What is the Tanakh (Jewish Bible)?

In Judaism, the Hebrew Bible is traditionally called the Tanakh (תנ”ך). Tanakh is an acronym which stands for Torah (תוֹרָה), Nevi’im (נְבִיאִים), and Ketuvim (כְתוּבִים). In English these words translate to Law, Prophets, and Writings.

Of course, Judaism and Christianity order and count the books of the Hebrew Bible differently. (Indeed, even within Christianity there are different traditional canons of Scripture, see here for details). Traditionally, in Judaism there are 24 books total and the order of these books can be seen below.

The Torah is made up of the five books of Moses:

Genesis (בראשית)

Exodus (שמות)

Leviticus (ויקרא)

Numbers (במדבר)

Deuteronomy (דברים)

Generally speaking, within Rabbinic Judaism the Torah is considered the most important part of the Bible. Traditionally, the Torah has been understood as the written Law of God given to Moses at Mt. Sinai. This written Torah is referred to as the Torah she-bi-khtav (תורה שבכתב).

Within Rabbinic Judiasm there is also the Oral Torah, the Torah she-be-‘al peh (תורה שבעל פה). The Oral Torah was understood to have been written down and codified in the Mishnah and the Talmud. Both the Written Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) and the Oral Torah are fundamental to traditional Jewish observance.

Within Rabbinic Judaism, these first five books of the Hebrew Bible have been divided into traditional sections spanning the liturgical year. Each of these sections is called a parashah (פָּרָשָׁה). Parts or all of each of these sections are chanted during Torah services.

Nevi’im is made up of the former prophets and the latter prophets (נביאים אחרונים):

Former prophets (נביאים ראשונים):

Joshua (יהושע)

Judges (שפטים)

Samuel (שמואל)

Kings (מלכים)

Here Samuel and Kings are each understood to be one book, rather than two. However, because of the size of these books, they have been traditionally spilt onto two different scrolls.

Latter prophets (נביאים אחרונים):

Isaiah (ישעיהו)

Jeremiah (ירמיהו)

Ezekiel (יחזקאל)

12 minor prophets (תרי עשר):

Hosea (הושע)

Joel (יואל)

Amos (עמוס)

Obadiah (עבדיה)

Jonah (יונה)

Micah (מיכה)

Nahum (נחום)

Habakkuk (חבקוק)

Zephaniah (צפניה)

Haggai (חגי)

Zechariah (זכריה)

Malachi (מלאכי)

The 12 minor prophets considered together to be one large book. They were traditionally written on one scroll in Judaism.

Cetuvim (Writings) includes all books not found within Torah or Nevi’im:

Psalms (תהלים)

Job (איוב)

Proverbs (משלי)

Ruth (רות)

Song of Songs (שיר השירים)

Qohelet/Ecclesiastes (קהלת)

Lamentations (איכה)

Esther (אסתר)

Daniel (דניאל)

Ezra (עזרא)

Nehemiah (נחמיה)

Chronicles (דברי הימים)

As can be seen, the 5 megillot (Ruth, Song of Songs, Qohelet, Lamentations, and Ester) are a part of this section as well. The 5 megillot are read in their entirety during particular Jewish holidays.

Just like Samuel and Kings, Chronicles is considered one book. Traditionally Ezra and Nehemiah were counted as one large book as well.

Where can you get a Hebrew Bible (or Jewish Bible)?

There are several versions of the Hebrew Bible that have the books ordered according to Jewish Tradition. BHS is the standard scholarly edition of the Hebrew Bible. The Jewish Publication Society (JPS) offers a Hebrew-English Tanakh (that includes both the JPS English translation and the Hebrew text). A Reader’s Hebrew Bible is also another good option, particularly for those wanting to gain reading proficiency in Biblical Hebrew.