Torah Study

Glossary of Terms in Judaism:

Judaism - the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people, the descendants of the Israelites.

The TaNaKh: This includes the Torah (five books of Moses); Nevi'im (prophets, e.g. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel); and Ketuvim (Writings) e.g. Psalms, Proverbs Job, Esther, etc.) Christians call this "the Old Testament." Jews call it the Tanakh, or Torah She'bikhtav תורה שבכתב ("the written law")

The Oral law - Torah she'be'al peh תורה שבעל פה - the Jewish way of interpreting the Tanakh. The oral law is what sets Judaism apart from Christianity, and from Biblical fundamentalism.

Judaism's oral law is recorded in:

Theism - belief in a God that is both transcendent and immanent. Most theists hold that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, although this raises questions about God's responsibility for evil and suffering in the world.

Theodicy - the branch of philosophy which deals with how to reconcile beliefs about God, with the obvious existence of suffering in the world.

Deism - belief that God is wholly transcendent: God exists, but does not intervene in the world. In this view, God is not anthropomorphic, and does not literally answer prayers or cause miracles to occur.

Pantheism is the belief that god is the universe, and the universe is god. There is no transcendent nature to God, no Mind.

Panentheism (note spelling difference) God is the universe, and the universe is god - but here nature is just one aspect of divinity. God maintains a transcendent character, and is viewed as creator and the source of morality. This view of God is in Kabbalah, and also in process theology.

Kabbalah - a very wide category of esoteric Jewish mysticism.

However, there is much opposition to beliefs and laws from the Zohar, as historians have shown that the Zohar is a medieval invention, and contains questionable Gnostic beliefs. As such, some within Modern Orthodoxy, and many non-Orthodox Jews, view Zohar based beliefs as problematic.

Mitnagdism - The European Orthodox Jewish opposition to Hasidic Judaism

Jewish philosophy (פילוסופיה יהודית) is the attempt to fuse the fields of philosophy with the religious teachings of Judaism. This worldview is called philosophical rationalism. Rationalism is the alternative to mysticism.

=== Some important Rabbis to know ===

Early medieval Rabbis

Sa'adiah Gaon. Egypt 882/892, d. Baghdad 942 CE. Rabbi, Jewish philosopher, and exegete of the Geonic period.

Rashi (Shlomo Yitzchaki) (1040-1105 CE) - author of a comprehensive commentary on the Talmud, and commentary on the Tanakh (Bible)

Abraham Ibn Ezra (1089–1167) Spanish rabbi. Excelled in philosophy, astronomy/astrology, mathematics, poetry, linguistics, and bible commentary.

Rambam = Maimonides = Moses Ben Maimon, 1135-1204 CE. Considered by many to be the greatest philosopher of Judaism.

Ramban = Nachmanides = Moses ben Nachman . 1194–c. 1270) Spanish Sephardic rabbi, philosopher, physician, kabbalist, and biblical commentator.

Levi ben Gershon (1288–1344), aka Gersonides or the Ralbag, was a philosopher, Talmudist, mathematician, physician and astronomer.

Moshe de Leon - 13th century Spanish Rabbi. Claims to have discovered the Zohar; historians believe that he was actually it's author.


Later medieval Rabbis

Isaac (ben Solomon) Luria Ashkenazi (1534- 1572) better known as the Ari (the Lion) . Leader of the Jewish community of Safed (Syrian controlled Israel) The father of contemporary Kabbalah.

Joseph Karo, author of the Shulkhan Arukh ("Set Table", code of Jewish law.)


Hasidic Rabbis

Yisroel (Israel) ben Eliezer, the Besht, founder of Hasidic Judaism

Schnuer Zalman of Liadi, the Alter Rebbe. Founder of Chabad Lubavitch Judaism. He was the author of these works, specific only to Chabad Lubavitch:


18th century-mid to 20th century Rabbis

Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808 – 1888) German. Founder of the Torah im Derech Eretz school Orthodox Judaism, aka neo-Orthodoxy, aka Modern Orthodoxy.

Zechariah Frankel - a founder of the historical school of Judaism (studying how Judaism developed within it's historic context)

Solomon Schechter - Professor, Rabbi, first major leader of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and founder of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Joseph B. Soloveitchik - one of the most important Modern Orthodox Rabbis of the 20th century, author of Halakhic Man.

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907 – 1972) Polish-born American Rabbi , raised as a Hasidic Orthodox Jew, briefly taught at a Reform Jewish seminary, and soon joined the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (Conservative.) He is considered one of the leading Jewish theologians & philosophers of the 20th century.

Isaac Klein - (1905 – 1979) A prominent rabbi and halakhic authority within Conservative Judaism. Author of "A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice"

Louis Jacobs, was in line to become the next (Orthodox) Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom. His acceptance of the validity of historical study of the Torah led to the Jacobs Affair, which created a schism in Britain's Orthodox community. Those who held by Jacobs became the British Masorti (Conservative) Movement

Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935) was the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine, the founder of Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav Kook (The Central Universal Yeshiva), Jewish thinker, Halakhist, Kabbalist and a renowned Torah scholar.

Aharon Kotler (1891 – 1962) was  a prominent leader of Orthodox Judaism in Lithuania, and later the United States, where he founded Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood Township, New Jersey, the largest Rabbinical College in the United States.

Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902 -1994), known to many as the Rebbe,was a Russian Empire-born American Orthodox Jewish rabbi, and the last Lubavitcher Rebbe. As leader of the Chabad movement during his tenure, he is considered one of the most influential Jewish leaders of the 20th century.  


Modern day Rabbis

José Faur (Hebrew: יוסף פאור) is a Sephardi Hakham (rabbi), teacher and scholar. He was a Rabbi in the Syrian-Jewish community in Brooklyn for many years . He was also a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, and Bar Ilan University, and is currently Professor of Law at Netanya Academic College. {Wikipedia}

Ovadia Yosef (1920 – 2013) was an Iraqi-born Talmudic scholar, a posek, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1973 to 1983,  Yosef's responsa were highly regarded within Haredi circles, particularly among Mizrahi communities, among whom he was regarded as "the most important living halakhic authority.

Jonathan Sacks, Baron Sacks ( is a British rabbi, philosopher and scholar of Judaism and one of the most influential Modern Orthodox Rabbis in the world today.  He is member of the British House of Lords and was knighted by the Queen.

He served as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013. As the spiritual head of the United Synagogue, the largest synagogue body in the UK, he was the Chief Rabbi of those Orthodox synagogues