Tanakh – General

Question:  Is there any where I can find out who or how many people/person specifically wrote the Torah?  Can the scrolls be verified? and Where were they found. I would like a name and date if possible?   I am a student of theology.  I searched endless for this.  The only information I have ascertained are the Dead Sea Scrolls, which only covers the New Testament, and that has not fully been substantiated.

Answer: There are many different scholarly opinions regarding who wrote the Bible.  For those who believe that it was compiled from several different texts, there are differing opinions regarding who wrote the primary texts and when they were written, and when they were edited into the final form we call the Torah.

For the range of scholarly opinions, I refer you to the book, Who Wrote the Bible, by  Richard E. Friedman.

Question:  How did the books of Torah, including the Prophets, Psalms, and Proverbs, get included in the canon?

Answer: First of all, please note that the books of the Prophets, Psalms, and Proverbs are not part of the Torah.  The first section of the Tanakh, Hebrew Bible, known as the Torah, includes only the five books from Genesis to Deuteronomy.

According to Jewish tradition, the final canonization of the Tanakh took place in the first C.E.  At this time, the entire canon was discussed the canon of Sacred Biblical books was closed.  The discussion focused on books such as Song of Songs and the Book of Esther which do not mention the name of God or contain controversial subject matter.

However, historically, the development of the canon is very complicated.  It seems to have been done in three stages.  The first stage was the Torah itself, the earliest and most important part of the canon.

The Nevi’im, the prophetic books, were the second section of the canon to be accepted.  The accepted period of prophecy ended with the return from exile after the destruction of the Temple; thus, there are no prophetic books dated later than this period.  By the way, there are no rabbinic discussions regarding the canonization of the first two sections, meaning that they were universally accepted as holy.

Finally, however, there are the Ketuvim, the writings, which have widely disparate dates and topics, and were the last to be accepted.  The criteria for acceptance seems to have been twofold:

1)  They were divinely, rather than humanly, inspired; and

2)  The conformed to the general ideology and philosophy of the Bible.

For more information, I refer you to the article on Bible in the Encyclopedia Judaica (vol. 4, pg. 814 ff.).

Question:   What is the Apocrypha? Have we ever used it, and do we use at this point in time as reference, or as companion to the Pentatuch and the rest of the Tanakh.

Answer: Apocrypha is a Greek word meaning “external.”  It refers to books which are outside the canon of the Bible.  In fact, many of the Apochryphal books, such as Ben Sirah and Maccabees, are of Jewish origin, and several are even quoted in the Talmud.  However, they have no legal significance within halakha, are not ‘holy books,’ and are never used as part of the synagogue liturgy.

Question:  Has any proof ever been unearthed as to the reality of any of the stories in the bible?  Was the “Ark of the covenant” where the 10 commandments were kept?  What happened to it?  And why can’t we find it today?  What would happen if it was found, opened and there were no commandments in it?  Would everything that has been taught be considered a “sham”?

Answer: Some of the historical accuracy of the Bible has been authenticated through other, non-Biblical, documents, potsherds, and remnants of Biblical civilization which have been found.  The location of the two things you mention, however, the ark of the flood and the Ark of the Covenant, are not known today.

The Ark of the Covenant was taken by the Romans when they destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 C.E.  There is a picture of it on a triumphal arch in Rome – the Romans would certainly not have included this picture had it not really existed.  The question of what happened to is, however, remains unanswered.

The ark of the flood has never been found, though there was a movie about 20 years ago called “In Search of …“ which interviewed people who claimed to have seen it, and showed blurry pictures that were supposed to be of the ark.

The Torah does not pretend to be only a book of history.  It contains the most important stories of Judaism.  Some of the stories, such as the story of creation, contain important truths even if they are not historically true.  We learn in the story of creation, chapter one of Genesis, that man and woman were created at the same time, equally, and that every human being stems from that original couple.  This teaches us the equality of men and women, and the equality of every human being, regardless of race, religion, or ethnic background.  It teaches us that every human being was created in the image of God.  If everyone in the world would truly learn this lesson, then there would be no hatred or racism in the world.

