What Is the Torah?

The English word “Torah” comes from the Hebrew word toh·rahʹ, which can be translated as “instruction,” “teaching,” or “law.” (Proverbs 1:8; 3:1; 28:4) The following examples show how this Hebrew word is used in the Bible.

  • Toh·rahʹ often refers to the first five books of the Bible​—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. These are also called the Pentateuch, from a Greek word meaning “fivefold volume.” The Torah was written by Moses, so it is called “the book of the Law of Moses.” (Joshua 8:​31; Nehemiah 8:1) Evidently, it was originally written as one book but was later divided for easier handling.
  • Toh·rahʹ is also used for the laws given to Israel on a particular subject, such as “the law [toh·rahʹ] of the sin offering,” “the law about leprosy,” and “the law about the Nazirite.”​—Leviticus 6:​25; 14:57; Numbers 6:​13.
  •  Toh·rahʹ sometimes refers to instruction and teaching, whether from parents, wise ones, or God himself.​—Proverbs 1:8; 3:1; 13:14; Isaiah 2:3, footnote.

What is in the Torah, or Pentateuch?

  •  The history of God’s dealings with humankind from creation to the death of Moses.​—Genesis 1:​27, 28; Deuteronomy 34:5.
  •  The regulations of the Mosaic Law. (Exodus 24:3) That Law is made up of more than 600 statutes. Prominent among them is the Shema, or Jewish confession of faith. One portion of the Shema says: “You must love Jehovah your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:​4-9) Jesus described this as “the greatest and first commandment.”​—Matthew 22:36-​38.
  •  Some 1,800 occurrences of the divine name, Jehovah. Rather than prohibit the use of God’s name, the Torah contains commands that required God’s people to pronounce it.​—Numbers 6:​22-​27; Deuteronomy 6:​13; 10:8; 21:5.


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  • A Jewish web site has a broader 'Torah' definition:

    Jewish Mishnah (oral law) opines יהוה was pronounced correctly in the Jewish Temple:

    7:6 A The blessing of the priests [M. 7:2A4]—how so?

    I B In the provinces they say it as three blessings, and in the sanctuary, as one blessing.

    II C In the sanctuary one says the Name as it is written but in the provinces, with a euphemism.

    III D In the provinces the priests raise their hands as high as their shoulders, but in the sanctuary, they raise them over their heads,

    E except for the high priest, who does not raise his hands over the frontlet.

    F R. Judah says, “Also the high priest raises his hands over the frontlet,

    G “since it is said, And Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them (Lev. 9:22).”

     Jacob Neusner, The Mishnah : A New Translation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 458.

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