The Bible

Dr. Gerhard Falk

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The Bible


   In the ancient world Phoenicia was located in approximately the area of North Africa now occupied by Libya. Before the Romans came and ruined the area, turning it into a permanent desert, many plants grew there. Included were palm trees. The leaves of these trees were dried and sent to Greece from the port of Biblos. The leaves were called Papyrus and we say paper. The Greeks wrote their books on these leaves and called these books “ta biblia” or “the rolls” because they came from Biblos and were rolled up. A small roll was called a “biblion” and from that word we derive the word Bible. The Romans translated “biblion” into “volumen” meaning “wound up”, and we say volume. In the ancient Greek speaking world, then, all books were called “biblion” or bible and the Latin speakers called all books volumen. 

   That of course included the Hebrew scriptures, which are still rolled up to this day.

    Our Bible is of course not only one book. It is many books, called together Tanach. That word is derived from the words Torah, meaning the way and consisting of the Five Books of Moses; Na for the Hebrew word Naveeim, meaning Prophets, and Ch for the Hebrew word Chesubim, meaning writings.

     The Tanach consists of thirty nine books. The first five, also called Pentateuch from the Greek penta or five (note Pentagon has the same root) are called Beraysheet or In the Beginning. The Greek Genesis is also used. The second book is called Shemot or “The Names”, in Latin Exodus because it describes the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt. The third book is called Vayikra “and he called”. In Latin, Leviticus. The fourth book is called Ba-Midbar, i.e. “in the desert” or Numbers, and the fifth book is called “Devarim”, “the words”,  and in Greek,  Deuteronomy or Second Law from “deteros” second and “nomos”, law. In Hebrew it is called Mishneh Torah or Repetition of the Law (the Way). The Asseret Hadibrot or Ten Commandments are found a second time in that book. They are found the first time in Shemot.

      The Prophets are arranged in a section consisting of the earlier Prophets and the later Prophets. The later prophets are in turn divided into Major and Minor prophets.  Finally, the Bible includes “the writings” such as the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Esther, Daniel, Job, Ecclesiastes or Kohelet, Lamentations, Ezra, Nehemia and Chronicles.

      This is of course an incomplete list. However, you can look into your Bible and see what is missing.

      If you come to a “shul” (Yiddish for school) or a Beth Haknesset (House of Assembly in Hebrew or Synagogue which also means House of Assembly in Greek) you will find that we read one part of the Five Books of Moses and a corresponding section from the Prophets or the Writings each Shabbat. The readings are so organized that we read all of the Five Books of Moses in the course of a year and then start over again at once on Simchat Torah or Joy of the Torah (the Way). We Jews divided the Torah readings into 54 sections which are called after the first significant word in each section. 

      The Shabbat synagogue service consists of three parts. The first part is called Shacharit, the morning service, the second part consists of the reading of the Torah and the Haftarah, meaning conclusion. The Haftarah consists of reading a section from the Prophets. The third part of the Shabbat service is called Musaf, i.e. the additional service. These services can be further sub-divided.

    Since few of us attend the Beth Hamidrash (House of Learning) every week, but usually only to visit a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, we seldom learn anything about the weekly Shabbat service. We do ordinarily attend on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur but having read this we may want to come next Shabbat.

   Many of us work too much. We are terribly pressured every day and often cannot find any time for ourselves, for contemplation, for some peace from the “rat race” and the endless demands made on us.  So do this. Go to the “shul” or “synagogue” or “temple” of your choice on Shabbat. Sing. Read Torah. Listen to a sermon. Talk to your friends. Forget the daily grindstone for two hours and cut yourself off from the everyday tzores that beset us all. Live a little. You deserve it. Enjoy our religion. Enjoy the company of other Jews. Relax and forget the stock market, the clients, the customers, the patients, the editors, the students, the office politics and all other issues that nag at you all the time. You need not be a member to come and visit any “shul”. Just be there and give yourself a chance to recover from the week. It’s better than golf. It’s better than canasta. It’s better than bridge. It is truly a Mechaya. Try it, you’ll like  it. See you “in shul”.

Shalom u’vracha.

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