For those seeking to explore or reconnect with their Jewish heritage, the amount of voices, information and resources out there can seem confusing and overwhelming. The point of TorahWorks is to provide an entry point and gentle guide for those seeking to connect and become familiar with some of the classic Jewish texts.
Somewhat over 3,300 years ago, the descendants of biblical Jacob were miraculously taken out of the bondage of Egypt, through the sea and to the foot of Mount Sinai in the desert where God revealed Himself to them and presented them with the Torah. So was born the nation of Israel and their eternal relationship with God and His instructions to us.
It was also the start of the written tradition that has only grown since that time. These Jewish texts are the building blocks of Jewish faith and practice.
For your convenience, below is a partial list of some of the most important classic Jewish texts, together with their Wikipedia descriptions, a link to an online translation (where available), as well as to an Amazon page where you can order a hard copy translation:
Torah (/ˈtɔːrə, ˈtoʊrə/; Hebrew: תּוֹרָה, “Instruction”, “Teaching” or “Law”) has a range of meanings. It can most specifically mean the first five books (Pentateuch or five books of Moses) of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible. This is commonly known as the Written Torah. It can also mean the continued narrative from all the 24 books, from the Book of Genesis to the end of the Tanakh (Chronicles), and it can even mean the totality of Jewish teaching, culture, and practice, whether derived from biblical texts or later rabbinic writings. This is often known as the Oral Torah. Common to all these meanings, Torah consists of the origin of Jewish peoplehood: their call into being by God, their trials and tribulations, and their covenant with their God, which involves following a way of life embodied in a set of moral and religious obligations and civil laws (halakha).
Online Translation: https://www.sefaria.org/texts/Tanakh
Hard copy: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=chumash+torah
The Hebrew Bible, which is also called the Tanakh (/tɑːˈnɑːx/; תָּנָ״ךְ, pronounced [taˈnaχ] or the [təˈnax]; also Tenakh, Tenak, Tanach) or sometimes the Mikra, is the canonical collection of Hebrew scriptures. These texts are almost exclusively in Biblical Hebrew, with a few passages in Biblical Aramaic instead (in the books of Daniel and Ezra, the verse Jeremiah 10:11, and some single words). The Hebrew Bible is also the textual source for the Christian Old Testament. The form of this text that is authoritative for Rabbinic Judaism is known as the Masoretic Text (MT) and it consists of 24 books, while the translations divide essentially the same material into 39 books for the Protestant Bible.
Online Translation: https://www.sefaria.org/texts/Tanakh
Hard copy: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=tanakh+english
The Mishnah or Mishna (/ˈmɪʃnə/; Hebrew: מִשְׁנָה, “study by repetition”, from the verb shanah שנה, or “to study and review”, also “secondary”) is the first major written collection of the Jewish oral traditions known as the “Oral Torah“. It is also the first major work of rabbinic literature. The Mishnah was redacted by Judah the Prince at the beginning of the third century CE in a time when, according to the Talmud, the persecution of the Jews and the passage of time raised the possibility that the details of the oral traditions of the Pharisees from the Second Temple period (536 BCE – 70 CE) would be forgotten. Most of the Mishnah is written in Mishnaic Hebrew, while some parts are Aramaic.
The Mishnah consists of six orders (sedarim, singular seder סדר), each containing 7–12 tractates (masechtot, singular masechet מסכת; lit. “web”), 63 in total, and further subdivided into chapters and paragraphs. The word Mishnah can also indicate a single paragraph of the work, i.e. the smallest unit of structure in the Mishnah. For this reason the whole work is sometimes referred to in the plural form, Mishnayot.
Online translation: https://www.sefaria.org/texts/Mishnah
Hard copy: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=mishna
The Talmud (/ˈtɑːlmʊd, –əd, ˈtæl-/; Hebrew: תַּלְמוּד, romanized: talmūd) is the central text of Rabbinic Judaism and the primary source of Jewish religious law (halakha) and Jewish theology. Until the advent of modernity, in nearly all Jewish communities, the Talmud was the centerpiece of Jewish cultural life and was foundational to “all Jewish thought and aspirations”, serving also as “the guide for the daily life” of Jews.
