In its primary meaning, the Hebrew word mitzvah (/ˈmɪtsvə/;
meaning "commandment", מִצְוָה, [mit͡sˈva], Biblical:
miṣwah; plural מִצְווֹת mitzvot [mit͡sˈvot], Biblical:
miṣwoth; from צִוָּה ṣiwwah "command") refers to precepts
and commandments commanded by God.
It is used in rabbinical
Judaism to refer to the 613 commandments
given in the
Torah at biblical
Mount Sinai and the seven rabbinic
commandments instituted later for a total of 620. The 613 commandments
are divided into two categories: 365 negative commandments and 248
positive commandments. According to the Talmud, all moral laws are, or
are derived from, divine commandments. The collection is part of the
larger Jewish law or halakha.
The opinions of the Talmudic rabbis are divided between those who seek
the purpose of the mitzvot and those who do not question them. The
latter argue that if the reason for each mitzvah could be determined,
people might try to achieve what they see as the purpose of the
mitzvah, without actually performing the mitzvah itself (lishmah),
which would become self-defeating. The former believe that if people
were to understand the reason and the purpose for each mitzvah, it
would actually help them to observe and perform the mitzvah (some
mitzvot are given reasons in the Torah).
In its secondary meaning, Hebrew mitzvah, as with English
"commandment", refers to a moral deed performed within a religious
duty. As such, the term mitzvah has also come to express an individual
act of human kindness in keeping with the law. The expression includes
a sense of heartfelt sentiment beyond mere legal duty, as "you shall
love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). The tertiary
meaning of mitzvah also refers to the fulfillment of a mitzvah.
1 Hebrew Bible
2 Rabbinical enumeration
3 Rabbinical mitzvot
4 Six constant mitzvot
5 Academic treatment
6 Mitzvot and Jewish law
7 See also
9 External links
The feminine noun mitzvah (מִצְוָה) occurs over 180 times in
Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible. The first use is in Genesis
26:5 where God says that
Abraham has "obeyed my voice, and kept my
charge, my commandments (מִצְוֹתַי mitzvotai), my statutes,
and my laws". In the
Septuagint the word is usually translated with
entole (ἐντολὴ). In
Second Temple period
Second Temple period funeral
inscriptions the epithet phil-entolos, "lover of the commandments",
was sometimes inscribed on Jewish tombs. Other words are also used
in Hebrew for commands and statutes, for example the Ten Commandments
(עשרת הדיברות) are the "Ten Words".
Main article: 613 Mitzvot
Tanakh does not state that there are 613 commandments. The
tradition that the number is 613 began in the 3rd century CE, when
Simlai claimed it in a sermon, apparently to make the point that
a person should observe the
Torah every day with his whole body.
Simlai gave as a sermon (darash Rabi Simlai): 613 commandments
were communicated to Moses, 365 negative commands, corresponding to
the number of solar days [in a year], and 248 positive commands,
corresponding to the number of the members [bones covered with flesh]
of a man's body."
— Talmud, Tractate Makkoth, 23b
Writing in the 12th century,
Abraham ibn Ezra observed that there were
over a thousand divine commandments in the Bible, but fewer than 300
applied to his time.
Nachmanides found that the number was in
dispute and uncertain. The number 613 is a rabbinical tradition
rather than an exact count.
In rabbinic literature there are a number of works, mainly by the
Rishonim, that attempt to enumerate 613 commandments:
Sefer Hamitzvot ("
Book of Commandments"), on which there
is a critical commentary by Nachmanides;
Sefer ha-Chinuch ("
Book of Education"), attributed to
Barcelona (the Ra'ah);
Sefer ha-Mitzvoth ha-Gadol ("Large book of Commandments") by Rabbi
Moses ben Jacob of Coucy;
Sefer ha-Mitzvoth ha-Katan ("Small book of Commandments") by Rabbi
Isaac ben Joseph of Corbeil;
Sefer Yere'im ("
Book of the [God-]fearing") by
Rabbi Eliezer of Metz
(not a clear enumeration);
Sefer Mitzvot HaShem ("The book of God's Commandments") by Rabbi
Boruch Bentshar of Sokol;
Sefer ha-Mitzvoth by
Yisrael Meir Kagan
Yisrael Meir Kagan (the "Chafetz Chaim") -
this work only deals with the commandments that are applicable at the
Rabbi Ishmael, only the principal commandments of the 613
were given on Mount Sinai, the remainder having been given in the Tent
Rabbi Akiva, on the other hand, was of the opinion that
they were all given on Mount Sinai, repeated in the Tent of Meeting,
and declared a third time by
Moses before his death. According to the
Midrash, all divine commandments were given on Mount Sinai, and no
prophet could add any new ones.