I am sure that Judaism would survive even if someone proved conclusively that they found the Ark and it was empty – because the Arks in our synagogue are full of Torah scrolls, and for thousands of years Jews have learn how to be good, moral, ethical people, following God’s will and God mitzvot from those Torah scrolls.  The truth and beauty of Judaism would not change because someone found an empty Ark.

Question:  I would like to purchase a copy of the Tanakh on audio cassette. Please send me information.

Answer: I’m not sure where you could find the Tanakh on a cassette.  The only places I can think of offhand that might have it would be the Jewish Heritage for the Blind, 1655 East 24th Street, Brooklyn, NY  11229, (718)338-8200; or the Jewish Guild for the Blind, 15 West 65th Street, New York, NY 10023, (212) 769Ð6200.  I don’t know if they have any resources available via Internet, but a web search might turn up something.

Question:  Rabbi Ishmael stated that the Torah could be expounded by 12 principles of logic. The first is “Inference from minor to major, or from major to minor” (Sifra; Chapter 1).  I am working on putting together a Men’s Club Creative service and would like to base it around this theme.  Could you supply any additional sources of information that could be consulted in citing examples of each of the 13 principles in a concise and understandable manner to a conservative Congregation?  Thanks for your help.

Answer: The best English explanation of principles of Talmudic hermeneutics is found in volume 1 of the Steinsaltz Talmud (the reference volume), pages 147-154.  It not only explains Rabbi Ishmael’s principles, but others as well.

Question:  I am very confused concerning the measurement of time in the old testament. Was a day, month, and year measured in the same way as it is done today?

Answer: As far as I know, in Biblical times, days and years were measured in the same was as we measure them; months were measured by the cycles of the moon, as opposed to our months which have no corresponding cycle in nature.

Question:  I’m having trouble understanding how people had such a long like span. Folks seem to have lived several hundred years. I wondered if they measured day, months and years differently than we do now.  If the measurement system was the same how was such a long life span possible.

Answer: In all probability, number in the Bible are not meant to be understood literally, but rather symbolically.  Therefore, the long life spans indicate that they lived full lives, but not necessarily 600+ year lives!

Question:  When helping my children with ancient & Biblical history I do not know if the terms Hebrew, Jew, Israelite are essentially the same.  What is the proper use of these names?

Answer: In the Bible, term “Hebrew” is found 5 times – two in Genesis, two in Exodus, and one in Jonah.  In Genesis and Exodus, it refers to those who crossed from Canaan to Egypt – The word “Ivri” comes from a Hebrew root meeting, “one who has crossed.”

Jonah is the only person to call himself a Hebrew (1:9), and perhaps the first.  He uses it to connect himself with a people who believe in the God of Israel.

Israel is a more general name for the family/tribe that stems from Jacob.  Israel was the name given to Jacob after he wrestled with an angel, in Genesis 32.  His descendants became known as children of Israel, or Israelites.  For most of the Biblical period, Israelite (rather than Hebrew) is the most appropriate name for the descendants of Jacob.

The term Jew first appears in Zachariah 8:23 and the book of Esther.  It’s origin comes from the tribe of Judah.  After the dispersion of the 10 northern tribes, the largest and most important tribe left in the south was Judah.  The southern kingdom was, in fact, known as Judah.  From that point on, all Israelites were assumed to be from the area of Judah, and became known as “Yehudi,” or Jews.

