If you have not yet discovered Sefaria.org, you are in for a treat. It bills itself as “A Living Library of Jewish Texts” which is exactly correct. It contains all the major Jewish texts in Hebrew and some lesser known texts, many of them with English translations.
They have recently updated the site with a modern translation of the Tanach (Bible) texts. Most of the major rabbinic texts have translations available, many of them by users of Sefaria. (That’s one of the things that makes it a “living library” – it is constantly under construction.)
When you enter Sefaria, you’ll be greeted with a menu of the available texts. Old hands will recognize them. Those new to Jewish texts may find a primer helpful. Below are some very brief definitions of terms on the menu, along with pronunciation. When there are two options for pronunciation, the first is the Modern Hebrew / Sephardic pronunciation and the second is the Ashkenazi.
TANAKH – (tah-NAKH) The Jewish Bible, Genesis through Chronicles. (Note to Christians: While there are definite connections between your Old Testament and our Bible, they are not the same. The Tanakh is arranged differently and our translations differ.)
MISHNAH – (mish-NAH or MISH-nah) Discussions by the rabbis, redacted in 200 CE by Rabbi Judah the Prince. Mishnah is the record of the early part of the process we call Oral Torah.
TALMUD – (tahl-MOOD or TAHL-mood) What is the Talmud? will give you the basics.
MIDRASH (mee-DRAHSH or MID-rash) – What is Midrash? will answer that question.
HALAKHAH – (hah-lah-KHAH or hah-LAH-khah) is what many refer to as “Jewish Law,” although that can be somewhat misleading. Halakhic literature includes codes and other lists and explanations of rules for Jewish living derived from the Written and Oral Torah.
KABBALAH – (kah-bah-LAH or kah-BAH-lah) Jewish mystical literature.
LITURGY – (LIT-ur-gee) Prayer books, services, and documents that are used in the context of ritual, such as a ketubah [marriage contract.]
CHASIDUT – (khahs-ee-DOOT or khas-EH-dus) About 250 years ago, Ashkenazi Judaism was dominated by an intellectual approach to Torah; a rival movement grew up which focussed on inward experience of the Divine, mystical knowledge, and a more emotional expression of Torah. Chasidut is the literature produced by the teachers in that movement. However, it is famously a difficult term to define and I look forward to the comments which will explain that I have completely misunderstood it!
MUSAR – Jewish literature that concerns itself with systematic self-improvement. To quote Rabbi Louis Jacobs, z”l: “The Musar Movement was founded by Israel Salanter in nineteenth-century Lithuania with the aim of promoting greater inwardness, religious piety, and ethical conduct among traditionally minded Jews.” (from The Musar Movement)
RESPONSA – Through the centuries, Jews have written questions (she’e’lot) to scholarly rabbis, requesting clarification of proper Jewish practice. Rabbis respond with answers (teshuvot) citing cases and precedent in the halakhic literature. This process continues today.
APOCRYPHA – Books not part of the final canon of the TANAKH which may have been included in earlier collections or in Bibles of other faiths, e.g. the books of Maccabees.
You might enjoy browsing “Source Sheets,” which are study aids put together by Sefaria users using the library materials. For instance, you can find source sheets on these topics:
Give Thanks and Praises (Rabbi Sari Laufer)
Blessing Food (Rabbi Jill Zimmermann)
Mayim, Mayim! Ten Wet Jewish Texts (Rabbi Justus Baird)
Who is Moses? (Rabbi Marina Yergin)
Drinking on Purim (Rabbi Ruth Adar)
3 thoughts on “Meet Sefaria!”
This is VERY exciting!! Thank you for the information, Rabbi!!
Thank you Rabbi Ruth, I just subscribed to the mailing list. This looks to be an excellent resource for me. Shabbat Shalom.