Bill Aron

Learning their ABC’s. Children at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles gather around for a demonstration of how the Torah is chanted. To prevent human hands from touching the sacred scroll, readers use a pointer (often hand-shaped) called the yad (Hebrew, “hand” or “power”).

Although the Torah is a central symbol of Israel’s long relationship with God, Frymer-Kensky suggests that it has traditionally been regarded as an entry-level text in Judaism. Children read and learn it as part of their early Jewish education, but those who continue their studies are encouraged to tackle the later books of interpretation—like the Mishnah (the collection of rabbinic law) and Talmud (the commentary on the Mishnah)—that were written by rabbis and sages long after the Bible was canonized. Once students graduate from the Bible, however, they seldom return to it.