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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Sect. 2 TOC Q3.2 >

Question 3.1:
What is the Written Law?


The Written Law consists of the books of the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh. It should be noted that the term "Bible" is more commonly used by non-Jews, as are the terms "Old Testament" and "New Testament". The appropriate term for Jews to use for the Hebrew Bible is "Tanakh". Tanakh is an acronym for Torah, Nevi'im, and Ketuvim.

The Torah is also known as the Chumash, Pentateuch, or Five Books of Moses. The word 'Torah' has the following meanings:

  1. A scroll made from kosher animal parchment, with the entire text of the Five Books of Moses written in it by a sofer [ritual scribe]. This is the most limited definition.

  2. More often, this term means the text of the Five Books of Moses, written in any format, whether Torah scroll, paper back book, CD-ROM, sky-writing or any other media.

    Any printed version of the Torah (with or without commentary) can be called a Chumash or Pentateuch. However, one never refers to a Torah Scroll as a Chumash!

  3. The term 'Torah' can mean the entire corpus of Jewish law! This includes the Written and the Oral Law, which includes the Mishna, the Midrash, the Talmud, and even later day legal commentaries. This definition of Torah is probably the most common among Orthodox Jews. Usually you can figure out which definition is being used by the context.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

[Got Questions?]Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at

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