The Evolution of Jewish Law

By Kelly Arenstein

Written Law

The Tanach is made up of the Torah, Nevi'im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings) The Torah was given to the Jews on Mount Sinai on the 6th day of Sivan 2448. It consists of 613 Mitzvot and the five books of Moses, these are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, numbers and Deuteronomy. This evolved and Nevi'im was created which is about the Prophets. This is divided into two sub-groups: the Former Prophets (books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings) and the Latter prophets (books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the 12 minor prophets). Each prophet listed has a book about them and their story. This evolved and Ketuvim was created, which consists of writings. These writings include poetry, philosophical exploration, historical retelling and short stories.

Oral Law

The oral law has evolved over time. The Talmud consists of the Mishneh Torah and the Gemara. The Mishneh torah was written by Rambam and is a code of Jewish law. It is divided up into 14 different sections and is said to be clear and logical. It was intended to be a summary of the entire body of Jewish religious law. The Gemara is a section of the Talmud that provides commentary and rabbinical analysis of the Mishneh Torah. The commentaries are a contribution to the study and teaching of earlier texts. They help us understand the Torah and the Talmud. Some famous commentators include Rashi, Rambam and Tosaphot. Jewish law evolved further and there was another need. Due to the fact that there is so much written about Jewish law, there was a need to codify this. This would give definite answers and make Jewish law more accessible, but would also reduce less creativity by giving definite answers. Some famous codes of Jewish law includes the Shulchan Aruch and the Mishna Torah. Jewish law evolved to the point where responsa was created. Responsa is when people ask questions to rabbis about issues they need a Jewish opinion on. There are rabbis who specialise in different areas. Jewish law has evolved from being passes down orally to being able to ask rabbis questions and get answers.