HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal


Terms for Biblical Study

by Editor Issue: Teaching Tanakh

The following are some of the terms used in the articles in this issue.

Ancient Near East: the larger geo-political area in which ancient Israel was situated, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, Anatolia/Asia Minor, and Persia

Aramaic: the language of part of Tanakh (especially in Daniel) and predominantly used in the Talmud; also the language of the Targumim

Bamidbar: the book of Numbers; a parashah at the beginning of that book

Be‘iyyun: learning a particular passage in depth; slow reading

Beki’ut: learning aimed at acquiring widespread familiarity with a text; fast reading

Bereishit: the book of Genesis; a parashah at the beginning of that book

Chavruta: a method of study in pairs commonly used in the study of Jewish sacred text

Chazal (חכמינו זכרונם לברכה): the sages whose teachings are included in the classic rabbinic collections of the Mishnah, Talmud and ancient midrashim

Chumash: the five books of Moses

Derash: a homiletical, nonliteral interpretation, usually with a moral aim

Devarim: the book of Deuteronomy; a parashah at the beginning of that book

Documentary Hypothesis (also Higher Criticism): the theory prevalent in the academic study of Tanakh that the Torah consists of different strands, written by different groups of Israelites at different times, and woven together by editors into its current form

Hammurabi: first king of the Babylonian empire, who lived in the 18th century BCE, famous for his law code that was discovered in modern times by archeologists and serves as a point of comparison for biblical law

Lex talionis: the principle of retributive justice—“an eye for an eye”

Masoretes: Jewish biblical scholars from the early Middle Ages who assembled the Tanakh, using pre-existing manuscripts and traditions, into the form in which it is codified today

Midrash: capitalized, the body of homiletical interpretations compiled by the ancient rabbis; lower case, an example of such a rabbinic interpretation

Midrash Rabba: the “great Midrash,” a large anthology of midrashim divided according to the books of the Torah: Bereishit Rabba, Shmot Rabba, Vayyikra Rabba, Bamidbar Rabba, Devarim Rabba

Mikra’ot Gedolot: the “rabbis’ Bible,” an edition of the Chumash which includes many of the classic commentators (frequently reprinted)

Mishkan: Tabernacle, especially the portable Temple established by the Israelites in the wilderness described in Shmot chapters 25-31, 35-40.

Minor prophets: also known as “the twelve,” the books of the prophets from Hosea to Malachi; called “minor” because these books are short, not because they are less important

Parashah (also parashat hashavua; pl. parshiot): the weekly portion of the Torah read in synagogue

Parshanim (also meforshim): traditional commentators on the Torah and other books of Tanakh, mostly from the Middle Ages, whose comments appear as glosses—line by line explanations below the biblical text

Pasuk (pl. pesukim): a verse from Tanakh

Perek (pl. perakim): a chapter of Tanakh

Peshat: literal interpretation

Shemot: the book of Exodus; a parashah at the beginning of that book

Shoftim: the book of Judges

Syriac: an ancient language into which the Bible was translated

Tanakh (also TaNaKH): a Hebrew acronym for the Bible: Torah (five books of Moses); Nevi’im (Prophets, including the historical books from Joshua to Kings as well as fifteen books written under prophets’ names); Ketuvim (Writings, a collection including diverse material)

Targum (pl. Targumim): ancient Jewish translation of the Torah and Tanakh into Aramaic

Vayyikra: the book of Leviticus; a parashah at the beginning of that book

Wisdom literature: a genre of writing widespread in the Ancient Near East, consisting of proverbial sayings by sages, sometimes addressing issues of philosophy or theodicy; includes the books of Proverbs, Job and Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) from Tanakh♦

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Teaching Tanakh

Tanakh (the Jewish Bible, Prophets and Writings) is the cornerstone of Jewish tradition; but how do we take our most ancient text and make it come alive for contemporary Jews? Read how educators deploy an array of methodologies and pedagogies to unlock the treasures of the Tanakh for today’s students.

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