The term “Talmud” normally refers to the collection of writings named specifically the Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli), although there is also an earlier collection known as the Jerusalem Talmud (Talmud Yerushalmi). It may also traditionally be called Shas (ש״ס), a Hebrew abbreviation of shisha sedarim, or the “six orders” of the Mishnah.
The Talmud has two components; the Mishnah (Hebrew: משנה, c. 200), a written compendium of Rabbinic Judaism’s Oral Torah; and the Gemara (Hebrew: גמרא, c. 500), an elucidation of the Mishnah and related Tannaitic writings that often ventures onto other subjects and expounds broadly on the Hebrew Bible. The term “Talmud” may refer to either the Gemara alone, or the Mishnah and Gemara together.
Online translation: https://www.sefaria.org/texts/Talmud
Hard copy: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=talmud+bavli
5. Mishne Torah (Maimonides – Rambam)
The Mishneh Torah (Hebrew: מִשְׁנֵה תּוֹרָה, “Repetition of the Torah”), subtitled Sefer Yad ha-Hazaka (ספר יד החזקה “Book of the Strong Hand”), is a code of Jewish religious law (Halakha) authored by Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon). The Mishneh Torah was compiled between 1170 and 1180 CE (4930 and 4940 AM), while Maimonides was living in Egypt, and is regarded as Maimonides’ magnum opus. Accordingly, later sources simply refer to the work as “Maimon“, “Maimonides“, or “RaMBaM“, although Maimonides composed other works.
Mishneh Torah consists of fourteen books, subdivided into sections, chapters, and paragraphs. It is the only Medieval-era work that details all of Jewish observance, including those laws that are only applicable when the Holy Temple is in existence, and remains an important work in Judaism.
Its title is an appellation originally used for the Biblical book of Deuteronomy, and its subtitle, “Book of the Strong Hand”, derives from its subdivision into fourteen books: the numerical value fourteen, when represented as the Hebrew letters Yod (10) Dalet (4), forms the word yad (“hand”).
Maimonides intended to provide a complete statement of the Oral Law, so that a person who mastered first the Written Torah and then the Mishneh Torah would be in no need of any other book. Contemporary reaction was mixed, with strong and immediate opposition focusing on the absence of sources and the belief that the work appeared to be intended to supersede study of the Talmud. Maimonides responded to these criticisms, and the Mishneh Torah endures as an influential work in Jewish religious thought.
Online translation: https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/682956/jewish/Mishneh-Torah.htm
Hard copy: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=mishneh+torah
6. Shulchan Aruch
The Shulchan Aruch (Hebrew: שֻׁלְחָן עָרוּך [ʃulˈħan ʕaˈʁuχ], literally: “Set Table”), sometimes dubbed in English as the Code of Jewish Law, is the most widely consulted of the various legal codes in Judaism. It was authored in Safed (today in Israel) by Joseph Karo in 1563 and published in Venice two years later. Together with its commentaries, it is the most widely accepted compilation of Jewish law ever written.
The halachic rulings in the Shulchan Aruch generally follow Sephardic law and customs, whereas Ashkenazi Jews generally follow the halachic rulings of Moses Isserles, whose glosses to the Shulchan Aruch note where the Sephardic and Ashkenazi customs differ. These glosses are widely referred to as the mappah (literally: the “tablecloth”) to the Shulchan Aruch’s “Set Table”. Almost all published editions of the Shulchan Aruch include this gloss, and the term “Shulchan Aruch” has come to denote both Karo’s work as well as Isserles’, with Karo usually referred to as “the mechaber” (“author”) and Isserles as “the Rema” (an acronym of Rabbi Moshe Isserles).
