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Introduction to Torah 101


Welcome to Torah 101! Torah 101 is Mechon Mamre's online encyclopedia of Torah observance, covering Jewish beliefs, people, places, things, language, scripture, holidays, practices, and customs. Our goal is to make freely available a wide variety of basic general information about Torah observance, written from the perspective of Jews who live by Mishneh Torah, in plain English.

The inspiration for this part of Mechon Mamre's site is, of course, Tracey Rich's well-known Judaism 101 site, as it was back in 1998. There she so very graciously said: "Everything in this web site is free to use or distribute in any way, with two conditions: 1) if you use text, graphics or sound from this site, please credit this site; 2) do not redistribute this information for profit." So here is our free encyclopedia based on it.

You may be wondering: well, what is the difference between Torah and Judaism.

Here is a simple example showing the difference:

The excuse for Judaism's new custom in disregard of Jewish law is a supposed prohibition to mention God's names before a ritual hand washing, which contradicts not only our ancient holy texts but also an express provision in the Shulchan `Arukh Code (o"H 4,23), which is often said to be the guide for Orthodox Judaism today. In short, instead of mentioning God first as required, one mentions oneself first (perhaps as an unintentional expression of the very modern non-Torah thought that the individual person, the "ego", is more important than God).

The differences between Judaism and Torah are the expression of customs that many Jews think override the Torah's requirements, whether the customs are more strict, or less strict, or simply different. Jews of the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and other movements differ only in the specific content of their customary refusals to live by the Torah's requirements. The basic attitude to Torah in them is the same: We need not observe Torah as it is (as given by God in writing and orally, as written down over a thousand years ago), but as we are accustomed; some go so far as to say that the customs of the living Jewish community are the only Torah, regardless of what is written in the ancient holy books. We at Mechon Mamre disagree, saying that the Torah itself must be observed; and there is no other comprehensive summary of the Torah as it really is other than Maimonides' Mishneh Torah (or "the Complete Restatement of the Oral Law", in our translation), which is why we put Mishneh Torah at the center of this site.

At this point, the differences between our site and the Judaism 101 site are not as great as they should be, because we are "under construction"; but they will grow with time. It is important to emphasize, however, that the difference in practical daily life between Torah according to the Mishneh Torah Code and Orthodox Judaism is fairly small, though significant for one who wants to be exact in doing God's will. You may find it informative to compare the approaches in the two versions of this encyclopedia, and see which approach seems best for you.

The material in this "site within a site" (as just one branch of the more general site of Mechon Mamre), as opposed to the original Judaism 101 site, is copyrighted and may be used only with the written permission of Mechon Mamre.

IMPORTANT NOTE: If you print from these pages for reading away from your computer, please remember that even where no names of God appear, whatever discusses matters of Torah is forbidden for a Jew to treat with disrespect or to throw away. So either save what you print, or turn it over for burial as required for all holy writings that are no longer needed (or even better, pass it on to a friend to read).

About the Authors

The original Judaism 101 site was created, written, and maintained by Tracey Rich, who does not claim to be a rabbi or an expert on Judaism, but just a traditional observant Jew who has put in a lot of research. But our impression is that most of what she says would be acceptable to most of the Orthodox Ashkenazic rabbis in the USA.

We, on the other hand, are experts in Jewish Law in general and Mishneh Torah in particular, as the editors of the most exact version of the Mishneh Torah Code ever made generally available to the Torah-learning public (all of which is available online here in Hebrew, and the start of which is available online here in English).

Where to Start

There are over sixty web pages in this English language Torah 101 site within a site (not to mention over 6000 Hebrew web pages totaling over 80 Megabytes in other parts of the whole site, in case you read Hebrew), comprising many pages of text (about 700 Kilobytes of HTML here), a virtual book of basic information on Torah. That is a lot of information! Where should you start? That depends on what you are looking for:

Just browsing?
If you are not sure what you are looking for, and you just want to see what is available on this site, look through the Table of Contents (or see our home page for a more general list).

Looking for something specific?
If you are looking for something specific, you might want to search this site with our search service (there is a search box near the top of the Table of Contents, too). Or you might (especially if browsing off line) want to go to our Glossary of Jewish Terminology and search for specific words using your browser's Find command (usually located on the Edit menu). The glossary gives quick definitions of Jewish terms and concepts, and has links to the pages where these concepts are discussed in depth.

Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced?
This site within a site was originally created as an introduction to Torah for people with little or no knowledge. But like the Passover seder, it now includes information for the wise son, who wants to know the details; the simple son, who asks simple questions; and the son who does not know what to ask (we hope that the wicked son will pay particular attention to what is written here, and take it to heart, as well). Pages in the Table of Contents are labeled appropriately:
Basic: Things that everyone should know, that require no prior knowledge
Intermediate: Beyond the basics
Advanced: More sophisticated concepts

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"Torah 101" is copyrighted 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003
by Mechon Mamre, 12 Hayyim Vital St., Jerusalem, Israel. 972-2-652-1906

last updated: 6 March 2003