Neil H. Yerman

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Torah Scroll About the Torah

The Hebrew word “Torah” has the combined meaning of both “guidance” and “instruction” and is sometimes defined as “Teaching.”  Most commonly Torah refers to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible; the Hebrew word is “Chumash,” which is the number five.  In Greek, it is the “Pentateuch,” also the word for five.

Originally written in Hebrew, the Torah was translated into Greek sometime between the second century b.c.e. and the first century c.e.  This translation was called the “Septuagint,” which means “seventy” in Greek.  A number of different traditions have developed to explain the origin of this name.  There is a rabbinic saying that the Torah has seventy faces.  The number seventy—both in the Torah and in later rabbinic thought—represents totality.  In saying that the Torah has seventy faces, we mean that no matter how much we study it, we will always find something new to learn.

The Torah is also known as the “Five Books of Moses,” a name drawn from the Jewish tradition that God gave Moses the Torah on Mt. Sinai.  The five books are Bereshit (Genesis) Shemot (Exodus) Vayikra (Leviticus) Bemidbar (Numbers) Devarim (Deuteronomy).  The Hebrew words Bereshit, Shemot, Vayikra, Bemidbar and Devarim are used for the names of the books because they are the most important words at the beginning of each book.

Each Greek name—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—describes the main emphasis of each book:  Genesis covers the creation of the world and the human race, and the early beginnings of the Jewish people.  Exodus follows the Children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and into their early travels in the desert.  Leviticus—meaning the “Levitical book”—is a collection of laws and rituals overseen by the Levites, who were to be priests in the Temple that would later be built in Jerusalem.  Numbers continues the story of the journey of the Israelites and, in the first few chapters, focuses on the census of the Israelites taken in the desert.  Finally, Deuteronomy is so named because many of the laws given in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers are stated a second time (“deutero” in Greek means second).