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Home: Religion: Judaism: Judaism, Jewish Book Shelf.




Jewish Book Shelf, Judaism Recommended Reading

Jews are often called the "people of the book," and Judaism has an age-old intellectual tradition focusing on text-based Torah study. The following is a basic, structured list of the central works of Jewish practice and thought.

According to the Jewish tradition, the Tanakh consists of twenty-four books. The Torah has five books, Nevi'im contains eight books, and Ketuvim has eleven. The following is an abbreviated list of the central works of Jewish practice and thought:
  • The Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and Jewish bible study, which include the Mesorah and Targum. Scroll down for more detailed info about the Tanakh.

  • Jewish Biblical exegesis (also see Midrash below)
  • Talmudic Era (classic rabbinic literature)
  • The Mishnah and its commentaries.
  • The Tosefta and the minor tractates.
  • The Talmud:
  • - The Jerusalem Talmud and its commentaries.
  • - The Babylonian Talmud and its commentaries.
  • Midrashic Literature:
  • - Halakhic Midrash
  • - Aggadic Midrash

The Jewish Torah

  • Halakhic literature
  • The Major Codes of Jewish Law and Custom
  • - The Mishneh Torah and its commentaries.
  • - The Tur and its commentaries.
  • - The Shulhan Arukh and its commentaries.
  • Other books on Jewish Law and Custom
  • The Responsa literature

  • Jewish thought and ethics
  • Jewish philosophy
  • Kabbalah
  • Hasidic works
  • Jewish ethics and the Mussar Movement

  • The Siddur and Jewish liturgy
  • Piyyut (Classical Jewish poetry)


Tanakh (also spelt Tanach or Tenach) is an acronym for the three parts of the Hebrew Bible, based upon the initial Hebrew letters of each part:
  • Torah ("The Law"; also: Teaching or Instruction),
  • Chumash ("The five", also Pentateuch or The five books of Moses)
  • Nevi'im ("The Prophets")
  • Ketuvim ("The Writings" or "Hagiographa")
The Tanakh is also called Mikra or Miqra.


The threefold division reflected in the acronym Tanakh is well attested to in documents from the Second Temple period and in Rabbinic literature. During that period, however, the acronym Tanakh was not used; rather, the proper term was Mikra ("Reading"). The term Mikra continues to be used to this day alongside Tanakh to refer to the Hebrew scriptures. (In modern spoken Hebrew, Mikra has a more formal flavor than Tanakh.)

Because the books included in the Tanakh were largely written in Hebrew, it may also be called the Hebrew Bible. (Parts of Daniel and Ezra, as well as a sentence in Jeremiah and a two-word toponym in Genesis, are in Aramaic - but even these are written in the same Hebrew script.)

The Canon

According to the Jewish tradition, the Tanakh consists of twenty-four books (enumerated below). The Torah has five books, Nevi'im contains eight books, and Ketuvim has eleven.

These twenty-four books are the same books found in the Protestant Old Testament, but the order of the books is different. The enumeration differs as well: Christians count these books as thirty-nine, not twenty-four. This is because Jews often count as a single book what Christians count as several.

As such, one may draw a technical distinction between the Jewish Tanakh and the similar, but non-identical, corpus which Christians call the Old Testament. Thus, some scholars prefer Hebrew Bible as a term that covers the commonality of Tanakh and the Old Testament while avoiding sectarian bias.

The Catholic and Orthodox Old Testaments contain six books not included in the Tanakh. They are therefore called deuterocanonical books.

In Christian Bibles, Daniel and the Book of Esther sometimes include extra material that is not accepted as canonical by Judaism. The material is deuterocanonical, so it is also not accepted by most Protestants.

Books of the Tanakh

The Hebrew text originally consisted only of consonants, together with some inconsistently applied letters used as vowels (matres lectionis). During the early middle ages, the Masoretes codified the oral tradition for reading the Tanakh by adding two special kinds of symbols to the text: niqqud (vowel points) and cantillation signs. The latter indicate syntax, stress (accentuation), and the melody for reading.

The books of the Torah have generally-used names which are based on the first prominent word in each book. The English names are not translations of the Hebrew; they are based on the Greek names created for the Septuagint which in turn were based on Rabbinic names describing the thematic content of each of the Books.

The Torah consists of:

  • 1. Genesis
  • 2. Exodus
  • 3. Leviticus
  • 4. Numbers
  • 5. Deuteronomy

The books of Nevi'im are:

  • 6. Joshua
  • 7. Judges
  • 8. Samuel (I & II)
  • 9. Kings (I & II)
  • 10. Isaiah
  • 11. Jeremiah
  • 12. Ezekiel
  • 13. The Twelve Minor Prophets
    I. Hosea
    II. Joel
    III. Amos
    IV. Obadiah
    V. Jonah
    VI. Micah
    VII. Nahum
    VIII. Habakkuk
    IX. Zephaniah
    X. Haggai
    XI. Zechariah
    XII. Malachi

The Ketuvim are:

  • 14. Psalms
  • 15. Proverbs
  • 16. Job
  • 17. Song of Songs
  • 18. Ruth
  • 19. Lamentations
  • 20. Ecclesiastes
  • 21. Esther
  • 22. Daniel
  • 23. Ezra-Nehemiah
  • 24. Chronicles (I & II)

Chapters, verses, and book divisions in the Tanakh

The chapter divisions and verse numbers have no significance in the Jewish tradition. Nevertheless, they are noted in all modern editions of the Tanakh so that verses may be located and cited. The division of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles into parts I and II is also indicated on each page of those books in order to prevent confusion about whether a chapter number is from part I or II, since the chapter numbering for these books follows their partition in the Christian textual tradition.

The adoption of the Christian chapter divisions by Jews began in the late middle ages in Spain, partially in the context of forced clerical debates which took place against a background of harsh persecution and of the Spanish Inquisition. The chapter divisions often reflect Christian exegesis of the Bible. Nevertheless, because they proved useful and eventually indispensible for citations, they continued to be included by Jews in most Hebrew editions of the biblical books. For more information on the origin of these divisions, see chapters and verses.

The chapter and verse numbers were often indicated very prominently in older editions, to the extent that they overshadowed the traditional Jewish masoretic divisions. However, in many Jewish editions of the Tanakh published over the past forty years, there has been a major historical trend towards minimizing the impact and prominence of the chapter and verse numbers on the printed page. Most editions accomplish this by removing them from the text itself and relegating them to the margins of the page. The main text in these editions is unbroken and uninterrupted at the beginning of chapters (which are noted in the margin). The lack of chapter breaks within the text in these editions also serves to reinforce the visual impact created by the spaces and "paragraph" breaks on the page, which indicate the traditional Jewish parashah divisions.

These modern Jewish editions present Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles (as well as Ezra) as single books in their title pages, and make no indication inside the main text of their division into two parts (though it is noted in the upper and side margins). The text of Samuel II, for instance, follows Samuel I on the very same page with no special break at all in the flow of the text, and may even continue on the very same line of text.

Oral Torah

Rabbinical Judaism believes that the Torah was transmitted side by side with an oral tradition. Other groups, such as Karaite Judaism, the ancient Saducees, and Christianity do not accept this claim. Indeed, many terms and definitions used in the written law are undefined within the Torah itself; and the reader is assumed to be familiar with the context and details. This fact is presented as evidence to the antiquity of the oral tradition. An opposing argument is that only a small portion of the vast rabbinic works on the oral tradition can be described as mere clarifications and context. These rabbinic works, collectively known as "the oral law", include the Mishnah, the Tosefta, the two Talmuds (Babylonian and Jerusalem), and the early Midrash compilations.

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