What are the writings of Judaism?
The writings of Judaism may be divided into several categories.
These include: the Tanakh, the Talmud, the other works of our early
sages, and the works of later Rabbis.
- The Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) is also called "the Written Torah,"
in contrast to the Oral Torah, which is the body of tradition that
was handed down orally for some 1500 years, and only after that put
in writing, so as not to be forgotten in times of exile. The Oral
Torah is contained in the Talmud, whose chief purpose is to clarify
the laws of the Torah, and which is a multi-volume compendium of
Jewish traditions, law, history, and sayings of the early Jewish
- Other works of the early sages include the midrashim, and the
Zohar (a mystical commentary on the Torah). The purpose of the
midrashim is to expand upon the brief narrative-portions of the
The works of later Rabbis include books on Jewish outlook and
belief, such as the Emunot VeDeot (8th century CE) and the Kuzari
(11th century); books listing the Jewish laws, such as the Yad
Hachazakah (12th century) and the Shulchan Arukh (16th century);
books on piety, such as the Noam Elimelekh and the Mesillat
Yesharim (18th century); books on ethics, such as the Maalot
Hamidot and the Hafetz Chaim (19th century), and much more.
- Contents of the Written Torah: The Jewish holy book is the
Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), containing the Torah and the prophetic
books. "Tanakh" is a Hebrew acronym of T, N, K which stands for the
three parts of the Tanakh: Torah, Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim
(Writings). In total, the Tanakh has 24 books.
- A) The Torah, also called the Pentateuch, is the primary
Jewish holy book. It contains the Five Books of Moses (also called
the Books of the Law). It was given by God to Moses (Exodus 24:12),
who transmitted it to the people and wrote it (Deuteronomy 31:24).
Its chief purpose is to teach the laws of Judaism; and it also
teaches us historical highlights, attitudes, guidance, beliefs and
Books 1-5 of the Hebrew Bible: The Torah (the Five Books of Moses):
- Bereisheet (Genesis)
- Shemot (Exodus)
- Vayikra (Leviticus)
- Bamidbar (Numbers)
- Devarim (Deuteronomy)
- B) Nevi'im, the Prophets. The books of the Hebrew
Prophets are the Divinely-inspired narrative of Israelite history
and the relationship between God and Israel. The prophets were
called upon by God to guide the people and to guide the king. While
the king had authority in national matters of state, and the
Sanhedrin (Sages) had say in Torah-rulings and halakha (law), the
prophets spoke in matters of ethics, of belief, of loyalty to God,
and behavior. They rebuked the people at God's command, they
predicted events which God revealed to them, they taught through
Divine inspiration, and they provided optimism and hope with the
prophecies of eventual Redemption.
Jewish tradition (Talmud, Bava Batra 14b) states that the prophetic
books were written by the authors whose names they bear: Joshua,
Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah,
Jonah, etc. Judges was written by Samuel, and Kings was written by
Jeremiah. The prophetic books were written in the time of the
prophets, from the 1200s BCE (Joshua) to the mid-300s BCE (Haggai,
Books 6-9 of the Hebrew Bible: The Nevi'im Rishonim (the Early
6) Yehoshua (Joshua)
7) Shoftim (Judges)
8) Shemuel (Samuel I and II)
9) Melachim (Kings I and II)
Books 10-13 of the Hebrew Bible: The Nevi'im Acharonim (the
10) Yeshayahu (Isaiah)
11) Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah)
12) Yechezkel (Ezekiel)
13) Trei Asar ("The Twelve" or "The Minor Prophets")
- C) Ketuvim, the Writings. The Ketuvim (also called
Hagiographa) contains the remaining History Books: Daniel,
Chronicles, Ezra, and others. Some of these narrate Israelite
history and past events, some predict events, some serve to comfort
the nation, some speak of prayer and love of God, and some speak of
life, experience and wisdom.
Jewish tradition (Talmud, Bava Batra 14b) states that the Writings
were written by the authors whose names they bear: Daniel, Ezra and
Nehemiah. Ruth was written by Samuel; Lamentations was written by
Jeremiah; Psalms was set in writing by King David; Chronicles was
written by Ezra; Proverbs, Song of Songs and Kohellet
(Ecclesiastes) were written by King Solomon; and Esther was written
by Mordecai and Esther. The Writings were written between 900 BCE
(Ruth) to the mid-300s BCE (Esther, Daniel, Chronicles, Ezra and
14) Tehillim (Psalms)
15) Mishlei (Proverbs)
16) Iyov (Job)
17) Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs)
19) Eichah (Lamentations)
20) Kohelet (Ecclesiastes)
24) Divrei Hayamim (Chronicles I and II)
The term "Torah" can refer loosely to the entire Jewish
Tradition places the sealing of the Tanakh's canon around 340
The Torah, the Talmud, the Code of Jewish Law and the commentaries.
Other early works include the midrashim, and the Zohar (a mystical commentary on the Torah). The purpose of the midrashim is to expand upon the brief narrative-portions of the Torah.
The works of later Rabbis include books on Jewish outlook and belief, such as the Emunot VeDeot (8th century CE) and the Kuzari (11th century); books listing the Jewish laws, such as the Yad Hachazakah (12th century) and the Shulchan Arukh (16th century); books on piety, such as the Noam Elimelekh and the Mesillat Yesharim (18th century); books on ethics, such as the Maalot Hamidot and the Hafetz Chaim (19th century), and much more.