In the Tanakh, the Jewish Biblical Canon, there are three categories of works: the Torah of Moses, and what are know as the 'Prophets' and 'Writings'. This categorization is outlined and mentioned in the Talmud.

Maimonides says in Guide for the Perplexed and in Mishnah Torah that Moses' level of prophecy had a clarity that surpased all subsequent prophecies, which understandably sets his book works apart. This stance is endorsed by God in Numbers 12. Are their sources that specifically discuss the difference between Prophets and Writings? According to the Talmud in Bava Bathra, (cited above), many authors of the books have works in both categories!

  • that very quote from the Rambam to which you've linked discusses your question! May 19, 2014 at 8:19

5 Answers 5


Like in just about every question of Judaism, there's more than one explanation/opinion.

Ramabm (Moreh Nevuchim 2:45) and Radak (intro to Tehillim):

Expounding upon the Gemara (Berachos 4, Pesachim 117, Megillah 7), they say that the reason for the difference is that the prophecies of the books of Navi were written in a higher level of prophecy than those of Kesuvim. Rambam and Radak both explain that there was an actual difference: the prophet of navi would fall asleep and have a vision, while the author of kesuvim would write while 'inspired' while awake under divine inspiration. R. Bachya (Vayikra 8:8) develops this idea as well, that the prophet of navi was removed from physicality during his vision, which wasn't the case with authors of kesuvim. (And it's possible for higher-level prophets, even Moshe, to also sometimes receive lower level prophecy, which is how he can be credited with writing Iyov.) Radak also adds (in his intro) that Divrei Hayamim was added to Kesuvim because it's mainly about history.

R. Menachem Meiri (into to Tehillim):

He rejects the Rambam, 1) because Tehillim and Daniel have real prophecies in them and 2) because the same people who were prophets also wrote Kesuvim. Therefore, he says that the difference is in purpose or context: Neviim were written by prophets who were specifically sent by God to admonish the people, and the Kesuvim/'writings' are just that; containing advice, poetry, and history (future history is also history).

Abarbanel (Mayyanei Hayeshua 3:2)

has a similar approach as that of the Meiri, as he states that the entire difference was in mission. Neviim were people whose mission it was to go out and prophecize among the people, and Kesuvim were prophecies that God instructed them to write down.

Netziv (Haamek Sheilah, intro to Sheiltos no. 8)

The Neviim were written in 'the language of God', and the Kesuvim were written in the language of man. (I think he means that the perspective of the author is different, but I'm not sure)

Chiddushei HaGrach vehaGriz to Bava Basra 15a:

R. Chaim of Brisk was recorded as saying that the Neviim were instructed to first state their prophecies orally, and then write them down, while the authors of Kesuvim were instructed in the reverse: to write their prophecies and then read them from a text. (I'm not sure what to make of the theological significance of this difference) However, R. Chaim's son R. Yitzchak Zev had several questions on this explanation discussed there.

R. Yitzchak Hutner (Pachad Yitzchak Shavuos 2)

While the levels of the divinity of prophecy (and therefore their holiness) may be the same, Kesuvim represent a more 'hidden' form of prophecy, and Neviim are more openly revealed (which I believe means easier to understand).

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    Josephus (Contra Apion 1:8) implies that the split was between books of instruction and books of advise/wisdom, but I wasn't sure if that counts as a source May 19, 2014 at 8:38
  • According to the Abarbanel and the Meiri, how are we supposed to be able to understand the Gemara quoted below where it says "The Gemara comments: In certain ways they, the prophets, were greater than him, Daniel, and in certain ways he, Daniel, was greater than them. They were greater than him, as they were prophets and he was not a prophet."? May 18, 2020 at 4:59

The gemora in Meggila 3a states that Daniel was not considered a prophet whereas Chaggai Zecharya and Malachi were. Rashi s.v. Inhu Nevii explains that they were sent as God's messengers with a message for Israel, whereas although Daniel saw great prophetic visions, he was not sent as a messenger to Israel.

Additionally, the gemora in Meggila 7a seems to imply that in order for a book to cause one's hands to become ritually impure (Tameh), a condition which applies to all books in Kesuvim, it needs to have been written with Ruach Hakodesh.

