Outline of Judaism’s Religious Books

Judaism’s religious books documents embody not only Judaism‘s religious precepts, but also the historical, cultural and social heritage of the Jewish people. In Israel, where attitudes towards tradition range from the ultra-orthodox to the secular, sacred texts carry a variety of meanings – from a spiritual, moral and practical guide to everyday life, to a historical and cultural wealth which is critically examined and studied.

The stories, ideas and philosophies of the sacred texts, encompassing millennia of Jewish study and thought, are evident in much of Israel’s modern culture, which draws on the legacies of the past even as it gives voice to the issues and concerns of the present.

The Profets Tanakh Scrolls

The Profets Tanakh Scrolls

Articles on Judaism’s Religious Books

Oral Torah development

Oral Torah development

Judaism’s Sacred texts

Written Torah

Oral Torah

  • Oral Torah
    • Talmud (as encompassing the main Oral Law)
      • Jerusalem Talmud
      • Babylonian Talmud
        • Mishnah, the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions known as the “Oral Torah“.
          • Gemara, rabbinical analysis of and commentary on the Mishnah
          • Aggadah, a compendium of rabbinic texts that incorporates folklore, historical anecdotes, moral exhortations, and practical advice in various spheres, from business to medicine.
    • Tosefta, a compilation of the Jewish oral law from the late 2nd century, the period of the Mishnah
    • Midrash, the genre of rabbinic literature which contains early interpretations and commentaries on the Written Torah and Oral Torah (spoken law and sermons), as well as non-legalistic rabbinic literature (aggadah) and occasionally the Jewish religious laws (Halakha), which usually form a running commentary on specific passages in the Hebrew Scripture (Tanakh).
  • Midrash Halakha
  • Mussar
  • Geonim, presidents of the two great Babylonian, Talmudic Academies of Sura and Pumbedita, in the Abbasid Caliphate, and generally accepted spiritual leaders of the Jewish community worldwide in the early medieval era
  • Rishonim, the leading rabbis and poskim who lived approximately during the 11th to 15th centuries, in the era before the writing of the Shulchan Aruch (Hebrew: שׁוּלחָן עָרוּך, “Set Table”, a common printed code of Jewish law, 1563 CE) and following the Geonim (589-1038 CE)
  • Acharonim, the leading rabbis and poskim (Jewish legal decisors) living from roughly the 16th century to the present, and more specifically since the writing of the Shulchan Aruch (Hebrew: שׁוּלחָן עָרוּך, “Set Table”, a code of Jewish law) in 1563 CE.

Rabbinic literature

Rabbinic literature, in its broadest sense, can mean the entire spectrum of rabbinic writings throughout Jewish history. But the term often refers specifically to literature from the Talmudic era, as opposed to medieval and modern rabbinic writing, and thus corresponds with the Hebrew term Sifrut Hazal (ספרות חז”ל; “Literature [of our] sages [of] blessed memory,” where Hazal normally refers only to the sages of the Talmudic era). This more specific sense of “Rabbinic literature“—referring to the Talmudim, Midrash, and related writings, but hardly ever to later texts—is how the term is generally intended when used in contemporary academic writing. On the other hand, the terms meforshim and parshanim (commentaries/commentators) almost always refer to later, post-Talmudic writers of Rabbinic glosses on Biblical and Talmudic texts.

Mishnaic literature

The Mishnah and the Tosefta (compiled from materials pre-dating the year 200) are the earliest extant works of rabbinic literature, expounding and developing Judaism’s Oral Law, as well as ethical teachings. Following these came the two Talmuds:

The Midrash

The midrash is the genre of rabbinic literature which contains early interpretations and commentaries on the Written Torah and Oral Torah, as well as non-legalistic rabbinic literature (Aggadah) and occasionally the Jewish religious laws (halakha), which usually form a running commentary on specific passages in the Tanakh. The term midrash also can refer to a compilation of Midrashic teachings, in the form of legal, exegetical, homiletical, or narrative writing, often configured as a commentary on the Bible or Mishnah.

