The Evolution of Judaism

Jessica Sonnenberg

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Written Law

  • The Torah is Judaism’s most important text. it was given to the Jewish people on top of mount Sinai with the ten commandments on the 6th day of Sivan 2448 years after creation . It is composed of the Five Books of Moses. Its start with book number 1, Bereisheet. This book talks about the Creation of the World, and tells us the stories of Judaism’s patriarchs. The second book is called Shemot, this book tells story of the Israelites bondage in Egypt, their journey to Mt. Sinai. Book number three is called Vayikra. This book deals with matters such as rituals, sacrifice, atonement and ritual purity. The fourth book is called BaMidbar, this book talks about the Israelites wanderings in the desert as they continue towards the Promised Land. Dvarim is the 5th book of Moses, this is the final book of the Torah. It recounts the Israelites’ journey according to Moses and ends with his death just before they enter the Promised Land.



  • Neviim- Prophets

Neviim were the prophets who spoke on behalf of god. They delivered the information from g-d to the jewish people. Basically a messenger. These prophets that did so were

Joshua, Judges, Samuel as well as the literal prophets who were Amos, Isaiah and Jeremiah.



  • Ketuvim

Ketuvim in english means "writings". it is the third devision of the torah. Ketuvim include poetic pieces, the Megilot and Scrolls. Ketuvim were composed over a long period of time, from before the Babylonian Exile in the 6th century bc to the middle of the 2nd century bc.Unlike the torah and the Neviʾim which were canonised as groups, each book of the Ketuvim was canonised separately, often on the basis of its popularity.


Oral Law

  • Mishna

The Mishna is divided into 6 sections, each section deals with a different type of law/issue. The Mishna is the codification and collection of the Oral Torah. The Mishna was written in 160CE. It is made up of six books. Together with the Gemara it makes the Talmud. Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi edited and wrote down the Mishna, and it was written down at the time of persecution of the jews.


  • Gemara

in the three centuries following the compilation of the Mishnah, rabbis throughout Eretz Yisrael and Babylonia analysed, debated and discussed that work. these discussion were recorded in writing, and therefor form the Gemara.


  • Commentators

The commentaries were intended as a contribution to the study and teaching of earlier texts and they help us to understand the torah and talmud.

  1. Rashi

Rashi was a commentator on the Talmud and the Tanach. This bright man is considered the "father" of all commentaries. Rashi Attempts to provide a full explanation of the words and of the logical structure of each Talmudic passage, his writings appealed to both learned scholars and beginning students. His commentaries broke down the heavy writings of the complicated Torah which evidently enabled students to understand the complicities of the torah. Rashi's commentary on the Talmud continues to be a basis for contemporary rabbinic scholarship and interpretation. Without Rashi's commentary, the Talmud would have remained a closed book. Now any student who has been newly introduced to the talmud or any jewish texts by a teacher, can continue learning on his own, deciphering its language and meaning with the help of Rashi.


2. Tosaphot

Tosaphot started from Rashis Pupils and Family members. Other Tosaphot were composed by many scholars in different schools throughout the 12th and 13th centuries. Unlike the explanatory commentaries, such as Rashis. The Tosafot do not try to provide a full explanation of the Talmud text. They simply focus on particular issues in the Talmud or in Rashi's commentary which they then explore in more detail. They often wrote interpretations to the commentaries presented by Rashi.


3. Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides)

Rambam is famous for his commentary on the Mishnah. He began the commentaries in 1161 and completed them in 1168. Rambam incorporated the 13 principles of faith which summarise what he views as the required beliefs of Judaism.



  • Codes

The huge number of volumes written on jewish law brought about the need to codify the material. To codify means to separate the Halachic decisions from the discussions arguments of the rabbis and only use the end results of the decisions. basically not the discussion but the decision they came up with. There are a number of codes of jewish law, the most famous are: Yoseph Karo, Mishnah torah. There are a few pros and cons to codification such as making jewish law accessible to every hew and it gives the jewish people a definitive answer. The Cons to codification are that it reduces creativity and diversity of peoples opinions and ideas. And by giving a definitive answer it minimises the ability to have discussions.


  • Responsa

Responsa meaning "queries and replies" was a concept where Jewish people would send rabbis or scholars letters about their concerns of Jewish Law. And the rabbis would respond with their thoughts on the matter.



  • Talmud

There are two types of talmud which were created thousands of years ago.

1. The talmud yerushalmi which was complied 350C.E by Rav Muna and Rav Yossi.

2. The Talmud Bavli was complied in the year 500 C.E by two babylonian sages, Rav Ashi and Ravina.

The talmud Bavli is considered to be the superior, more complete of the two and is the one that is the most studied today.