This would seem to imply that in order for a book to qualify for categorization as Prophets/Neviim it would need to contain prophesy sent as a message for eternity to Israel, and in order to qualify for Writings/Kesuvim it needs to have been written with (at least) Ruach Hakodesh.

  • There is actually an argument about Kohelet and Shir Hashirim. Bartenura says that kohelet according to the opinion that it doesn't render hands impure, was not Ruach Hakodesh, by was the wisdom of Solomon, which was still deemed worthy enough for canonization. Iassume the same can be said for Shir.
    – Baby Seal
    Apr 27, 2014 at 14:57
  • @BabySeal Where does the Bartenura say that? Because from what I understood in the Gemora Meggila that I quoted there were some parts of Mishlei that were expressly left out because of the fact that they were only Shlomo's wisdom but not ruach hakodesh...
    – Jewels
    Apr 28, 2014 at 6:44
  • End last mishnah of Yadayim 3
    – Baby Seal
    Apr 28, 2014 at 15:38

In actuality, the neviim were those who were

a. Given a prophesy by Hashem
b. Commanded to reveal this prophesy to Bnei Yisrael.

This is just like Moshe in the Torah. That is why we constantly see that the Torah says "Vayedaber Hashem el Moshe laimor". That is, Hashem told Moshe something and then commanded him to repeat it to the people and later to write it down. The Neviim that we have were also commanded to be written down so that it would be passed down to future generations. An example is in Bava Basra 15a quoting Jereiah 36:18 where Baruch (Jeremiah's scribe) said that Jeremiah dictated the prophesies that were to be passed down to future generations and he (Baruch) wrote them in the scroll with ink.

Those items that were not originally nevua, but were written down in order to pass down wisdom (such as Mishlei), or haskafa (such as Shir HaShirim), or for a psak (like Megilas Rus), or for historical reasons (such as Ezra or Divrei Hayamim) are part of kesuvim. The Anshei Kneses Hagedolah determined which writings actually were to be canonized and passed down to future generations. The particulars of who wrote what are discussed in Maseches Bava Basra 14b.

A navi who revealed a prophesy without being commanded (even though Hashem had given him the prophesy) is actually a "false prophet" as I state False Prophet can sometimes tell the truth

The explanation there includes the reference to Hananiah be Azzur, "the prophet who was from Gibeon" Rashi and others explain that he really was a prophet and that his sin was to make a deduction from the prophesy that was given to Jeremiah. Part of the explanation from some of the meforshim is that when Hashem would give a prophesy, every prophet would hear it, but also would know to whom it was directed and who was being commanded to pass it on or to perform an action. Only that prophet who was being commanded would be allowed to pass it on. Thus we see, that to be included in Neviim, the prophet had to be given a direct message from Hashem (at whatever level was appropriate as Rambam explains) and commanded to pass it on.

Everything else that was canonized as appropriate for transmission by Anshei Knesses Hagedolah would be in the class of Kesuvim. The reason could differ as I said above, even though it was accepted by them as appropriate and to be included (at that lower lever).


The Maharil quoted in likutei Maharil #106 says in the name of Rashi that the rule is, whichever book we read Haphtorah out of is called Navi, and whichever we are not read Haphtora from are called Kesuvim.

[The notes on the bottom send to Rashi in maseches Shabbos 115a in the mishna. It's not so clear that this is what Rashi is trying to say, especially being that the Levush in siman 284 quoted in the Ba'er Heiteiv there says simply that we read out of Neviim because they happen to have topics related to the parsha, as opposed to kesuvim. Rashi can be read simply like this. But then, if you read pashut pshat in rashi and like the Levush, it turns out that there is a huge unexplained coincidence where all the books that happen to be called neviim, happen to be read from on shabbos because they happen to have a similar topic as the parsha. Sounds weird if you look at it like that, no? ]

  • What about Nachum?
    – Double AA
    Nov 10, 2014 at 18:36
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    @Double good point but we can wiggle out of that by saying all trei assar were grouped together due to size.
    – user6591
    Nov 10, 2014 at 19:23

I am reading Asimov's Guide to the Bible, which though isn't considered a mekor, is interesting.

Unlike the navi which were composed by a prophet at the time of delivery, the writings were written later with some literary elements.

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