When the Torah refers to itself, it refers to itself in the singular. There are numerous verses, notably in Devarim. One notable example Devarim 31:16 (Sefaria English translation:)

"לָקֹחַ אֵת סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה וְשַׂמְתֶּם אֹתוֹ מִצַּד אֲרוֹן בְּרִית־ה' אֱלֹקיכֶם וְהָיָה־שָׁם בְּךָ לְעֵד׃"

Take this book of Teaching and place it beside the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD your God, and let it remain there as a witness against you.

Yet, we see that there are five sefarim (books) and on parchment, we denote the separate books by leaving several lines of spacing between the end of one book and the start of the next.

I notice that Rash"i as well as the Gemarah refer to some of the separate books by names such as "Torat Kohanim" (Vayikra) and "Mishneh Torah" (for Devarim).

When did the concept of separating the Torah into Five books begin? And, why was there a requirement to write a Torah into five books? Is that Misinai (from Sinai)? It doesn't appear to be this way from the Torah's verbage. Even it is Misnai, why separate it into five books?

  • I was just thinking about this earlier. +1 – ezra Dec 24 '18 at 4:14
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    See tana'im disagreeing about how many books there are/will one day be here, and some bylaws about book separation here. – WAF Dec 24 '18 at 6:34
  • I thought 6 books – rosends Dec 24 '18 at 11:47
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    Any answer, in very general terms, is probably going to be that each book is a complete topic. Something I've done for books of Nach, though not for Chumash yet, is to pick a sefer, allocate a big enough chunk of time, and lein the whole sefer from beginning to end - not rushing but not going too slowly. I've found that it gives me a larger perspective helps me internalize the sefer as a unit. Next time you fly I suggest this as an alternative to watching a random movie with a tiny screen and bad earphones. – Heshy Dec 24 '18 at 19:58
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    I've found the amount of time needed to be linear in the number of pesukim, as expected. 30 minutes for the megillah (which you can use to calibrate your times), 2 hours for Yehoshua or Shoftim (could do this on a Shabbos afternoon), 5 hours for Shmuel (that one was an international flight). Make sure to have lots of water nearby. – Heshy Dec 24 '18 at 20:01

The first reference to the five-sefarim division of the Torah goes back to Philo (ca. 25 B.C.E.- 50 C.E.) in the opening of his De Abrahamo, in which he states that the Torah has five books:

τῶν ἱερῶν νόμων ἐν πέντε βίβλοις ἀναγραφέντων ἡ πρώτη καλεῖται καὶ ἐπιγράφεται Γένεσις ἀπὸ τῆς τοῦ κόσμου γενέσεως

The first of the five books in which the holy laws are written bears the name and inscription of Genesis, from the genesis or creation of the world, an account of which it contains at its beginning (Translation by F. H. Colson).

He also declares the same in the De Aeternitate Mundi.

Decades later, Josephus in Against Apion, 1:8 states:

οὐ μυριάδες βιβλίων εἰσὶ παρ᾽ ἡμῖν ἀσυμφώνων καὶ μαχομένων, δύο δὲ μόνα πρὸς τοῖς εἴκοσι βιβλία τοῦ παντὸς ἔχοντα χρόνου τὴν ἀναγραφήν, τὰ δικαίως πεπιστευμένα. καὶ τούτων πέντε μέν ἐστι Μωυσέως, ἃ τούς τε νόμους περιέχει καὶ τὴν ἀπ᾽ ἀνθρωπογονίας παράδοσιν μέχρι τῆς αὐτοῦ τελευτῆς

Our books, those which are justly accredited, are but two and twenty, and contain the record of all time. Of these, five are the books of Moses, comprising the laws and the traditional history from the birth of man down to the death of the lawgiver. (Translation by Henry St. John Thackeray)

The same expression is later found in the Yerushalmi (see Sotah 26a), Otios de Rabi Akiva (Nusach Alef), the Medrash Shocher Tov (and etc).

Despite these sources do not explain the reason behind that, it resembles to have something related with its content. This is what Jeffrey Tigay presents,

“The Torah in its final form is divided into five separate books because ancient scrolls could not contain a work of that length. Nevertheless, the books were not divided arbitrarily but at natural transition points.” (“Exodus,” in The Jewish Study Bible, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 95)

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    Thank you for the research. I'll try to sift through some of this today or tomorrow and comment further. – DanF Jan 2 '19 at 14:30

Tikuney Zohar (25) seems to equate the number of books in the Torah with the five ‘wings’ of an animal’s lungs. Saying too, that a Torah must be exactly perfect not more, less or exchanged. So to the lungs, if they are additional or lacking the animal is invalid.

And one who transgresses one has certainly the other.