Later works by category

Major codes of Jewish law

Halakha

Jewish thought, mysticism and ethics

Early texts:

Foundational texts of various Hasidic sects:

Liturgy

Later rabbinic works by historical period

Works of the Geonim

The Geonim are the rabbis of Sura and Pumbeditha, in Babylon (650 – 1250) :

Works of the Rishonim (the “early” rabbinical commentators)

The Rishonim are the rabbis of the early medieval period (1000 – 1550), such as the following main examples:

Works of the Acharonim (the “later” rabbinical commentators)

The Acharonim are the rabbis from 1550 to the present day, such as the following main examples:

Meforshim

Meforshim is a Hebrew word meaning “(classical rabbinical) commentators” (or roughly meaning “exegetes“), and is used as a substitute for the correct word perushim which means “commentaries”. In Judaism this term refers to commentaries on The Torah (five books of Moses), Tanakh, the Mishnah, the Talmudresponsa, even the siddur (Jewish prayerbook), and more.

Classic Torah and Talmud commentaries

Classic Torah and/or Talmud commentaries have been written by the following individuals:

Classical Talmudic commentaries were written by Rashi. After Rashi the Tosafot were written, which was an omnibus commentary on the Talmud by the disciples and descendants of Rashi; this commentary was based on discussions done in the rabbinic academies of Germany and France.


The Profets Tanakh Scrolls

Mishneh Torah, a code of Jewish law by Maimonides, a Sephardic Jew

Read Books from Sacred Texts Archive

Tanakh (Hebrew Bible)

The Tanakh is the Hebrew Bible, the quintessential sacred text. The first five books of this comprise the Torah (or Pentateuch), the core sacred writings of the ancient Jews, traditionally written by Moses under divine inspiration.

Tanakh (Hebrew Bible).
Unicode with vowels.

Talmud and Mishna

The Babylonian Talmud
Translated by M.L. Rodkinson [1918]
A massive ten volume abridgement of the Talmud, the Jewish compendium of law and tradition, the only extensive public domain translation. Presented for the first time anywhere on the Internet at sacred-texts.com.

Eighteen Treatises from the Mishna
by D. A. Sola and M. J. Raphall [1843]
One of the first English translations of a substantial portion of the Mishna, the treasure-house of Jewish law and tradition.

The Wisdom of the Talmud
by Ben Zion Bokser [1951]
A great introduction to the Talmud for contemporary readers.

The Talmud
by Joseph Barclay [1878]
Seventeen representative tracts from the Talmud.

The Talmud: Selections
by H. Polano [1876]
A Talmud miscellany.

The Babylonian Talmud in Selection
by Leo Auerbach [1944]
An original mid-20th century translation of selections from the Talmud.

Sayings of the Jewish Fathers (Pirqe Aboth)
tr. by Charles Taylor [1897]
A beautiful extract from the Talmud, which has been used as liturgy. Devoted to ethics with some mystical touches, the Pirqe Aboth is distinguished for its transparency and simplicity. This was one of the first English translations in modern times of any portion of the Talmud.

Hebraic Literature
Edited by Maurice Harris [1901]
Extracts from the Talmud, Midrash and Kabbalah.

The Wisdom of Israel
by Edwin Collins [1910]
A short look at Jewish wisdom literature from the Talmud and Midrash.

Tractate Sanhedrin, Mishnah and Tosefta
by Herbert Danby [1919]
A key portion of the Mishna dealing with crime and punishment.

Tractate Berakoth
by A. Lukyn Williams [1921]
The Mishna about prayer.

Haggada

Legends of the Jews
by Louis Ginzberg [1909].
A huge collection of traditional stories which have grown up around the Bible narrative.

Kabbalah

The Kabbalah Unveiled
S.L. MacGregor Mathers, Translator. [1912]
An extensive introduction to the Kabbalah. Includes translations of three texts from branch of the Kabbalah known as the Zohar: The Book of Concealed Mystery, The Greater Holy Assembly, and The Lesser Holy Assembly.

Sepher Yezirah
translated by Isidor Kalisch [1877]
Includes English translation and pointed Hebrew for this key text of the Kabbalah.

Kabbalah – Sepher Yetzirah
W.W. Westcot tr. [188726,374 bytes

The Zohar: Bereshith to Lekh Lekha
by Nurho de Manhar (pseud.) [1900-14]
The Zohar is a Kabbalistic commentary on the Hebrew Bible. This is the only extensive English translation of a portion of the Zohar currently in the public domain. Covers Adam to Abraham.

Jewish Mysticism
by J. Abelson [1913]
The Kabbalah in the context of the history of Jewish Mysticism.

