The Torah For Dummies
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The Torah (the Five Books of Moses) is the essential book of Judaism and a manual for living. If you don't read Hebrew, study an English translation so you can understand and follow the basic principles to guide personal behavior and the Ten Commandments (taken from the Book of Exodus).

Recommended English translations of the Torah

Jewish life is an immersion into the Torah (Five Books of Moses) and the literature the Torah has inspired. The original language of the Torah is Hebrew, and because most people today don’t read Hebrew many English translations of the Torah are available, like these notable translations:

  • The Living Torah by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan: This is the most readable of all translations, and its brief footnotes are always illuminating. It isn’t a precise, literal translation, but rather a translation that focuses on the ways in which the great Jewish sages have traditionally understood the Torah text.

  • The Chumash: The Gutnick Edition: It’s filled with rich insights from classic Jewish commentators and from a brilliant modern spiritual master known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

  • The Chumash: The Stone Edition: This translation has become the standard edition found in most traditional synagogues throughout the world, and for good reason. It’s easy to read and the commentaries, which make up half of this volume, are selections from the most authoritative Torah sages throughout Jewish history.

Basic behavior principles from the Torah

The Torah is a guidebook for Jewish living — requiring a lifetime of study to learn and to refine your actions and personal qualities. While it contains hundreds of commandments of all kinds, there are some basic principles that guide personal behavior. These six are the most important prescriptions from the Torah for a healthy, spiritually sound life:

  • Good works or maasim tovim (mah-ah-seem toe-veem): Always be on the lookout for opportunities to do good things for others and for yourself. Get up on the right side of the bed, be nice, and always be the one who does the right thing.

  • Acts of kindness or gemilut chasadim (geh-meh-loot khah-sah-deem): Look at the world through eyes of compassion, empathize with the challenges of others, and look eagerly for opportunities to be kind to everyone, especially to those less fortunate than you.

  • Hospitality or hachnasat orchim (hakh-nah-saht ore-kheem): Invite family members, friends, and acquaintances to your home, be generous and gracious hosts, make sure your guests are comfortable, and treat them the way you’d like to be treated.

  • Charity or tzedakah (tzeh-dah-kah): Give generously to charities and to individuals who are in need. Make it a regular habit. Some sages say that there is no good deed more important than giving charity.

  • Visiting the sick or bikkur cholim (beer-khoor khoh-leem): Visit and/or call people you know who are ill and be sensitive to their needs. Know that visiting a sick person is part of their healing process and makes a big difference.

  • Evil speech or lashon hara (lah-shone ha-rah): Be careful with what you say, don’t be verbally abusive, don’t embarrass someone publicly, don’t lie, and know that words can be cruel weapons.

The Ten Commandments according to the Torah

The Ten Commandments may be the most well-known part of the Torah. Interestingly, two versions of the Ten Commandments exist in the Torah: one in the book of Exodus and one in the book of Dueteronomy. The Ten Commandments according to Jewish tradition also differ from the Ten Commandments of various Christian denominations. The following Ten Commandments are from the book of Exodus in the Torah:

  1. I am the Lord your God.

    “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2)

  2. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol.

    “You shall not recognize other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:3–4)

  3. You shall not take the name of God in vain.

    “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)

  4. Remember and observe the Sabbath and keep it holy.

    “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant, your animal or your stranger within your gates.” (Exodus 20:8–10)

  5. Honor your father and mother.

    “Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.” (Exodus 20:12)

  6. You shall not murder.

    “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:13)

  7. You shall not commit adultery.

    “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:13)

  8. You shall not steal.

    “You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:13)

  9. You shall not bear false witness.

    “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:13)

  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or house.

    “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:14)

About This Article

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Arthur Kurzweil is known as America's foremost Jewish genealogist. He is a teacher, a lecturer, and the author of several books including Kabbalah For Dummies.

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