Judaism includes hundreds of texts, written over centuries
Here is a summary of what they are about, and which are most important
Tanakh (Hebrew Bible)
TaNaKh is an acronym of the words Torah, Neviim, Ketuvim.
Torah consists of the following 5 books:
Bereisheet ("In the beginning") - Genesis
Shemot ("Names") - Exodus
Vayikra ("And He called") - Leviticus
Bamidbar ("In the desert") - Numbers
Devarim ("Things" or "Words") - Deuteronomy
Torah covers 2488 years of history, starting with creation and ending with death of Moses.
It also provides 613 commandments given by G-d.
Torah is also known as the "Five Books of Moses", and "Chumash" (five sections)
Neviim consists of the following 8 books:
4 Books: Former Prophets: Yehoshua (Joshua), Shoftim (Judges), Shmuel I (I Samuel), Shmuel II (II Samuel), Melachim I (I Kings), Melachim II (II Kings)
3 Books: Latter Major Prophets: Yeshayahu (Isaiah), Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah), Yechezkel (Ezekiel)
1 Book: Latter Twelve Minor Prophets: Hoshea (Hosea), Yoel (Joel), Amos (Amos), Ovadiah (Obadiah), Yonah (Jonah), Michah (Micah), Nachum (Nahum), Chavakuk Habakkuk), Tzefaniah (Zephaniah), Chaggai (Haggai), Zechariah (Zechariah), Malachi (Malachi)
Neviim covers 853 years of history, starting after the death of Moses, and ending with the rise of the Greek empire. It also provides powerful prophecies.
Ketuvim consists of the following 11 books:
3 Poetic Books: Tehillim (Psalms), Mishlei (Proverbs), Iyov (Job)
5 Megillot: Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs), Ruth, Eikhah (Lamentations), Qehelet (Ecclesiastes), Esther
3 Other Books: Daniel, Ezra (Book of Ezra and Book of Nehemiah), Divrei ha-Yamim (Chronicles)
Ketuvim covers 410 years of history, from year 760 BCE to year 350 BCE.
It also provides poetry and prayers.
Mishnah (Oral Law)
Laws written in the Torah are often not descriptive enough to understand how they are to be fulfilled. Jews followed them based on explanations provided by Moses, and traditions that have emerged over time. Known as the Oral Law, they were not written down, in order to encourage teacher-to-student learning. In 70 CE. the Second Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Romans, and persecution of the Jews raised possibility that the Oral Law would be lost. A decision was made to put it in written form. This took five generations. Yehudah haNasi is credited with the final redaction and publication of the Mishnah in the year 217 CE.
Mishnah consists of the following 6 Orders ('Shisha Sedarim' or 'Shas'):
Zera'im ("Seeds") - prayers, blessings, tithes, agricultural laws (11 tractates)
Mo'ed ("Festival") - laws of the Sabbath and the Festivals (12 tractates)
Nashim ("Women") - laws of marriage, divorce, oaths, nazirite (7 tractates)
Nezikin ("Damages") - civil and criminal law, courts and oaths (10 tractates)
Kodashim ("Holy things") - laws of the Temple, dietary laws (11 tractates)
Tohorot ("Purities") - laws of purity and impurity (12 tractates)
Tosefta (Oral Law)
Tosefta is a compilation of Oral Law, written at the same time as the Mishnah, and divided into the same orders and tractates. Sometimes the text of Tosefta agrees with the Mishnah, and at other times it differs. The word Tosefta means "supplement".
Talmud Jerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud, a.k.a. Palestinian Talmud)
Jerusalem Talmud was compiled in the Land of Israel in years 350-400 CE. It includes the Mishnah, along with written discussions of generations of rabbis, which are known as the Gemara. Mishnah combined with Gemara constitutes the Talmud.
Talmud Bavli (Babylonian Talmud)
Babylonian Talmud was compiled during the Babylonian exile, around year 500 CE. It includes the Mishnah, along with discussions which have taken place after creation of the Jerusalem Talmud. Babylonian Talmud consists of 63 tractates, and in standard print is over 6,200 pages long. The term "Talmud" normally refers to the Babylonian Talmud, which is considered more authoritative than its predecessor.