The number 613 can be obtained by gematria (a traditional Jewish
method of number substitution). The gematria value for the word
"Torah" is 611, which corresponds to the number of commandments given
via Moses, with the remaining two being identified as the first two of
the Ten Commandments, which tradition holds were the only ones heard
from the mouth of God himself.
Jews are also reminded of the 613
commandments by the Tzitzit, known as 'fringes' or 'strings'.
The Biblical mitzvot are referred to in the
Talmud as mitzvot
d'oraita, translated as commandments of the Law (Torah). In
contradistinction to this are rabbinical commandments, referred to as
mitzvot d'rabbanan. Mitzvot d'rabbanan are a type of takkanah. Among
the more important mitzvot d'rabbanan are:
To recite a blessing for each enjoyment
To ritually wash the hands before eating bread
To prepare lights in advance of
Shabbat (to have peace in the home,
and to act in contradiction to customs of Karaite Judaism)
To construct an
Eruv to permit carrying to and within public areas on
To recite the
Hallel psalms on holy days
To light the
To read the
Scroll of Esther
Scroll of Esther on Purim
These seven rabbinical commandments are treated like Biblical
commandments insofar as, prior to the performance of each, a
benediction is recited, i.e.:
Blessed are You, O LORD our God, King of the universe, Who has
commanded us ...
They give rise to the phrase "Keter Torah" ("The Crown of the Torah")
as the numeric value of Keter is 620 (613+7).
The divine command is considered implied in the general law to follow
any instructions of the religious authorities (
Deuteronomy 17:11, and
32:7; Shab. 23a). In addition, many of the specific details of the
Biblical mitzvot are only derived via rabbinical application of the
Torah (Mishna/Gemarah); for example, the three daily prayers in
any language and the recitation of the Shema (
Deuteronomy 6:4-7) twice
a day in any language, the binding of the tefillin and the fixing of
the mezuzah (
Deuteronomy 6:8-9), and the saying of Grace After Meals
Six constant mitzvot
Out of the
613 Mitzvot mentioned in the Torah, there are six mitzvot
Sefer Hachinuch calls "constant mitzvot": "We have six
mitzvot which are perpetual and constant, applicable at all times, all
the days of our lives".
To know God, and that he created all things.
Not to have any god(s) beside God (lit. in his face).
To know God's Oneness.
To fear God.
To love God.
Not to pursue the passions of your heart and stray after your eyes.
In modern Biblical scholarship, six different law codes are considered
to compose the body of the Torah's text:
The Ten Commandments.
Covenant Code follows, and provides more detailed laws.
The Ritual Decalogue, roughly summarising the Covenant Code, is
presented after a brief narrative describing the design for the Ark of
the Covenant and Tabernacle.
The Priestly Code, containing extensive laws concerning rituals and
more general situations, is given from above the mercy seat in the
Tabernacle, once the Ark and
Tabernacle have been completed. This code
is extended further when events occur not quite covered by the law,
Moses to ask Yahweh for greater clarification.
Holiness Code is contained within the Priestly Code, close to the
end, but is a distinct subsection placing particular emphasis on
things which are holy, and which should be done to honour the holy. It
also contains the warnings from Yahweh about what will occur if the
laws are not followed, as well as promises for the event that the laws
Deuteronomic Code is remembered by Moses, in his last speeches
before death, both covering the ground of prior codes, but also
further laws not recorded earlier, which
Moses has, by this point,
In Biblical criticism, these codes are studied separately,
particularly concerning the features unique, or first appearing, in
each. Many of the mitzvot enumerated as being from one or other of
these codes are also present in others, sometimes phrased in a
different manner, or with additional clauses. Also, themes, such as
idolatry, sexual behaviour, ritual cleanliness, and offerings of
sacrifice, are shared among all six codes, and thus, in more
religiously motivated theological studies, it is often the case that
the mitzvot are organised by theme, rather than the location in which
they are found within the Bible.
