Word of the Day / Torah תורה

We all know the Torah as it relates to the five books, but in modern Hebrew, the term has a variety of uses, most of which don’t come directly from Sinai.

Shoshana Kordova
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Shoshana Kordova

Did you know that you can describe the Bible and the theory of evolution using the same word? The Hebrew Bible is the Torah, but that word can also refer to a theory or doctrine, like game theory (torat hamis’hakim), quantum theory (torat hakvantim) and the theory of evolution (torat ha’evolutzya).

The different uses of the word “torah” resemble the uppercase-lowercase distinction in English between what is said to be the world’s best-selling book, always spelled with a capital “B,” and its generic variation (“Wikipedia is my bible,” the fact-checker said the day before he was fired).

But sometimes “torah” is used in its capital-T meaning even when the intention is metaphorical, as in the phrase “Torah lemoshe misinai,” meaning “the Torah as given to Moses on Mt. Sinai.” In this colloquial sense, the term is often used in the negative, to mean that a given statement or directive should hardly be taken as seriously as a divine edict. As the editor may or may not have said to the fact-checker: “Wikipedia may seem like it rivals the Bible for sheer number of readers, but it sure didn’t come down from Mt. Sinai.”

Torah scroll in motion.Credit: Yaron Kaminsky