Jews are known as the "People of the Book," an appropriate title. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE and the subsequent exile, sacrifices became impossible and Jewish religious life turned to study of the scriptures and prayer in the synagogue. Study of Torah and other Jewish texts has been central to religious life ever since.
The Torah, the Talmud, and other Jewish writings are precious sources of Jewish history and divine commandments (the mitzvot), both of which continue to play a dominant part in Judaism.
To remember the great things God has done for the Jewish people in history, and what he asks of them in return, selections from the Torah and the Prophets are read in the synagogue several times a week.
To assist in proper interpretation and application of the mitzvot, a great body of rabbinical writings has developed and continues to develop to this day.
Study of Torah (preferably in its original language, Hebrew) is an integral part of a Jewish child's education, and even Jewish mysticism is focused on intensive textual study.
The Jewish sacred text is the Tanakh, whose name is an acronym of Torah, Nebi'im and Ketuvim (Law, Prophets and Writings). It consists of the same books as the Christian Old Testament, although in a slightly different order and with other minor differences.
Although the word "Torah" is sometimes used to refer to the entire Tanakh or even the whole body of Jewish writings, it technically means the first five books of the Tanakh. These books are also known as the Five Books of Moses or the Pentateuch.
Talmud: The Oral Torah
Another important Jewish text is the Talmud, a collection of rabbinical writings that interpret, explain and apply the Torah scriptures. The Talmud was written between the second and fifth century CE, but Orthodox Jews believe it was revealed to Moses along with the Torah and preserved orally until it was written down. The Talmud is thus known as the "Oral Torah," with the first five books of the Tanakh designated the "Written Torah."
A third group of Jewish literature is the Midrash, which is a large body of rabbinical material derived primary from sermons (the Hebrew word for "sermon" is d'rash). The primary collections of Midrash were compiled between the fourth and sixth centuries, but the midrashic form continues to the present day.
A further set of Jewish writings is the responsa, a vast collection (thousands of volumes) of answers to specific questions on Jewish law. If the Talmud is a law book, the responsa are case law.
An ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible dating to before the time of Jesus Christ, and used extensively by New Testament writers and the early church.
The Sefer ha-Zohar (Book of Splendor) is the central text of Kabbalah, the mystical branch of Judaism.
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