Project Genesis

Torah, Talmud and Kabbalah - What’s What?

Question: I am so confused. I don’t understand which version of the bible is the Jewish version? I am also confused with the Torah, Talmud and Kabbalah. What’s what? Does one come from another? Who authored them? I am sure that these questions may be construed as ignorant but I am lost in a midst of translations, words, chronology and origins… Perhaps you can clarify for me so I at least may start my journey with this basic understanding.

Answer: I’ll try to give a short explanation. In the year 1312 B.C.E. G-d gave the written Torah (Five books of Moses, in Hebrew. English translations made by non Jews, such as the King James version, contain many mistakes. For a great translation buy the Artscoll Stone Edition) and oral Torah to the Jews at Mt. Sinai. The written Torah is extremely vague in almost all of it’s laws and gives little detail. For example, the Torah states, do not murder. What about euthanasia? How about abortion? How about if someone is trying to kill you, can you defend yourself by killing the attacker? The Torah states that you must slaughter animals “In the manner I have prescribed”, yet no where in the rest of the Torah does it say how slaughter was prescribed. The Torah states that on Sukkot “you shall take a nice fruit”. How did we arrive at an Etrog, a citron? There are numerous other ways of proving the need for and correctness of the oral law. See here for a few more. The written Torah is like the notes one takes at a lecture. Only one who has attended the lecture can understand it. The oral Torah is the entire lecture. As to why G-d did this, there are numerous reasons. Among them was to ensure that the Torah always be studied. If everything was contained in the written Torah, it would not be studied too much because it would only be used when it was necessary to know something (much the same way nobody studies the phone book).

As time went on it became too difficult to remember everything in the written Torah, so Rabbi Yehuda the Prince wrote the Mishna in the year 180 (approximately). The Mishna is the basic outline of the oral transmission, but it is cryptic enough so that one still need a Rabbi to understand it properly. This was not enough, so 300 years later Ravina and Rav Ashi recorded the Talmud, which expounded on the Mishna. Still the Talmud is very difficult and one needs to study it extensively to understand it’s structure, method and logic.

Kabbalah is the mystical teachings of the Torah handed down through the generations. As time went on, it started to become somewhat revealed, first by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in the first century AD, as recorded in the Zohar. Then by the great Arizal of 16th century Safed. To be properly understood, one needs to master much of the Torah and Talmud first.

Rabbi Meir Goldberg

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