Image: My bookshelves at home. Photo by Rabbi Ruth Adar.

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Something I hear on a regular basis: “The Jewish Bible is just the Old Testament, right?”

No. And while I always chalk it up to ignorance, understand that it’s at best an ignorant statement. I’m sure you don’t want to sound ignorant or say anything offensive, which is why I’m writing this.

Jews don’t think of the Tanach (ta-NAHKH) as the “old” anything. It’s the library of canonical books we refer to as “The Bible,” or “Scripture.” It’s our collection of holy books, including the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings (Psalms, etc.) We hold these books in deep reverence.

There is a Christian collection of books known as the “New Testament” that we don’t recognize as our holy scripture, any more than Christians recognize the Quran as their holy scripture.

Referring to our Bible as the “Old Testament” suggests that there is a new, better edition out. That is what Christians believe, and in a Christian context, that’s fine. At a Christian Bible study, it’s fine. It’s not fine to say it in a synagogue: it is like going to a Buddhist event and referring to the participants as “heathens.” It will definitely mark you as someone who doesn’t know any better.

Also, the Jewish Bible IS different from the Old Testament portion of the Christian Bible. The two are organized differently. They have been translated differently. For instance:

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14, King James Version

Assuredly, my Lord will give you a sign of His own accord! Look, the young woman is with child and about to give birth to a son. Let her name him Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14, Jewish Publication Society translation, 1985

That’s just one of the more famous examples of a difference in translation. There are many more of them.

So, when you’re talking about the Jewish Bible, call it that, or use the Hebrew term “Tanakh.” That’s one way to show that you have done your homework.