Mitzvot and Jewish law
Main article: Halakha
In rabbinic thought, God's will is the source of, and authority for,
every moral and religious duty. In this way, the
mitzvot thus constitute the divinely instituted rules of conduct. In
rabbinic thought, the commandments are usually divided into two major
groups, positive commandments (obligations) – mitzvot aseh [מצות
עשה] and negative commandments (prohibitions) – mitzvot lo
ta'aseh [מצות לא תעשה].
The system describing the practical application of the commandments is
known as Halakha.
Halakha is the development of the mitzvot as
contained in the Written Law (Torah), via discussion and debate in the
Oral Law, as recorded in the rabbinic literature of the classical era,
Mishnah and the Talmud. The halakha dictates and
influences a wide variety of behavior of traditionalist Jews.
Many of these laws concern only special classes of people—such as
Kohanim (the priesthood), Levites, or Nazarites—or are
conditioned by local or temporary circumstances of the Jewish nation,
as, for instance, the agricultural, sacrificial, and Levitical laws.
The majority view of classical rabbis was that the commandments will
still be applicable and in force during the Messianic Age. However, a
significant minority of rabbis held that most of the commandments will
be nullified by, or in, the messianic era. Examples of such rabbinic
that the grain-offering of Judah and
Jerusalem will be pleasing to God
as in the days of old, and as in ancient years (Malachi 3:4)
that today we should observe the commandments (Babylonian Talmud,
Avodah Zarah 3a, 4b); because we will not observe them in the
world to come (Rashi)
that in the future all sacrifices, with the exception of the
Thanksgiving-sacrifice, will be discontinued (
Midrash Vayikra Rabbah
that all sacrifices will be annulled in the future (
Tanchuma Emor 19,
Vayikra Rabbah 9:7)
that God will permit what is now forbidden (
Midrash Shochar Tov,
that most mitzvot will no longer be in force (Babylonian Talmud,
Niddah 61b and Tractate
There is no accepted authoritative answer within
Judaism as to which
mitzvot, if any, would be annulled in the Messianic era. This is a
subject of academic debate and, not being viewed as an immediately
practical question, is usually passed over in favor of answering
questions of the practical halakha.
Law given to
Moses at Sinai
Mitzvah goreret mitzvah
Pay it forward
Seven Laws of Noah
^ "mitzvah". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
^ Philip Leroy Culbertson, A word fitly spoken, 1995, p. 73. "See also
Lieberman, Texts and Studies, 212, where he shows that the Greek
entole is parallel to mitzvah, both coming to suggest a particular
emphasis on charitable alms."
^ The Journal of
Jewish studies Volume 51, 2000 "Note, however, by way
of example, the funerary epithet philentolos (lover of the
commandments), coined from the stock LXX word for commandment, entole
(Heb. mitzvah), and the LXX allusions in that most favoured of all
^ Mark Rooker, The Ten Commandments: Ethics for the Twenty-First
Century, 2010, p. 3. "The Significance of the
Ten Commandments in the
Old Testament" The
Ten Commandments are literally the “Ten Words”
(aseret haddebarêm) in Hebrew. The use of the term dabar, “word”,
in this phrase distinguishes these laws from the rest of ..."
^ a b c d Drazin, Israel (2009). "Chapter 31: Are There 613 Biblical
Maimonides and the Biblical Prophets. Gefen Publishing
Sifra to Leviticus 27:34; Talmud,
Rashi Numbers 15:39 (from
Numbers Rabbah 18)
^ Vital, Dovid bar Shlomo (1536). כתר תורה [Keser Torah] (in
Hebrew). Istanbul. Retrieved January 15, 2013.
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