כְּגַוְונָא דָא אִינוּן חָמֵשׁ כַּנְפֵי רֵיאָה, כְּגַוְונָא דַחֲמִשָּׁה חוּמְשֵׁי תוֹרָה, וּוַרְדָּא כְּגַוְונָא דְזֶה סֵפֶר דְּאִיהוּ סֵפֶר יְשָׁרִים, אִי אוּנֵי חַסִּיר אוֹ יַתִּיר אוֹ חֲלִיף, אִיהוּ אִמְרָא פָּסוּל, וּמָאן דְּעָבַר עֲלַיְיהוּ כְּאִלּוּ עָבַר עַל אוֹרַיְיתָא וַחֲמִשָּׁה חוּמְשֵׁי דִילָהּ, דַּחֲמִשָּׁה כַנְפֵי רֵיאָה וּוַרְדָּא אִינוּן שִׁית, דָּא ו', כָּל מָאן דְּעָבַר (על דא, כאלו עבר) עַל דָּא.


This is getting into a very symbolic area so I'm not going to claim this answer as being fully respected as an Orthodox interpretation. It actually bleeds into Torah archeology/anthropology and relates to understandings of symbolism historically. The idea is actually promoted in a lecture by a Dr. Elaine Goodfriend.

There's an idea that the Torah was broken into five books as each of the five books represent a "finger" of Hashem. The idea is that when Hashem gave the Torah to Moses, he was essentially putting out his hand for the Jewish people to take.

Hands are pretty major symbols in Judaism as they relate to a lot of rituals and practices.

  • Washing of one's hands for ritual purity.

  • Hands being raised for the priestly blessing.

  • Blessing of the children by placing one's hands on their heads.

Our hands are emphasized in many ways and this ties into the hand of Hashem on some level.

We see the language of "hands" being used in the language of our writings as it references Hashem's "hand" during times when he acted on behalf of the Jewish people or intervened in the world. While these are not literal hands, the hand indicates an interaction and involvement on either a physical or spiritual level.

the word of the LORD came to the priest Ezekiel son of Buzi, by the Chebar Canal, in the land of the Chaldeans. And the hand of the LORD came upon him there. - Ezekiel 1:3


For I was ashamed to ask of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road: because we had spoken to the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all those who seek him for good; but his power and his wrath are against all those who forsake him.” - Ezra 8:22


then the hand of the LORD will strike your livestock in the fields—the horses, the asses, the camels, the cattle, and the sheep—with a very severe pestilence. -Exodus 9:3

The idea is that the Torah is an interaction. Hashem gave us commandments and the ability for us to live and walk and serve at his side. That was his hand reaching out to us so that we could be pulled up.

Again, this is not necessarily an Orthodox interpretation but I appreciate the symbolism and the rationality used in it. Thought you might also appreciate it.


According to בית אלהים, שער היסודות פרק לב, there are several possibilities.

Five book correlate to Adam, Noach, Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov.

Or: Amraam, Yocheved, Aharon, Miriam, Moshe.

Alternatively corresponding to five places: Mitzrayim, Marah, Har Sinai, Ohel Moed, Aravos Moav.


A simple hint is that 5 = 4 + 1

There are 4 Chumashim for every letter of יקוק and the 5th (Dvorim) is "beyond" the Torah for קוצו של יוד. Just as there are 4 Exiles (תהו ובהו וכו') for יקוק and Egypt is beyond for קוצו של יוד.

The 4 Chumashim are given for the דור המדבר and the 5th Chumash is called Mishne Torah (Torah's secondary, or Torah recap) as Moses speaks for the דור הארץ.

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    Do you realize that to the community here, it seems like you made this up? If so, there’s no reason not to include that in the answer; unless you can source this. – Dr. Shmuel Jan 2 '19 at 14:38
  • 1. Many people can think they ARE the community. 2. I corrected a small mistake with דור המדבר and numbers. 3. When I learned with my Rabbi Z"L I didn't ask what's the source every second. Those ideas are from his Ariz"L tradition. 4. Unlike many others, I don't care personally so much for "who said that" as long as it answers my question. 5. Many people only need a hint to direct their research. 6. Many people -1 just because they don't understand what I'm talking about and I understand them well. – Al Berko Jan 2 '19 at 15:05
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    @AlBerko Actually, what you have expressed here is from the written Torah itself. That is the concept of 'Klal' and 'Prat', as in parshat VaYakhel and Pekudei. It is used in many places within what is described by the Ari z"l and others as 'Ma'arechet Elokut'. Similarly, the answer from Avri has a strong foundation from the Mekuballim. If you are interested, look at the Kavannot for saying, "Savri Maranan" during Kiddush. Each of the 10 fingers correspond to 1 of the 10 sefirot and there are 2 sets of 10. 1 pertaining to the side of Chesed and the other to the side of Gevurah. – Yaacov Deane Jan 2 '19 at 15:55

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