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Torah vs. Halachah


(Earlier posted on my blog Law and the Purpose of Law)


Sometimes terms are used, which are not always having a clear understanding. Such a term is for example torah, which can have many meanings, depending on how it is used. For example can it mean lawguidance or teaching, all depended on the context. Torah is very rarely used in the understanding of strict jurisprudence, as is the case with the term halachah, and it is mostly the last term that will be in focus in this book, though the term torah will be used a number of times.

Torah, in its popular meaning, are used in the understanding of Torat HaShem, God’s Law or Teaching. It is, in its simplest meaning, meant to point at the five books of Moses, which covers the Written Law, or The Written Torah, but it covers a vast variety of subjects, not only legalistic subjects alone. As such we see how it covers historical accounts, which works to illustrate a certain point to be learned by the reader, through the use of the PaRDeS, a principle used in studying the Torah. It can be ethical questions, issues of punishment, long explanations of family links, and so on, also on legal questions. In such manner, the Torah covers both legal and non-legal issues.

Moreover, when talking about Torah, one can mean the Five Books of Moses, but one can also mean the whole Jewish Bible, including both the Prophetical Books, as well as the Scriptural Books. And not only that, but all teachings on Judaism, which is believed to be based on the Five Books of Moses. Or to put it differently, all teachings which is believed to be based on Torah, is Torah. In such manner a book written in present time, explaining and teaching the principles of the Five Books of Moses, is Torah. But only in so far that is has as its purpose, to raise the reader to a higher spiritual purpose. An academic book written about the Jewish Bible is – as praiseworthy and informative as it might be – not Torah. It is the lack of spirit that deems it non-Toranic, so to speak. Moreover, which should be self-evident, books belonging to other religions or not to be defined within the boundaries of Judaism, are neither Torah, even if they are written about the Jewish religion, and the author might be as holy a person as can be. Torah is only Torah within the scope of Torah itself, as it is given and received in the Sinaic tradition 3,300 years ago, and since expanded and explained to its loyal followers through history.


Halachah is a more specific term, pointing at the Jewish jurisprudence, the legal conclusions, systematic behind them, and discourse. When one is asking when to light the candles before Shabbat, the Halachic answer is “18 minutes before sunset.” This is a conclusion based on a halachic discussion, which can be found in halachic works, covering a vast range of material, leading back to the prime source, the Torah. But, as explained, where Torah is broad, covering all issues, Halachah attempts to search out the specific rulings, in regards to “what-to-do” vs. “what-not-to-do.”[1]

There are different kinds of halachot, as well as different grades. For example can we see halachot being named d’orayta, meaning “from the source,” which are halachot directly based on the Five Books of Moses or other parts of the Jewish Bible. That can be the prohibition against wearing wool and linen in the same shirt, or mixing crops on the field. There are also, as opposed to halachot d’oreyta, halachot d’rabbanan,[2]which are rabbinical commandments that are not found in the Jewish Bible, but have been derived by later rabbis. Among such halachot do we find the commandment of celebrating Hanukkah, which is based on a later episode, happening after the closure of the Jewish Bible, but still of such an importance that it is worth to be celebrated.


[1] The Hebrew and technical term for these commandments are Mitzvot ‘Aseh, a commandments to do, and Mitzvot lo Ta’aseh, a commandments not to do. An example on the former being for men to wear Tzitzit, the fringes on the corners of one’s garment, and an example on the latter being not to steal.

[2] The two terms, d’orayta and d’rabbanan, are both Aramaic terms, consisting of the prefix d-, meaning “from,” and the body, orayta and rabbanan, meaning respectively Torah and Rabbis.


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