The term “torah” (Hebrew for “law”) in the context of Judaism is somewhat ambiguous. It can refer to the commandments of God for Israel spoken by Moses, the first five books in the old testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy), or it can refer to the entire Old Testament (sometimes referred to in Judaism as the Hebrew Scriptures). Regardless of its exact implications, the Torah provides important information for following God’s law.
Even aside from those mentioned above, the Torah can also include a few other traditions used within the synagogue since ancient times. One of these traditions is the Talmud, or a written account of the oral Jewish laws. This includes the Mishnah, a collection of early (AD 70-AD 200) Rabbinic rulings on a large array of issues and how they pertain to the Torah, and the interpretations and comments on these rulings made by other Rabbis later on (AD 200- AD 400). The oral laws were designed to protect devoted Jews from breaking the commandments of the Torah.
Another tradition is the teaching of the scribes. “Scribe”, in fact, is simply an early term for “Rabbi”, which refers to the one who interprets and teaches the law for the common Jewish people. Ever since the Old-Testament priest Ezra, scribes can be found in Jewish history providing information for the Jewish laity about how to obey the commandments in the Torah.
In Judaism, God’s law is vital for the welfare of Israel. Following the law causes blessings; breaking it causes hardship. As a result of this, the prophets (particularly Isaiah and Jeremiah) attributed the Babylonian exile to Israel’s unwillingness to follow the law prior to it.
While many of the commandments in the Torah are universal to most ethical codes, four of them are more distinctive. They include worshipping only God or Yahweh, circumcising all male children, observing a Sabbath (or day of rest) once every week, and observing dietary restrictions to avoid eating unclean foods. If a culture causes conflict with these laws, Jewish worshippers who are faithful to the covenant will choose to follow the laws anyway.