The Kabbalah, or the Religious Philosophy of the Hebrews
by Adolphe Franck [1926]
Did the Kabbalah originate from Zoroastrianism?

The Cabala
by Bernhard Pick [1913]
A short critical introduction to the Kabbalah.

Midrash

Tales and Maxims from the Midrash
by Samuel Rapaport [1907]
A popular Midrash compilation. This is the (unattributed) source for the next two entries’ Midrash extracts. This book has the references for each of the passages quoted lacking in the texts below, which makes it the best source if you wish to quote some of this material.

The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, Vol. IV: Medieval Hebrew
[1917]
Some sizeable extracts from the Midrash, medieval collections of Jewish Biblical lore and legend.

Midrash Tanhuma
60,529 bytes

Haggadah

The Union Haggadah
ed. by The Central Conference of American Rabbis, illus. Isidore Lipton [1923]
A guide to the celebration of Passover.

Haggada For Pesach According To Chabad-Lubavitch Custom 66,858 bytes

Prayer Books (Siddur)

The Standard Prayer Book by Simeon Singer [1915]
Complete English translation of a Jewish Prayer Book, or Siddur, including prayers, holidays, ceremonies, and important texts.

Other texts from late Antiquity and Middle Ages

The Works of Flavius Josephus
by Josephus, tr. by William Whiston [1737]
Josephus was a Jewish historian, soldier and scholar who lived in the first century [37-100 C.E.]. His works are primary historical sources of information about the doomed Jewish revolt of 66-9 C.E.

The Kitab al Khazari
of Judah Hallevi, translated by Hartwig Hirschfeld [1905]
A classic of Medieval Jewish philosophy, set in a legendary (but historical) central Asian kingdom.

The Guide for the Perplexed
by Moses MaimonidesM. Freidländer, tr. (2nd Ed.) [1904]
Maimonides’ masterful summation of theology, natural philosophy and divine law.

Selected Religious Poems of Solomon ibn Gabirol
by Solomon ibn Gabirol, tr. by Israel Zangwill [1923]
A key medieval Jewish Spanish poet and philosopher’s devotional poetry, some of which was adopted into liturgy.

The Fountain of Life
by Solomon ibn Gabirol, tr. by Harry E. Wedeck [1962]
An extract from the Jewish writer Solomon ibn Gabirol’s philosophical treatise on the First Cause, misattributed for centuries to an Islamic or Christian author named Avicebron.

Original Hebrew of a Portion of Ecclesiasticus
by A.E. Cowley and A. Neubauer [1897]
Includes the Alphabet of Ben Sira.

Modern

The Duties of the Heart
by Rabbi Bachye, tr. by Edwin Collins [1909]
A 12th Century Spanish Rabbi’s systematic treatment of Ethics as a universal.

Ancient Jewish Proverbs
by Abraham Cohen [1911]
A treasury of Jewish proverbs from the Mishna and Talmud.

Jewish Magic and Superstition: A Study in Folk Religion
by Joshua Trachtenberg [1939]
A comprehensive study of medieval Jewish folk magic, a primary source of modern ceremonial magic.

A Rabbi’s Impressions of the Oberammergau Passion Play
by Joseph Krauskopf [1901]
A Rabbi examines the tangled narrative of the Crucifixion, and the roots of anti-Semitism in the early Church.

Folk-lore of the Holy Land; Moslem, Christian and Jewish
by J. E. Hanauer [1907]
Moslem, Christian and Jewish tales from old Palestine.

Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends by “Aunt Naomi” (Gertrude Landa) [1919]
A well-told collection of Midrash and Talmudic lore for children.

The Great March
by Rose G. Lurie [1931]
A wonderful children’s book of post-biblical Jewish stories, with great illustrations, that adults can learn a thing or two from.

The Golden Mountain
by Meyer Levin [1932]
Magical realist Hassidic tales, lovingly retold by a master storyteller.

Reform Judaism – 1885 Pittsburgh Conference 4,588 bytes
Articles of Faith from the Jewish Encyclopedia 29,628 bytes
The Columbus Platform: The Guiding Principles Of Reform Judaism [1937] 8,706 bytes
Reform Judaism – A Centenary Perspective 11,054 bytes
Maimonides: Ani Maamin – I believe… 34,307 bytes
Solomon Schechter – Studies in Judaism – The Dogmas of Judaism 64,107 bytes
The Thirteen Wants by Mordecai M. Kaplan 2,127 bytes

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