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The Core Jewish Bookshelf

Have you ever wondered what someone is referring to when they mention the Talmud, or Rashi, or the Shulchan Aruch? There are a number of books on the core Jewish bookshelf, and it's helpful to know a little bit about when they were written, and why they are important. Click below, or scroll down, for some more information.

  1. The Mishna
  2. Talmud Bavli
  3. Rashi's commentaries
  4. Mishne Torah
  5. Zohar
  6. Shulchan Aruch


The Mishna - 250 ce

  • An "auto-anthropology" of Jewish life in the land of Israel during the second century CE
  • Organized into six Orders (sidrei) which are then broken down into 63 volumes (masechtot)
  • The orders are:
  1. Zeraim (Seeds) - agricultural laws and prayers.
  2. Moed (Festivals) - laws of the Sabbath and the Festivals.
  3. Nashim (Women) - laws of marriage and divorce.
  4. Nezikin (Damages) - civil and criminal law.
  5. Kodashim (Holy things) - sacrificial rites, the Temple, and the dietary laws.
  6. Tohorot (Purities) - laws of purity and impurity, including the impurity of the dead, the laws of "family purity" (the menstrual laws) and others.

Talmud Bavli - 600 ce

  • Record of tremendously discursive discussions about the Mishna.
  • Makes extensive reference to the Tanakh, but is organized according to the Mishna.
  • Only the center "column" of a traditional page of Talmud; the surrounding pieces of text are later commentaries.
  • The "Talmud" refers to the Babylonian Talmud (Talmud Bavli) although there are actually two (semi-) independent Talmuds: The Babylonian and the Jerusalem. Each represents the discussions of later rabbis on the Mishna.

Rashi's Commentaries on Bible & Talmud - 1100 ce

  • Rabbi Shlomo ben Yitzhak (1040-1105 / Troyes, France) draws on midrash (ancient commentaries/stories explaining the Torah) and Talmud in order to explain these core texts simply.

Mishne Torah - 1180 ce

  • Major work of the Rambam (Maimonides) who intended it to replace all previous law codes
  • Arranged into 14 sections, it includes all, whether applicable to his time or not.

Zohar - 1268 ce

  • Seminal work of Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah).
  • Written by Moses de Leon in late 13th century Spain, but was attributed to Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai, a second century sage.

Shulchan Aruch - 1567 CE

  • Written by R. Yosef Caro (1488-1575) who codified Sephardic custom.
  • Printed with the commentary of R. Moses Isserles (1520-1572) who included Ashkenazic custom.
  • Only covers issues of practical importance and is organized into four main sections
    • Orach Chayim (The Path of Life) - laws and liturgy of prayers and festivals.
    • Yoreh De'ah (The Teaching of Knowledge) - ritual laws of everyday life.
    • Even HaEzer (The Stone of Help) - laws of marriage and divorce.
    • Choshen Mishpat (The Breastplate of Judgment) - civil law.


Mon, July 15 2024 9 Tammuz 5784