The Evolution Of Jewish Law

Benjamin E. Hirsch

Written Law

Advantages of the written law


Cant be changed


Altogether, they make the Tanach

Oral Law

The oral books were created to ensure the survival of Judaism so it can’t be forgotten

When the Jews were living in Israel they lived by the oral law, living religious life

Was not written down but passed down from generation to generation

Given to Moses at Mount Sinai and revealed the whole Torah at the time

Oral Torah provides the commandments when written Torah goes silent on the issue

Some commandments would be incomprehensible without the oral Torah explaining them

Advantages of the Oral Law

Easy to pass on


Another term for Jewish law is Halacha

The word Halacha comes from the Hebrew word “holech” meaning to walk

Helps us to understand and deal with modern issue

Helps us apply Judaism to our lives

Explains how the commandments are carried out

“remember the Sabbath day to make it holy”- Tanach

Mishna (6 books)

Covers the discussion and decisions and decisions of the scholars/rabbis from approximately 200 BCE to 200 CE (around 400 yrs)

Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi edited and wrote the Mishna

Each of the 6 sections deals with a different area of law

Gemara: discussion of the Torah and Mishna

Talmud (publication)

Bomberg: first complete edition of the Babylonian Talmud was printed in Venice by Daniel Bomberg 1520-23

Vilna: this edition has been used in the production of more recent editions of Talmud Bavli

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Intended as a contribution to the study and teaching of earlier texts.

Help us to understand the Torah and the Talmud

What is their role?

To inform everyone what is happening

They are the link in the chain

To analyse information

To give answers

Codes of Jewish Law

Huge number of volumes written on Jewish law

They are the laws that the Jews must abide by. Need to separate the arguments between two groups. Makes jewish law easier to understand

Codify- to separate the halachic decisions from the discussions and arguments of the rabbi

Pros of codification:

makes Jewish law accessible

Allows the Jews to easily to know what to do


Makes Jewish law less flexible

Reduces creativity and diversity of opinion

With a definite answer, minimums discussion and shades of interpretation

Most famous codes of Jewish law are:

Mishneh Torah


Shulchan aruch