What Does Torah Mean?

Two of the most common questions about the Hebrew Bible are: what does Torah mean, and what’s the definition of Torah? 

The simplest answer is that the Torah includes the first five books of the twenty-four books that make up the Tanakh, the whole Hebrew Bible. These five books are commonly called Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. 

So, at one level, the Torah is defined as what many, especially in the Christian world, call the Pentateuch. 

Others deem Torah to mean the whole Tanakh.

Still others define Torah to mean the whole of Jewish teachings, both those that are written and those that are from the oral tradition.

At a deeper level, a truer definition of Torah may be that it is the Instruction by which God teaches its followers to live. Furthermore, it is the foundation, indeed the constitution, for such people to live in covenant with God. 

This meaning of Torah is derived from its Hebrew root, yirah, which means to teach or to guide. Thus, one comes more directly to the definition of Torah, as instruction, teaching, or doctrine.

In these respects, one can see that the true meaning of Torah, while inclusive to some extent of notions of law, is not principally that of law, as suggested in the Greek. 

The meaning of the Torah to Christians is enriched by the idea that the Hebrew Bible was the Bible that Jesus studied and knew. It was the text that he interpreted, and the text from which he, in part, taught.

One can get a richer understanding of what does Torah mean, as well as the definition of Torah, on this website.


Here is a link to the text of the entire five books, by portion, along with a study guide, a one page of key learning for each portion, and an audio of the discussion of each portion by a Sunday school class at Westlake Hills Presbyterian Church. These materials will be exceedingly helpful to both Christians and Jews in deciphering meaning in the Torah.


Here is a link to similar materials and audios of class discussions of the 613 mitzvot (commandments or teachings) in the Torah. This yearlong project of the Sunday school class permits a deeper dive into the meaning of Torah. It shows in far greater detail what the Instruction entailed, its meaning in the ancient world, and possible value for all followers of the One God, including both Christians and Jews, in modern times.


Here is a link to similar materials involving the class’ study of Talmud and Ethics. What does Torah mean is, for many, manifested more fully in the extensive body of Talmud text. This study and discussion will allow even keener insights into the meaning of Torah.


For those interested in a more spiritual meaning of Torah, here is a link to materials and audios reflecting the class’ discussion of the spiritual journey related to the Counting of the Omer during the period between Passover and Shavuot.


This more mystical exploration expresses yet additional meaning in the Torah that is important to Jews during these spring festivals, as well as insights the class believed could also be helpful to Christians during the times of, and between, Easter and Pentecost.

What Does Torah Mean?

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