Online translation: https://www.sefaria.org/texts/Halakhah/Shulchan%20Arukh
7. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch
The work is a summary of the Shulchan Aruch of Rabbi Joseph Caro, with references to later rabbinical commentaries. This work was explicitly written as a popular text and as such is not at the level of detail of the Shulchan Aruch itself, while generally following the Shulchan Aruch’s structure. Rabbi Ganzfried expressed his intentions in his introduction:
|“||[This book] includes from the four sections of the Shulchan Aruch, those necessary and essential laws for all people in Yisrael in order to know them and are written in a simple language and a correct order. It is a good compilation and effective, B’ezrat Hashem, for businessmen that do not have the time to delve into the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries. They shall find in [this work] that which they require with ease and also [be able to] educate the youth and plant in their hearts the commandments of Hashem in their youth and [so that] also in their later life they will not leave them…||”|
The Kitzur became immensely popular after its publication for its simplicity, and is still a popular book in Orthodox Rabbinic Judaism where it is commonly studied.
The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Yomi (“Daily Kitzur Shulchan Aruch“) is a daily learning program where the study of this work is completed in one year. A person can start learning at any time of the year and complete it over the course of the year. The program is increasingly popular as it requires only 5 – 10 minutes per day.
Online translation: https://www.sefaria.org/Kitzur_Shulchan_Aruch.1?lang=bi
8. Sefer Hachinuch
The Sefer ha-Chinuch (Hebrew: ספר החינוך, “Book of Education”), often simply “the Chinuch” is a work which systematically discusses the 613 commandments of the Torah. It was published anonymously in 13th-century Spain. The work’s enumeration of the commandments (Hebrew: mitzvot; sing. mitzvah) is based upon Maimonides‘ system of counting as per his Sefer Hamitzvot; each is listed according to its appearance in the weekly Torah portion and the work is structured correspondingly.
The book separately discusses each of the 613 commandments, both from a legal and a moral perspective. For each, the Chinuch’s discussion starts by linking the mitzvah to its Biblical source, and then addresses the philosophical underpinnings of the commandment (here, termed the “shoresh“, or “root”). Following this, the Chinuch presents a brief overview of the halakha (practical Jewish law) governing its observance – usually based on Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah – and closes with a summary as to the commandment’s applicability.
Because of this structure, the work remains popular to this day. The philosophic portions are widely quoted and taught, while the legal discussion provides the basis for much further study in yeshivot.
Online translation: https://www.sefaria.org/Sefer_HaChinukh%2C_Author’s_Introduction?lang=bi
Hard copy: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=sefer+hachinuch
A siddur (Hebrew: סדור [siˈduʁ]; plural siddurim סדורים, [siduˈʁim]) is a Jewish prayer book, containing a set order of daily prayers. The word siddur comes from the Hebrew root ס־ד־ר meaning “order”.
Online translation: https://www.sefaria.org/texts/Liturgy
Hard copy: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=siddur
The Haggadah (Hebrew: הַגָּדָה, “telling”; plural: Haggadot) is a Jewish text that sets forth the order of the Passover Seder. Reading the Haggadah at the Seder table is a fulfillment of the mitzvah to each Jew to “tell your son” of the Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt as described in the Book of Exodus in the Torah (“And thou shalt tell thy son in that day, saying: It is because of that which the LORD did for me when I came forth out of Egypt.” Ex. 13:8).
Online translation: https://www.sefaria.org/Pesach_Haggadah%2C_Kadesh?lang=bi
Hard copy: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=haggada
The machzor (Hebrew: מחזור, plural machzorim, pronounced [maχˈzor] and [maχzoˈrim], respectively) is the prayer book used by Jews on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Many Jews also make use of specialized ‘‘machzor’’s on the three “pilgrimage festivals” of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot. The machzor is a specialized form of the siddur, which is generally intended for use in weekday and Shabbat services.