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Are the old testament, the Talmud, and the Torah all viewed with equal reverence? I know so little about Judaism; tell me on what your faith is most strongly based.

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    Hi Pam. Welcome to Mi Yodeya! Just so you know, "Old Testament" is not a term that Jews use. What Christians call the "Old Testament" roughly corresponds to the Hebrew Bible. When we say "Torah" that sometimes means just the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, but also sometimes means the entire Hebrew Bible. – Daniel Oct 29 '15 at 12:20
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A bit vague, but we'll give this a go:

The "Torah" in the narrowest sense -- the Five Books of Moses -- we believe were dictated by God to Moses.

The remainder of the Jewish Bible or Tanakh -- which roughly corresponds with what the Christians call the Old Testament -- signify works of religious value that had some Divine help. (E.g. Judges, Jeremiah, Esther.)

The Talmud is the work of men many, many years later, reflecting the teachings and traditions they received -- and their debates on them.

A Torah book is handled as more sacred than, say, a book of Esther, which is more sacred than a volume of the Talmud.

On the other hand, we can't understand the commandments contained in the Torah without the explanation of the Talmud. Too many things are too vague. And we believe that an oral tradition was given alongside the Torah that was eventually recorded in the Talmud.

So they serve different purposes.

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My answer will be a further clarification of what Shalom said.

The Torah, which means Teaching, refers to the first five books of Moses, are typically believed to be passed directly from God to Moses. These first five books are treated with the most "reverence" since they are considered God's most "direct" or "pure" words to mankind. In Christian translations, you will often hear statements of "And they read the Law of Moses" "They found a scroll of the Law," "Didn't Moses tell you in the Law?" These statements are simplified attempts at translating the word Torah. Since the first five books of Moses contain many laws, many Christian translators translate Torah as "law."

The Torah is treated with the most reverence. Which means that no letters of it are changed, it is always kept in a separate place, is always well taken care of, and things like that. But when a Jew has a question on beliefs or what he should do in a given situation, more often than not he will not look up his quandary in the Torah. But instead will search for books from modern Rabbis, or the Talmud, or other works of laws or interpretations. This is because while we believe the Torah is immutable and pure, we also believe it is vague, and even slightly dangerous if not viewed in the proper lens. Someone could read it and come away with the notion that if one meets an adulterer, one should stone that person to death. Or if one is blinded by his fellow man, then his fellow man should be blinded. Both of these striahgt forward interpretations are viewed as incorrect by the Talmud, and we follow the Rabbinic interpretation of how to implement these laws, rather than by following the laws directly. So for example the adulterer can only be put to death after going to court, and then only on the testimony of witnesses who saw the action. In the case of the person who is blinded, his blinder has to pay for his recovery, and a value of how much work he will lose on account of being blinded, etc etc.

We also have a very sharp distinction between the written text of the Torah and its possible interpretations. If you read a Christian translation of Exodus, they make it very clear that God wrote the second set of tablets, they do it subtly by saying "and He wrote the tablets..." but the Hebrew text doesn't actually tell you who the "he is. The he could be Moses or God. We instead look to our commentators to hear the different interpretations possible, and we come to our own personal conclusion.

The rest of the Bible is viewed as sacred, but to a lesser degree. God spoke to Moses face to face, God spoke to the rest of the prophets in dreams and visions. So think of it like the telephone game, the further down the chain someone is, the less reliable the message. Moses had the most direct revelation, the other prophets had less direct revelation. These books are also treated with sanctity, but again nearly no one opens them up for personal guidance on their lives.

The Talmud (and further Rabbinic writings) are considered the least holy, but they are the most relied upon/used by Jews in their daily lives. i wanted to stress this point because a Christian person might hear that the Torah is our most sacred book and therefore would figure that we read it all the time to find out what God wants. But typically, Jews open up the Talmud or other Rabbinic works to try and discover how God wants them to live their life. And so while these Rabbinic books aren't considered as "sacred," because they aren't written by prophets, they are what most Jews rely upon to live their lives. A good example of why this might be would be the following:

According to the Torah, if a married man dies childless, the surviving brother is supposed to marry his widowed sister in law, have a child with her, and that child will carry the name of the deceased brother. Modern Judaism no longer practices this, due to the progression of ideas and laws passed to the Rabbis. One could make the argument that they've annulled God's law. But almost no one in this day and age thinks the right or Godly thing to do is to force the surviving brother to marry the widow.

  • Actually, modern Judaism does practice Yibbum. You are perhaps confusing that with the practice of some current communities (namely: Ashkenazim) to prefer Chalitza to Yibbum ab initio, but even that doesn't serve your point as Chalitza is certainly an option in the verses. – Double AA Oct 29 '15 at 18:45
  • @DoubleAA As far as i know Yemenites and other Mizrahi communities were practicing Yibbum. But most modern scholars discourage the practice, in much the same way they discourage polygamy which is still allowed. Ashkenazi Jews don't need to write they won't take a second wife on their Kethubbah, but Sephardic Jews do, and some Rabbeim won't sign a Kethubbah that doesn't have that clause, which is a way of subtly discouraging polygamy – Aaron Oct 29 '15 at 18:48
  • See Yabia Omer EH 6:14 who strongly encourages preferring Yibbum over Chalitza even today, and of course judaism.stackexchange.com/a/57889/759. I have nothing to say to you about polygamy and don't know why you are talking about it. Again, none of this serves your point as Chalitza is certainly an option in the verses. Nothing has been annulled. – Double AA Oct 29 '15 at 19:07
  • @DoubleAA Fine, you understand the message i'm trying to get across. Can you provide a good example? Mentioning Yibbum isn't important, the point i'm trying to make is what's of value here. Since i think the OP has a different idea of "sacred" and highlighting the difference of ideas is what's important. – Aaron Oct 29 '15 at 20:03

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