613 mitzvot

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613 mitzvot or 613 Commandments (Hebrew: תרי"ג מצוות transliterated as Taryag mitzvot; TaRYaG is the acronym for the numeric value of "613") are a list of commandments from God in the Torah. In Judaism, there is a tradition that the Torah contains 613 mitzvot (Hebrew for "commandments," from mitzvah - מצוה -- "precept", plural: mitzvot; from צוה, tzavah- "command").

According to tradition, of these 613 commandments, 248 are mitzvot aseh ("positive commandments" commands to perform certain actions) and 365 are mitzvot lo taaseh ("negative commandments" commands to abstain from certain actions). Three-hundred and sixty-five corresponded to the number of days in a year and 248 was believed by ancient Hebrews to be the number of bones and significant organs in the human body.

Three of the negative commandments can involve yehareg ve'al ya'avor, meaning 'One should let himself be killed rather than violate this negative commandment', and they are murder, idol-worship, and forbidden relations.

Significance of 613

According to the Talmud (tractate Makkoth 23b), a Biblical verse states that Moses transmitted the "Torah" from God to the Jewish people: "Moses commanded us the Torah as an inheritance for the community of Jacob" (Deuteronomy 33:4) However, there were two commandments which God delivered directly to the Jews: the first two of the Ten Commandments; these are phrased in the first person. The Talmud calculates that the numerical value of the Hebrew word "Torah" is 611. Thus, Moses's 611 commandments combined with the two directly from God add up to 613.

Many Jewish philosophical and mystical works (e.g. by Baal ha-Turim, the Maharal of Prague and leaders of Hasidic Judaism) find allusions and inspirational calculations relating to the number of commandments. Other works dispute that exactly 613 mitzvot exist.

The tzitzit ("knotted fringes") of the tallit ("[prayer] shawl") are connected to the 613 commandments by interpretation: principal Torah commentator Rashi bases the number of knots on a gematria: the word tzitzit (Hebrew: ציצת (Biblical), ציצית, in its Mishnaic spelling) has the value 600. Each tassel has eight threads (when doubled over) and five sets of knots, totalling 13. The sum of all numbers is 613. This reflects the concept that donning a garment with tzitzit reminds its wearer of all Torah commandments.

The 613 Mitzvot can be understood another way too. In order to understand this other methedology, you must first understand that there are both positive and negitive mitzvot. For example a positive Mitzvah would be to Worship God, a negative one would be Do Not Worship Any Other gods. So, understanding that, the mitzvot can be divided like this: 365 Negative Mitzvot (so you know not to do these bad things every day of the year)+ 248 Positive Mitzvot (this is the number of bones in the body. So, when you do these mitzvot you do them with all of your body)= 613

Other views

The Talmudic source is not without dissent. Apart from Rabbi Simlai, to whom the number 613 is attributed, other classical sages who hold this view include Rabbi Simeon ben Azzai (Sifre, Deuteronomy 76) and Rabbi Eleazar ben Yose the Galilean (Midrash Aggadah to Genesis 15:1). It is quoted in Midrash Shemot Rabbah 33:7, Bamidbar Rabbah 13:15–16; 18:21 and Talmud Yevamot 47b.

However, some held that this count was not an authentic tradition, or that it was not logically possible to come up with a systematic count. This is possibly why no early work of Jewish law or Biblical commentary depended on this system, and no early systems of Jewish principles of faith made acceptance of this Aggadah (non-legal Talmudic statement) normative. The classical Biblical commentator and grammarian Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra denied that this was an authentic rabbinic tradition. Ibn Ezra writes "Some sages enumerate 613 mitzvot in many diverse ways [...] but in truth there is no end to the number of mitzvot [...] and if we were to count only the root principles [...] the number of mitzvot would not reach 613" (Yesod Mora, Chapter 2).

Nahmanides held that this counting was the matter of a dispute, and that rabbinic opinion on this is not unanimous. Despite this, he states that "this total has proliferated throughout the aggadic literature... we ought to say that it was a tradition from Moses at Mount Sinai," (Nahmanides, Commentary to Maimonides' Sefer Hamitzvot'', Root Principle 1).

Rabbi Simeon ben Tzemah Duran states that "perhaps the agreement that the number of mitzvot is 613... is just Rabbi Simlai's opinion, following his own explication of the mitzvot. And we need not rely on his explication when we come to determine the law, but rather on the Talmudic discussions" (Zohar Harakia, Lviv, 1858, p.99).

Rabbis who attempted to compile a list of the 613 commandments faced a number of difficulties:

  • Which statements were to be counted as commandments? Every command by God to any individual? Only commandments to the entire people of Israel?
  • Would an order from God be counted as a commandment, for the purposes of such a list, if it could only be complied with in one place and time? Or, would such an order only count as a commandment if it could - at least in theory - be followed at all times? (The latter is the view of Maimonides.)
  • How does one count commandments in a single verse which offers multiple prohibitions? Should each prohibition count as a single commandment, or does the entire set count as one commandment?

In Torah Min Hashamayim ("Heavenly Torah"), Conservative Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes:

Judah ibn Bal'am denigrates those who number the mitzvot, and who attempt "to force their count to equal 613." In his opinion, this is impossible, for if we were to count all of the mitzvot, including those that were temporary commandments and those that were intended to endure, the number would be far greater than 613. "And if we confined ourselves only to those that endure, we would find fewer than this number." (Behinat Hamitzvot Rabbi Yehiel Mikhel Gutmann, Breslau, 1928, p.26)

Despite these misgivings, the idea that there are 613 commandments became accepted as normative in the Jewish community. Today, even among those who do not literally accept this count as accurate, it is still a common practice to refer to the total system of commandments within the Torah as the "613 commandments."

Works enumerating the commandments

In practice there is no one definitive list that expli ... \n

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