Written Law, Oral Law and Shulchan Aruch

Q. Who wrote the Torah according to the Torah? Jewish tradition attributes the authorship of the five books of the Pentateuch to Moses, but some biblical scholars question whether the text was truly a unified composition or whether it shows signs of multiple authorship.

A. Thanks for your question. We believe that God dictated the Torah to Moses, who wrote it down. This is how the Torah itself describes things. The only question involves the last eight verses, which describe the death of Moses. According to one opinion, God had Moses write those verses immediately before his death, while another opinion maintains that Joshua wrote those down after Moses died.

You can see more about the authorship of various Bible books here.


Q. I could not find all of the Sabbath laws in scripture. How can they be supported if they’re not in the Bible?

A. Thanks for your question. The Torah has two parts: the Written Law, which is mostly bullet points, and the Oral Law, which includes the details. The Oral Law, as the name suggests, was originally transmitted orally until it was ultimately written down in the form of the Talmud. Since the Written Law tells us to refrain from acts of creative labor on the Sabbath and that failure to do so is a capital offense, we know that there's such a thing as "creative labor." The explanation of that term is found in the Oral Law.

The same is true in all areas of law. The Torah says not to murder, but it doesn't define murder. (Is euthanasia murder?) The Torah says not to steal, but it doesn't define theft. (Is keeping excess change you've been given stealing?) Just like there isn't room in the US Constitution to includes all the details of your local traffic codes, there isn't room in the Torah to include every detail of Jewish law.


Q. I recall some part of the written Torah that refers to the Oral Torah. Which part is it?

A. Thanks for your question. Perhaps this is what you're thinking of?

496. Left or Right: The prohibition against deviating from the word of the Sanhedrin - Taryag - OU Torah


Q. How many volumes are there in Shulchan Aruch?

A. There are four volumes in Shulchan Aruch: Orach Chaim, Yoreh Deah, Choshen Mishpat and Even Ha'Ezer, though people colloquially say that the fifth volume of Shulchan Aruch is common sense. However, if you're purchasing a set of Shulchan Aruch, then it could be more than four physical volumes (i.e., Orach Chaim volume 1, Orach Chaim volume 2, etc.). That's something that could vary from publisher to publisher.

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