Responsa (Latin: "answers") comprise a body of written decisions and rulings given by poskim ("deciders of Jewish law") in response to questions addressed to them. Responsa literature consists of a large volume of books covering a period of 1,700 years.
Works by Great Scholars
Sefer Halakhot (Book of Laws)
Sefer Halakhot was written by Isaac Alfasi in Morocco, around the year 1060 CE. It extracts all the pertinent legal decisions from the three Talmudic orders Moed, Nashim and Nezikin as well as the tractates of Berachot and Chulin - 24 tractates in all. Alfasi transcribed the Talmud's conclusions, without the surrounding deliberations. Maimonides wrote that Alfasi's work "contains all the decisions and laws which we need in our day". It soon became known as Talmud Katan ("Little Talmud").
The French Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (known by the acronym Rashi) wrote comprehensive commentary on both the Tanakh and Talmud. Acclaimed for his ability to present the basic meaning of the text in a concise fashion, Rashi appeals to both learned scholars and beginning students. His commentary became an indispensable part of Jewish study, and much of the ancient text would not even be understandable without it.
Mishneh Torah (Second Torah)
Mishneh Torah is a code of Jewish law (Halakha) which was compiled between 1170 and 1180 by Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (known by the acronym Rambam, or Maimonides), while he was living in Egypt. It consists of fourteen books, and has used all preceding works as inpit, including Sefer Halakhot. To be concise, Mishneh Torah never cites sources or arguments, it only states the final decision on the law to be followed in each situation.
Arba'ah Turim (Four Rows, a.k.a. Tur)
Arba'ah Turim is an important Halakhic code, composed by the German Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher (known by the acronym Rosh) in 1270 C.E. It uses preceding works as input, but differs from Misheh Torah, in that, unlike Maimonides' work, it deals only with areas of Jewish law that are applicable in the Jewish exile.
Arba'ah Turim consists of the following 4 sections:
Orach Chayim - laws of prayer and synagogue, Sabbath, holidays
Yoreh De'ah - miscellaneous ritualistic laws, such as shechita and kashrut
Even Ha'ezer - laws of marriage, divorce
Choshen Mishpat - laws of finance, damages, and legal procedure
Schulchan Aruch (Ordered Table)
Shulchan Aruch is the most widely accepted compilation of Jewish law ever written. It was authored in Safed, Israel, by Yosef Karo in 1563 and follows the same structure as Arba'ah Turim.
Moreh Nevukhim (Guide for the Perplexed)
The Guide was written by Maimonides and is the main source of his philosophical views, as opposed to opinions on Jewish law. Maimonides wrote the Guide to promote true understanding of the real spirit of the Law, to guide those religious people who have studied philosophy and are embarrassed by the contradictions between the teachings of philosophy and the literal sense of the Torah. Within Judaism, the Guide became widely popular, but also controversial. Since many of the philosophical concepts are relevant beyond Jewish theology, it has also influenced several major non-Jewish philosophers.
Commentary by Nachmanides
The Spanish Rabbi Moses ben Nahman Girondi (known by the acronym Ramban) was a leading medieval Jewish scholar, doctor, and philosopher. He is known for defending Judaism in a debate with Pablo Christiani, in front of King James I of Aragon. Ramban's commentary on the Torah was his last work, and his most well known. He frequently cites and critiques Rashi's commentary, and provides alternative interpretations.
Haggadic Midrash (Stories)
Midrash is a method of interpreting biblical stories that fills in gaps left in the biblical narrative regarding events and personalities. Haggadic Midrash embraces interpretation, illustration, or expansion, in a moralizing or edifying manner, of the non-legal portions of the Torah.
Halakhic Midrash (Legal Examinations)
After the return of Jewish refugees from exile in Babylon, Jewish laws called for adaptation if they were to fit contemporary life. Halakhic Midrash provides explanations of the Torah laws, often predating the Mishnah.
Zohar is the foundational work in the literature of Jewish mystical thought known as Kabbalah. It is a group of books including commentary on the mystical aspects of the Torah as well as material on mysticism. Zohar contains a discussion of the nature of G-d, the origin and structure of the universe, the nature of souls, redemption, and more. Its scriptural exegesis can be considered an esoteric form of the Midrash.
You can read many of these texts online at