JEWISH RELIGIOUS LITERATURE
The 39 books of the Hebrew or Jewish Bible are
Midrash means search out. The Midrash is a
divided into three main sections. Each section has a
collection of expositions-explanations or
Hebrew name: To-rah, meaning law or teaching, also
interpretations-of the Bible. These literary works
known as Pentateuch; N-vee-eem, prophets;
were started more than 2,000 years ago. There are
K-tu-veem, writings. It is customary to combine the
many types of Midrash such as legal, ethical, and
sounds from the beginning of each section title to
social. Perhaps the most famous Midrasheem (plural
form the acronym TaNak. This acronym refers to the
form of Midrash) are the expositions of the five
entire Jewish Bible.
books of Moses.
The most precious and revered object in the
Zohar means radiance or splendor. The origins of the
synagogue is the Torah. The Torah is in the form of a
Zohar are not entirely clear. It is possible that, from
scroll made of parchment. It was originally
A.D. 500 to A.D. 1800, the Zohar had more influence
handprinted on animal skins. It contains the five
upon Jewish minds and spirits than any other work.
books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible, and
The Zohar contains many essays explaining
must be written by hand. Only a Torah in good
important points of the five books of Moses. It
condition may be used for worship services.
includes a great number of complex philosophical
writings, about the nature of the soul, creation,
The Torah is read in its entirety over a period of 3
infinity, life after death, and other issues vital to
years-the Palestinian cycle-or over a 1-year
period-the Babylonian cycle. The Babylonian
cycle is the one most commonly used. The Torah has
THE SHULCHAN ARUCH
always been at the very center of Jewish spiritual life.
The Shulchan Aruch is the Prepared Table. In the
1550s, Joseph Karo compiled a handbook on Jewish
life. The Shulchan Aruch is meant to be a summary
The Talmud is from the Hebrew lomed that means
of Jewish law as it is found in the Talmud. It offer in
study of teaching. It has often been called sea of
a precise and brief form the dos and donts of daily
learning. The Talmud contains all the Jewish
religious laws. The Talmud also contains prayers,
social ethics, parables, history, poetry, and much
more. It contains the contributions of over 2,000
The Siddur is the prayer book. It is a rich collection
scholars and sums up a thousand years of religious
of Jewish literature reflecting the development of
and social thought of the Jewish people.
Jewish life. The Siddur contains material from all
the primary sources named here. It is the single
Since Jews have for centuries understood the Bible
greatest source of independent Jewish learning today.
through the eyes of the Talmud, it may be fair to say
The first printed Siddur appeared in 148630 years
that the Talmud has exerted more direct influence of
after the Gutenberg Bible was published.
Jews and Judaism than has any other work, including
Figure 1-11.Jewish religious literature.
BRANCHES OF JUDAISM
In the following paragraphs, lets take a brief look
at each of these branches.
Today, the Jewish religion has developed into the
following three branches of Judaism:
Reform Judaism began in Germany in the 1840s and
spread to the United States and Canada. Because Reform
Jews believe that some of the ancient laws should be
changed to fit the times, they are not so strict in