The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) lies at the very heart of Judaism. This is why Mohammad spoke of Jews (and Christians) as “people of the book” (Arabic ahl al-kitab). It is a fitting title. Almost every aspect of Jewish life relates to the Bible. For example, Jewish liturgy is filled with Scripture. Prayer services include numerous excerpts from the Bible, most notably, though not exclusively, from the book of Psalms. Among these are many biblical passages that are not really prayers at all. One of the best known is the Shʾma (Deut 6:4), which proclaims the uniqueness of God. It is also included, along with other excerpts from the Bible, in the tefillin (“phylacteries”) that are worn during daily prayer and the mezuzot that Jewish families hang on the doorposts of their homes. Over the course of a year, every word of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) is read out loud in Hebrew during Sabbath services, along with thematically related selections from the prophetic books called haftarot and all five of the festival scrolls (Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes/Qohelet, and Esther). In traditional synagogues, an individual (called a gabbay) stands alongside the reader to ensure that each word is pronounced correctly.
Biblical language pervades Jewish life outside the synagogue as well. The names of many places in Israel come from the Bible. For example, the words “Tel Aviv” come from a vision in Ezekiel 3:15, where they refer to a place in Babylonia. Book titles, too, are frequently drawn from the Bible. The sixteenth-century code of Jewish law that has become normative for Jewish practice is called the Shulchan Aruch, which means “set table,” because it lays out all the laws governing Jewish life in an orderly way. However, the phrase itself comes from Ezekiel 23:41. Likewise, the Yiddish “women's Bible” came to be known as Tseene Ureene, two feminine verbs that appear in Song of Songs 3:11.
Jews also derive their identity from the Bible, which they understand as the story of their origins. During the Passover seder, a ritual meal that commemorates the Israelites’ flight from Egypt thousands of years ago, the head of the household explains that the holiday is observed “on account of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt” (emphasis added).