Monday, May 23, 2005

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What's a Jewish Bible?

I have previously and just now received questions about where to get, and what is, a Jewish bible...

One question was: When it is said that one have a firm foundation on jewish texts and the old testament, does that mean the old testament as is, or the old testament uncoded as in the Zohar. What I'm asking is, am I supposed to read the bible? Like the actual bible? Keep in mind that I don't have a lot of bible reading history. So, am I suppose to start reading it and knowing it? And as far as jewish relgious texts besides the Torah, where am I suppose to get those and would I really understand them anyway?

Associated question, why read the bible if it is a code? Why not just study Zohar?

Another was: I'm (non-Jewish religious denomination), but have always loved the Jewish bible. I am trying to find a place to buy the Hewish Bible with Hewish references. I have only a xian bible and websites say that they were mistranslated.


In Hebrew and among the Jewish community, the bible (or 'old testament' in xian terminology) is called either the Tanach (ch = gutteral hebrew letter het) or a Chumash (again ch = gutteral-H). Both are abbreviations, Tanach meaning Torah + Prophets + Writings, Chumash meaning The 5 Books of Moses (and is often sold as 5 separate physical volumes). (Sometimes the word Tanach is written as Pentatuch in English, which I have no idea what it means but it refers to the same thing.)

PaRDeS : Each passage of the Torah is subject to 4 general levels of interpretation/understanding. The four level of interpretation are called: P'shat, Remez, D’rash & Sod. The first letter of each word P-R-D-S is taken, and vowels are added for pronunciation, giving the word PARDES (meaning "garden" or "orchard"). Each layer is deeper and more intense than the last, like the layers of an onion.

  • P'shat (pronounced peh-shaht' - meaning "simple"): The p'shat is the plain, simple meaning of the text.

  • Remez (pronounced reh-mez' - meaning "hint"): This is where another (implied) meaning is alluded to in the text, usually revealling a deeper meaning.

  • D’rash (pronounced deh-rahsh' also called "Midrash"): This is a teaching or exposition or application of the P'shat and/or Remez.

  • Sod (pronounced sawd or sood [like "wood"] - meaning "hidden" or "secret"): This understanding is the hidden, secret or mystic meaning of a passage.

Insights from the Zohar only assist at the level of Sod, hidden or secret understanding. However, to even begin to understand that level you have to understand the building blocks, the previous levels.

In a Jewish bible in English, the Word is printed along with a translation, and commentary, detailed insights and understanding are provided by great and holy Jewish scholars, sages and saints. Often the commentary provides understanding that could not be gained from the Word alone, bringing information from other reliable sources as well as incredible levels of in-depth study of the text. Some of these commentaries are considered so basic to Jewish understanding of the Word that (almost) no Jewish bible is printed without them.

Here's an example of how a Jewish bible in English looks, click here, and here, and here (scroll down on this one). This is no simple bible story when accompanied by the levels of understanding.

Here's another example (different edition).

And here's a full downloadable chapter (PDF format, Adobe Acrobat reader required).

The Zohar does not decode the Torah, it provides the 4th level of understanding. But how can you grasp the 4th level if you've never seen the first 3?

I recommend these Chumash versions:

The Stone Edition from Artscroll publications. Hebrew/English, classic rabbinical commentary.
The Gutnick Edition from Kol Menachem. Hebrew/English, includes hassidic insights, separate volumes.

Both are excellent and very popular among the English speaking orthodox Jewish community. There are a variety of others available as well (here's a Jewish book store link.)

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