The short answer is that the Torah is the first five books of Moses: Bereishit (Genesis), Shemot (Exodus), Vayikra (Leviticus), Bamidbar (Numbers), and Devarim (Deuteronomy). Older transcriptions of what Christians call the “Old Testament” makes up the written Torah.
This is what’s written in the Torah scroll (Sefer Torah). The sefer Torah is kept in an ark and progressive sections are traditionally chanted publicly on Mondays, Thursdays and on Shabbat. There are specific musical notes called trope assigned so that the text is sung rather than read. We start at the beginning on Simchat Torah and read through the whole book in the course of the year.
There are strict rules about how a Torah is created. Highly-trained scribes (a sofer) use quills and ink to precisely copy the Hebrew text onto parchment. The process can take over a year. It’s a mitzvah to write or commission a Torah scroll, so there is a celebration whenever one is completed. Some local Spokane Jews were able to take part in such a celebration last July at Camp Solomon Schechter. A sofer helped repair and complete the hundred year-old scroll. Each camper and guest was able to assist the sofer and partake in the mitzvah. There was a huge celebration afterwards.
However, the more complete answer is that Torah is the written scroll as well as the Oral Torah. While the written Torah gives the basics of the rules and regulations, it’s the Oral Torah which gives the specific guidelines for how to observe those rules. Eventually, the Oral Torah was written down and is contained in the Talmud.
The Torah in its entirety (written and oral) provides instructions on how to live and behave. There are commandments on how to treat others, how to treat animals, how to behave ethically, judicial laws, how to pray, ritual laws, and so much more. It is the story and commandments of G-d as well as the history of the Jewish people.
Dorothy-Ann Parent (better known as Hyphen) is a writer, a traditional Jew, a seeker of justice, a lover of stories and someone who’s best not left unattended in a bookshop or animal shelter.