Page 11 - Judaic Logic
P. 11



1. The Development of Jewish Law.

Logic in Judaism is mainly used for the determination and application of Jewish
law, though also for the interpretation of the stories in holy texts. Before we begin our
reflections on Jewish logic, therefore, let us very briefly look into the development of
Jewish law. To begin with, we must of course consider how this development is perceived
and conceived within Judaism itself.
The founding document and proof-text of the Jewish faith and religion is, as is well
known, the Torah (translated as the Law, or Doctrine). This refers to the Five Books of
Moses or Pentateuch (Chumash, in Hebrew), which Jews believe was handed down by
God to the Jewish people, through Moses, at Mount Sinai , some 3,300 years ago. The five
books are Bereshith (Genesis), Shemot (Exodus), Vayikra (Leviticus), Bemidbar
(Numbers), Devarim (Deuteronomy).
The Jewish Bible, or Tanakh, consists of this 5-volume Torah, together with the 8
other prophetic books (of which one includes twelve minor prophets) and 11 other holy
scriptures (counting the books of Ezra and Nehemiah as one), written under Divine
inspiration over the next 800 years or so, mostly in the land of Israel and in a few cases in
the first Babylonian exile. TaNaKh is an acronym, including the initials T of Torah, N of
Neviim (Prophets) and K of Ketuvim (Scriptures); the books of the Bible other than those
written by Moses are therefore simply known as the Nakh . The latter play a relatively
secondary role in the development of Jewish law, being referred to occasionally to resolve
certain questions of detail or to provide illustrations.
The Talmud (which means, teaching) is an enormous compilation of legal
discussions between Rabbis, stretching over several centuries, starting about 2,100 years
ago (at least). It includes two main components: the Mishnah (meaning, learning by
repetition - pl. Mishnaiot), which was edited by R. Yehudah HaNassi in the 1st century CE,
followed by the Gemara (meaning, completion - pl. Gemarot), which was redacted by R.
Ashi in the 5th century. Actually, there are two Talmuds: the Bavli (or Babylonian), which

3 Or believing Jews, if you prefer; and many non-Jews, of course.
The names of our Divinity are commonly written incompletely, even in their non-Hebrew
forms, so as to avoid their destruction (which is prohibited on the basis of Deut. 12:4) should a copy
of the book be damaged. I am not sure that merely leaving out the vowel, as in G-d or the L-rd in
English, suffices, but it at least shows respect. However, as search strings in the Internet such
abbreviations cause confusion.
Apparently, not only at Mt. Sinai, but also earlier at Marah and later on the plains of Moab.
We shall just say 'Sinai', in the way of a collective term. See Lewittes, p. 38.
However, sometimes the word Torah is broadened to refer to the whole Tanakh; indeed,
sometimes it is used even more broadly to include all Jewish law.
The fact that some laws were Prophetic rather than Mosaic in origin is of course a problem,
in that Judaism is supposed to be essentially unchanged since Sinai. The Sages explained this by
claiming them oral traditions dating from Sinai, which were written down by the prophets, or else
forgotten and again revealed to the prophets. See Lewittes, pp. 32-33.
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