Question:  I know this is a question that probably has different answers (maybe, I don’t know) but I read about this on a website and I’m just wondering about it. if you look in a chumash,  in Deuteronomy 31:16-18, write down the Hay in Moshe (in Va’yomer adonai el moshe ley’mor). Count 49 letters (the next letter counts as 1) and write down the next letter: (Shin).  Repeat that again, and you will get Vav. Again: Alef. Again: Hay. that spells hashoah, another name for the holocaust. It talks about in the translation this: G-d is telling Moses that his descendants will believe in alien gods.  God will be angry and abandon them.  Bad things will happen to the people and God will not help them. Does this mean that the Holocaust was done by God’s will, and is there a significance of the number 49 in Judaism?

Answer: First of all, the number 49 is significant because it is 7 x 7.  The number seven symbolizes Shabbat and the completion of creation.  Shavuot, the celebration of the revelation of Torah, follows Pesah by 49 days.

Next, I agree with you that the implicit message of this letter game is that God caused the Shoah to punish the Jews for their sins.  I find this theology offensive.

Finally, the whole theory of “Torah Codes” being unique to the Torah and a proof of Divine authorship has been disproved in a recent issue of the Journal of Statistics (I may not have the exact name of the journal) in an article which showed that such hidden messages could also be teased out of the works of Shakespeare!

Question:  Can you recommend a good translation to help me understand my Bat mitzvah parasha?  The Hebrew/English haftarah book is too hard.

Answer: Try looking at the Etz Hayyim Humash or the Oxford Study Bible commentary, both of which use the new JPS translation (which is also published with a commentary by JPS), or the Torah and Haftarah commentaries by Gunther Plaut.

Question:  The Torah reading this past Sabbath was about Joseph.  I know that Joseph’s two sons, Menashe and Ephraim, were blessed by Jacob who indicated that they would be as his sons. In some books of the Bible, there are tribes names after Joseph’s sons while in other books they are not.  The names of the tribes in general seem confused at times. I wonder whether there is an explanation for this.

Answer: Your sense of confusion in listing the tribes of Israel is well-justified.  In fact, there are two ways to enumerate the tribes.

Chagal, in creating his famous set of 12 windows for Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, used the list of Jacob’s 12 sons.  This list included the tribes of Levi and Joseph.

When the Tanakh gives a portion of the land of Israel to each of the 12 tribes, however, it uses a different list.  The descendants of Levi were not given land.  Their job was to serve as Temple attendants, and the family descendants of Aaron within this tribe were given the role of Kohen, Priests, of handling sacrifices and Temple rituals.  Because of this, they never received land.  They were supported through offerings to the Temple, rather than becoming farmers or shepherds.  Since they did not receive a portion of land, in order to keep the list of landed tribes at 12, Joseph’s two sons, Menashe and Ephraim, were included.  So this list also adds up to 12, after subtracting Levi and Joseph, and adding Menashe and Ephraim.

I hope this clears up some confusion.

Question:  I am doing a personal study on certain aspects of the Jewish Culture. I am a Christian so of course, I am starting with the Hebrew Bible – what I call the Old Testament.  In Lamentations 2:15, Nahum 3:19, and Job 27:23, it speaks of the clapping of hands toward someone in distress or despair. Was or is this a Jewish ritual? If so, what does it signify?

Answer: Clapping hands towards someone in anger is not a Jewish ritual.  Rather, it was a particular expression of anger or derision in Biblical society.  The expression can be found in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) as a sign of anger in Numbers 24:10, and as a sign of derision in Job 27:23, Lamentations 2:15, and Nahum 3:19.

Question:  Is it correct that prayer has removed/replaced the need for sacrifices.  If so, how did this happen?  What is now the method of removing or the remission of sin?  This is a very perplexing question to me since in the Bible, it states that God required sacrifice for the remission of sin.

Answer: It is indeed true that Jews believe that when the Temple was destroyed, prayer replaced sacrifice.  The basic answer to your question, “what made sacrifices obsolete when sacrifices are what God commanded?” is that God desires and commands numerous other means of atonement aside from sacrifice.

First of all, sacrifice (according to Leviticus 4:1-2 – “When anyone sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of Adonai’s commandments …“) only could potentially cleanse from unintentional sins, so sacrifice in and of itself is insufficient.

