What Is Judaism’s Holy Book?
What is Judaism’s holy book? The question is a legitimate one and seems rather basic and uncomplicated, right?
Well… not exactly. Nothing pertaining to religions ever is simple and uncomplicated!
The likely answers one will get when inquiring — “What’s Judaism’s Holy Book?” — are the following:
Judaism holy book? — It’s the Torah.
Judaism holy book? — It’s the Bible.
Judaism holy book? — It’s the Talmud.
Judaism holy book? — It’s the Old Testament.
Judaism holy book? — It’s the Pentateuch.
Judaism holy book? — It’s the “Five Books of Moses.”
Judaism holy book? — It’s the Tanakh books.
Judaism holy book? — It’s the Hassidic teachings.
Judaism holy book? — It’s the Zohar.
Judaism holy book? — It’s the books of the Kabbalah.
Among contemporary Jewish people, some would consider all of the above books to be Judaism’s holy books.
For too-many of today’s Jews, none of the above books are “holy.”
For some Jewish denominations today, some of the above books are Judaism’s holy books — but not the others…
Let’s go over, by way of brief glosses, each of the above-named books, or sets of books.
What is “the Bible”?
First, what is “the Bible”? It turns out that this term—“the Bible”—is itself vague!
What is “the Bible”? For Christianity, “the Bible” refers to the combined “Old Testament” and “New Testament”;
What is “the Bible”? In Judaism and for the Jewish people, the question, What is “the Bible”?, makes sense and refers only to what is designated by scholars as the “Hebrew Bible”—also known, in Judaism itself, as the “Tanakh” books. (The Hebrew Bible, in turn, is what Christianity designates as the Old Testament)
What are the Tanakh books?
Tanakh books, or simply the Tanakh, is an acronym—TaNaKh—based on the first Hebrew letters of its three main sections (each in turn consisting of many “books”). These main sections of the Tanakh books are: Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim or, in English, the Teaching (in Biblical Studies, the “Pentateuch”); the Prophets; and the Writings.
The “Hebrew Bible”—same as the Old Testament, same as the Tanakh books—is Judaism’s holy book, or Judaism’s Scripture.
What’s Judaism’s Holy Book?—Again…
Has the above answered the question, What is the Bible? Is not “the Bible” Judaism’s holy book?
It is the “Hebrew Bible” which is Judaism’s holy book.
However: This already-thorny question is even thornier!
The Central Importance of the Torah
One of the Tanakh books’ three sections—Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim (or, in English, the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Writings)—stands out far more significantly than the other two. It is the section that has a mysterious name whose deep significance is easily missed in its English version.
The section in question is the first among the Tanakh books’ sections, called in Hebrew “the Torah”— variously rendered in English as the “Five Books of Moses” or “the Pentateuch” (consisting of the first five books of the Old Testament).
“Tōrāh” means “teaching” or “instruction” in Hebrew—alerting us that here, perhaps, something truly essential has been communicated, something profoundly important.
The Real Meaning of the Torah
While the Jewish people have traditionally treasured the Torah—to the point that among the observant Jews it is while hugging a Torah scroll that the congregants dance in the isles during the Sabbath service—but the true import of The Teaching, its esoteric teaching, was harder to ascertain.
The Rabbis of two thousand years ago—a full millennium since the early origins of the birth of Jewish spiritual sensibility in what became known as the Land of Israel—were not privy to the secret, the “Sôd,” of the Torah. The hereditary priesthood was prohibited from openly disclosing it to outsiders. As a result, the Rabbis were driven to author a large body of texts known as the Talmud. It is the Talmud that became Judaism’s holy book, in Rabbinical Judaism.
The Torah, and the Tanakh books as a whole, became the repository of historical and symbolic lore: Important of course, but not in the same league as the Talmud. (Learn more in Dr. Kohav’s Sôd Hypothesis.
The iAiS-MaKoM Spiritual Retreat Center’s distinctive mission is to teach the recovered precious knowledge of The Teaching: The “Sôd,” or secret initiatory tradition of ancient Israelite priests, embedded in the pages of the Torah itself.
At the iAiS-MaKoM Spiritual Retreat Center, it is the Torah, above all, that is seen as Judaism’s holy book.