Relevance to Times of Refreshing
The emphasis of this website is an examination of the Christian observance of the Feasts and Holy Days of the Bible. There are numerous individual Christians and Christian groups in the 21st century that choose to observe these days as times of worship, fellowship, and celebration. They believe that these times of celebration are shadows pointing to the reality of Jesus. And they believe that there are valuable spiritual lessons to be learned year by year through actually physically setting aside these times as "appointments with God." Many such individuals and groups have come to this conclusion exclusively through their own study of the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
However, the Bible really has little to say about the specifics of just how these days are to be kept. The Old Testament records specific rituals that were to be performed by a priesthood on these days at the central place of worship of the ancient Israelites, either at the original Tabernacle, or later at the Temple in Jerusalem. When the last Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, these rituals were no longer possible.
Although there are hints in the New Testament that the earliest Christians, both Jews and Gentiles, continued to observe these special times in some way, there is no record of just what sort of gatherings they may have held, nor just what traditions or customs they may have followed in their celebrations. So modern Christians who have become convinced there is value in such observances have no real biblical guidance on how to go about worshipping and honoring God, and celebrating and rejoicing, at these times.
And thus the relevance of the terms listed in the title of this article: It is quite common for such Christians to wonder if it would be useful to look to modern Judaism as a source of guidance and customs for their own observances. Those who begin checking into this option will soon come across the Hebrew terms Torah, Talmud, Mishna, and Gemara. In order to evaluate the contribution Judaism might make to Christian biblical Feast and Holy Day observance, it is helpful to understand these terms.
(For more detailed information on the actual Holy Day and Feast observances of modern and ancient Jews, and how they might relate to Christianity, go to the Introductory Article of the Jewish Feast and Holy Day Customs section of this website. For more information on the Christian observance of these days, go to the Introductory Article of the series on The 3 Rs.)
The Hebrew word torah means, in general, "instruction" or "teaching." But in most contexts in modern Judaism it is used in several specific ways:
Torah is the designation of the collection of the first five books of the Bible–Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Each Jewish synagogue has a "Torah scroll" (Hebrew: Sefer Torah) that contains these books, usually housed in a special, often highly ornate cabinet called a "Holy Ark" (Hebrew: Aron haKodesh).
These scrolls must be meticulously written by hand under the strictest of traditional methods, and each one can cost many thousands of dollars to produce. The one shown here is from a sefer torah catalog with prices ranging from $18,000 to $39,500 for a single scroll.
Torah is also used as the designation, specifically, of the collection of commandments and statutes given by God anciently to Moses at Mt. Sinai, and believed to have been written down by him as part of the scriptural record.
And even beyond that, Torah is often used to designate the complete collection of both written commandments and the "traditional oral teachings" believed by Orthodox Jews to have been handed down from Moses through all the generations of Jewish sages to the present. The portion of this body of teaching that was not believed to have been put into writing at the time of Moses is sometimes referred to as the Oral Torah.
From the Wikipedia.org article: Oral Torah
According to classical Rabbinical interpretation and the tenets of Orthodox Judaism, Moses and the other Jews at Sinai received an Oral as well as a written Torah (teaching) from God at Mount Sinai. The interpretation of the Oral Law is thus considered as the authoritative reading of the "Written Law" (either the Torah or Tanakh [see definition below] or both). Further, halakha (Jewish law) is based on the premise that that the Written Law is inherently bound together with an Oral Law. Jewish law and tradition thus is not based on a literal reading of the Tanakh, but on combined oral and written traditions.
The context of a statement by a Jewish writer or speaker would hopefully clarify which of these meanings of Torah is intended.
The complete collection of writings that are usually referred to within Christianity as the "Old Testament" is called in Hebrew the Tanach (alternate spellings: Tanak, Tanakh). In Judaism, the writings of the Tanach are divided into three categories, labeled the Torah (the Law), the Neviim (the Prophets), and the Ketuvim (the Writings.)
The Mishna is the collection of writings believed by Orthodox Jews to have been compiled from the authentic Oral Torah teachings mentioned above. The contents of these traditional teachings consisted of detailed explanations for various topics within the written Torah. From the perspective of the most Orthodox of Jews, the teachings of the Mishna are of equal authority to the written Torah. Other branches of Judaism may view them as more the "collective wisdom" of the ancient Jewish sages regarding Torah topics, but not as necessarily having been handed down directly from Moses through all generations and having equal authority to the written Torah. The Mishna was first compiled in a written form near 200 AD, after the destruction of the Temple, and dispersion of the Jews that followed, in 70 AD.
After the contents of the Mishna had been codified in writing, more Jewish sages engaged for well over a century in discussion and debate regarding the content of the Mishna. These discussions and conclusions were eventually gathered together into a collection of writings called the Gemara. The Gemara includes commentary also on the other parts of the Tanach.
Eventually, the contents of various versions of the Mishna and Gemara were combined all in one text, known as the Talmud. There are two versions of the Talmud, one that represented the scholarship of Rabbis in Israel, usually referred to as the Jerusalem Talmud, and the other the scholarship of Rabbis in Babylon, referred to in English as the Babylonian Talmud. The contents of the Jerusalem Talmud were compiled a century or more earlier than the Babylonian. The Babylonian Talmud is more widely studied, and when the term Talmud has no specific designation attached to it, it is traditionally speaking of the Babylonian Talmud.
From the Wikipedia.org article: Talmud
The Talmud contains a vast amount of material and touches on a great many subjects. Traditionally talmudic statements can be classified into two broad categories, Halakhic and Agaddic statements. Halakhic statements are those which directly relate to questions of Jewish law and practice (Halakha). Aggadic statements are those which are not legally related, but rather are exegetical, homiletical, ethical or historical in nature (Aggada).
For more details on the history and content of the Talmud, see the Wikipedia Talmud article at the link above. The information in this brief overview was adapted in part from that material.
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