The process of replacing sacrifice had already begun to happen in Biblical times.  There are numerous Biblical verses emphasizing prayer and righteous acts over sacrifice:

Psalms 40:7 – “Sacrifices and offerings You did not desire, but my ears you have opened for me.  Burnt offerings and sin offerings You have not required.”

*Repentance as a means of atonement*

II Samuel 12:13 – “So David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against Adonai.’  And Nathan said to David, ‘Adonai has already forgiven your sin; you shall not die.’ “

(David atoned through his confessional prayer)

see also Psalms 51:16-19

*Obedience obviates the need for sacrifices*

I Samuel 15:22 – “Samuel said, ‘Has Adonai as much desire in burnt offerings and peace offerings, as in obeying the voice of Adonai?  Behold, to obey is better than a peace offering; to hearken is better than the fat of rams.’ “

see also Micah 6:6-8

*Prayer replaces sacrifice*

Hosea 14:2-3 – “Return, O Israel, to Adonai your God, for you have stumbled in your iniquity.  Take with you words and return to Adonai.  Say:  You shall forgive all iniquity and teach us the good way, and let us render for bulls the offering of our lips.”

see also I Kings 8:46-50, in which King Solomon predicts a time when Jews will be in exile without a Temple sacrificial system, and God will hear prayers and forgive sins.

*Tzedakah – Charity is preferable to sacrifice*

Proverbs 21:3 – “Performing charity and justice is preferred by God to a sacrifice.”

Hoseah 6:6 – “For I desire lovingkindness, and not sacrifices, and knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”

see also Proverbs 10:2, 11:4, 16:6, and Daniel 4:24 (verse 27 in a Christian Bible)

I hope these verses help you understand the Jewish Biblical position on sacrifice.

Question:  Is the word “Shiloh” used anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures to refer to the Messiah?

Answer: As far as I can tell, the word “Shiloh” is only used to refer to the city which housed the Ark of the Covenant before David brought it to Jerusalem.  If you have a reference that you suspect refers to a Messiah, please tell me and I will investigate it.

Question:  Thank you for responding to my question about the word Shiloh in the Scriptures. The only references that I could find dealt with the city. However, I recently met someone who informed me that in Genesis 49:10 the verse reads “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.” He is quoting the King James Version of the Bible. How do we reconcile this? His interpretation is that it refers to the Messiah.

Answer: I checked three different translations of that verse.  None translates that word as refering to Shiloh, either the city or to a messianic allusion.  One of the problems is that Shiloh is a city in the area of Ephraim, not Judah (and the verse is speaking about the future of Judah).  In addition, interpreting it as a Messianic allusion to the Davidic dynasty is problematic because David never had very much to do with Shiloh [Anchor Bible commentary and translation by E. A. Speiser].

The Anchor Bible, the New Jewish Publication Society, and the Schocken Bible translation by Everett Fox all read the word shiloh as shai lo, “a tribute to him.”  The Fox translation, for example, reads, “The scepter shall not depart from Yehuda (Judah), nor the staff-of-command from between his legs, until they bring him tribute, – the obedience of peoples is his.

Be aware that the King James translation of the Bible is wildly inaccurate in places, occasionally deliberately mistranslating passages to strengthen the Christian position that the Hebrew Bible is nothing more than a prophecy of Jesus.  I do not recommend using it.

Question:  In the book of Shir HaShirim, it says in Perek Aleph that her skin is like the tents of Kadar.  Where is kadar? What is its english translation?

Answer: According to A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, ‘Kedar’ refers to a tribe of nomads in the Arabian desert.  Their tents were apparently made of black goat-skins or other black woven material.

Question:  what is a terebinth?

Answer: According to my dictionary, a terebinth is a small meditaranian tree, related to the oak tree, and a source of tanning material and turpentine.