Where Do Jewish Laws Come From? Intro to Torah, Talmud, Halacha

Judaism's pretty focused on what you do from day to day not just when and how to

pray but how to eat raise kids farm cut your fingernails if you want to learn

how to live in a Jewish way you can watch all our videos but eventually

you're gonna want to dive into Jewish law or halacha

which means the path, or the way

here's an overview - it starts with the Torah. The Torah is the first five books

of the Hebrew Bible. The Hebrew Bible includes the Torah, the prophets, and the

writings. For short you can call the Hebrew Bible Tanakh - which stands for

Torah Nevi'im and Ketuvim if you're Jewish saying Tanakh beats the pants off

saying Old Testament, which is a Christian term used in contrast to the

New Testament. When the Hebrew Bible was being codified there was debate over

which books to include in the Canon and there's a whole list of books called the

Apocrypha that didn't quite make the cut some of these books are actually in the

Christian Bible - the book of Maccabees for instance and there's other books

called the pseudepigrapha that didn't make it into anyone's Bible. Inside the

Hebrew Bible there are lots of laws and stories that later generations weren't

sure how to interpret - for example the Torah says not to work on the Sabbath

but what does that mean? what's work? does it apply to office jobs or just manual

labor? Does it include working out? So along

comes six relatively short books called the Mishnah which try to explain it in a

style that's pretty straightforward and sparse. The Mishnah gives a list of 39

things not to do on Shabbat, like baking, sowing, building,etc. It doesn't really

explain why those 39 activities are forbidden it just gives the list. And

then just as the Mishnah tries to explain the Torah, there's another set of

books that attempt to explain the Mishnah - this is called the Gemara and

it's massive. 63 tractates or sections - the Gemara elaborates on the Mishnah by

going into a long conversation... so the Mishna says simply you can't thresh on

Shabbat, ok no problem you say, but the rabbis in the Gemara took on what

does that mean for us today? and they extrapolated well you can't

just avoid threshing grain...the act of removing a seed kernel from its tough

outer layer is a lot like shucking corn so let's not do that either

You also can't wring out a washcloth or squeeze lemon into your tea

Extrapolation! Together the Mishnah and Gemara are called the Talmud there

two Talmuds... the babylonian or the Bavli and the Jerusalem edition or the Yerushalmi

Same basic idea but they were put together in two different locations

so they have some really interesting variations. the Talmud is so large that

yet another set of texts came along to simplify and codify IT - the Mishnah Torah

and the Shulchan Aruch. And yet if you spent years making your way through all those

texts you still wouldn't know everything Jewish, like say whether escalators are

allowed on Shabbat. So along comes modern Jewish case law. People send questions

about specific situations to an expert and receive written answers called

responsa - you can look up response online and they cover everything from

immunizations to gambling to escalators. The written Torah is considered sacred

obviously and Jews view all the texts that came after a sacred also they are

known as Oral Torah. Jewish law is not frozen in time it's

continuing to unfold today. Local communities are empowered to study and

interpret halacha - this varies a lot in different branches of Judaism. Today in

some communities all the texts that we've discussed are considered binding

and if there's a question about them you go to your local rabbi whose decisions

are binding. In other communities people are individually free to study and make

their own decisions about halachah. These really different approaches to

understanding and observing Jewish law are one of the main differences behind

different Jewish movements.

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