Detail of illuminated text from a Hebrew manuscript

Judaism introduction

An overview of the articles and British Library resources relating to Judaism

What is the Hebrew Bible?

The Hebrew Bible contains the Torah, or Five Books of Moses, the Nevi’im comprising the books of the Prophets, and the Ketuvium, or additional writings. Originally the Bible was copied onto scrolls, but from about the 7th century the text was also copied into books. Masorah, a grammatical system of vowels, accents, and marginal notes, was developed to preserve the correct transmission and recitation of the text. To this day Torah scrolls for use in services are without vowels.

The earliest Jewish prayer-book dates from the end of the 9th century. The Haggadah, or service book for Passover Eve, was originally part of the prayer-book but became an independent book some time in the 13th century. It is frequently illustrated.

Jewish legal codes include concise versions of religious and secular laws from the Torah and the Talmud, the primary source of ancient rabbinic law. The earliest known code dates from the late 11th century.



The Torah

The Torah has central importance in Jewish life, ritual and belief. Maryanne Saunders describes what the Torah is, what it includes and how it is used in worship and ritual. 

Jewish Bible study

Barry Dov Walfish explains the development of biblical interpretation in Judaism, looking at key corpuses such as the Masorah, Targum and Midrash

Jewish lanuages

The Hebrew language is central to Judaism but several other languages have also been used in biblical translations and interpretations. Daniel Isaacs looks at the languages of Aramaic, Judaeo-Arabic, Djudezmo and Yiddish and their relationships to the Jewish sacred text. 

Illumination of Jewish biblical texts

Dr Ilana Tahan explores the illumination of Jewish biblical manuscripts, looking at the religious grounds for artistic expression in the Bible, and the differences in styles between manuscripts produced in the Near East and those in Europe. 

Prayer at home and in the synagogue

Rabbi Johnny Solomon explores the role of prayer within Jewish tradition, looking at its history, development and use within worship and rituals. 

Women and gender in the Hebrew Bible

Rabbi Debbie Young-Somers takes a look at women within the Hebrew Bible, traditional and modern Jewish interpretation of the scripture and women’s relationship with biblical education. 

Judaism film

What does it mean to be Jewish? Our film explores what it means to be Jewish, whether Orthodox or Reform, through Judaism’s most important sacred texts: the Torah, the Talmud and the Haggadah.

Further resources on Judaism at the British Library: