Torah versus torah

Earlier posts discussed the question of when to write Gospel or gospel and when to write Epistle or epistle. This post deals with a related issue: when to write Torah or torah and when to write Law or law. Brief examples are provided in SBLHS 2 §§4.3.4.1 and 4.3.6. This post discusses these examples in more detail.

1. Capitalize Torah or Law when the term refers to a division of the canon (= the Pentateuch).

The word Torah refers to the first five books of the Tanak.

the Torah scroll

2. Capitalize Torah when it is used as a proper noun to distinguish between the Oral Torah and the Written Torah.

Many early Jews believed that the oral traditions of the community were as authoritative as the written commandments. The former traditions became known as the Oral Torah, and the latter became known as the Written Torah.

3. Use lowercase when torah or the law refers to general instruction or a legal code.

book of the law

laws of Israel

laws of Moses

Jewish law

Mosaic law

the torah of the burnt offering

Similarly, when torah is used as an equivalent to the law of Moses, use lowercase.

Mosaic torah

torah study

Note, however, that the canonical division of the Torah was traditionally associated with Moses. Thus, if referring to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, one might say

the Torah of Moses

In such cases—when it is not clear if torah refers to the canonical division or the Jewish law more generally—authors and editors should consider revising their sentences to ensure that the meaning is clear to the reader:

original statement: The torah was central to early Jewish life.

possible revisions:

The Jewish law was central to early Jewish life.

OR

The books of the Torah were central to early Jewish thought.

Using law instead of torah signals to the reader that the Jewish law more generally is intended, while adding books to the sentence signals to the reader that the canonical division is envisioned.

2 thoughts on “Torah versus torah

  1. Above it says, “The Torah consists of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.” But these three make up the Tanakh = Torah + Nevi’im + Kehtuvim, right?

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