questions were around earlier.

Josheph ben Ephrain Karo

Joseph Karo was the author of the last codification of Jewish law, which is called the "Bet Yosef". His work still has great authority to date.

Rabbonim on the Importance of Learning Halacha - Online Smicha Rabbinical Institute


So from what you can see, Jewish law has changed and continues to adapt everyday. The laws themselves are not differed but things are added and explained which just adds to the depth and richness of understanding and knowledge on the religion. Each subtopic is only a brief overview on the jewish laws and how they have evolved as each topic is so rich in itself.