Mitzvah


Mitzvah

The primary meaning of the Hebrew word mitzvah ("commandment", Hebrew: מִצְוָה‎‎, [mit͡sˈva], Biblical: miṣwah; plural מִצְווֹת mitzvot [mit͡sˈvot], Biblical: miṣwoth; from צִוָּה ṣiwwah "command") refers to precepts and commandments as commanded by God. It is a word used in Judaism to refer to the 613 commandments given in the Torah and the seven rabbinic commandments instituted later for a total of 620. According to the teachings of Judaism, all moral laws are, or are derived from, divine commandments.

The secondary meaning of Hebrew mitzvah, as with English "commandment," refers to a moral deed performed as a religious duty. As such, the term mitzvah has also come to express an act of human kindness. The tertiary meaning of mitzvah also refers to the fulfillment of a mitzvah.

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, 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.

Contents

Hebrew Bible

The feminine noun mitzvah (מִצְוָה) occurs over 180 times in the 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 mitzoti ), my statutes, and my laws." In the Septuagint the word is usually translated with entole (ἐντολὴ).[1] In Second Temple period funeral inscriptions the epithet phil-entolos, "lover of the commandments," was sometimes inscribed on Jewish tombs.[2] Other words are also used in Hebrew for commands and statutes, for example the Ten Commandments (עשרת הדיברות) are the "Ten Words".[3]

Rabbinical enumeration

The Tanakh does not state that there are 613 commandments. The Rabbis[who?] came to assume[when?] that the Law of the Torah comprised 613 commandments. According to Rabbi Simlai, as quoted in the Talmud, this enumeration of 613 commandments was representative of the following.

365 negative commandments like the number of days in the solar year, and 248 positive commandments corresponding to a person's limbs

—Talmud, tractate Makkoth, 23b

Three of the negative commandments fall under the category of self-sacrifice under Jewish Law, meaning "one should [let himself] be killed rather than transgress the prohibition."

The number 613 can also be obtained by gematria (a traditional 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 given by the Mouth of God Himself.[citation needed]

According to Rabbi Ishmael, only the principal commandments of these 613 were given on Mount Sinai, the remainder having been given in the Tent of Meeting. Rabbi Akiba, 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 one.[4]

In rabbinic literature there are a number of works, mainly by the Rishonim, that were composed to determine which commandments belong in this enumeration:

  • Maimonides' Sefer Hamitzvot ("Book of Commandments"), on which there is a critical commentary by Nachmanides;
  • Sefer ha-Chinuch ("Book of Education"), attributed to Rabbi Aaron ha-Levi of Barcelona (the Ra'ah);
  • Sefer ha-Mitzvoth ha-Gadol ("Large book of Commandments") by Rabbi Moses of Coucy;
  • Sefer ha-Mitzvoth ha-Katan ("Small book of Commandments") by Rabbi Isaac 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 Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan (the "Chafetz Chaim") - this work only deals with the commandments that are applicable at the present time.

Rabbinical mitzvot

The Biblical mitzvot are referred to in the Talmud as Mitzvot d'oraita, translated as commandments of the Law. 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
  • To prepare lights in advance of Shabbat
  • To construct an Eruv to permit carrying to and within public areas on Shabbat
  • To recite the Hallel psalms on holy days
  • To light the Hanukkah lights
  • To read the 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 ..."

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 Oral Torah; for example, the reading of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-7), the binding of the tefillin and the fixing of the mezuzah (Deuteronomy 6:8-9), and the saying of Grace After Meals (Deuteronomy 8:10).

Six constant mitzvot

Out of the 613 Mitzvot mentioned in the Torah, there are six mitzvot which the Sefer Hachinuch calls "constant mitzvot": "We have six mitzvot which are perpetual and constant, applicable at all times, all the days of our lives".

  1. To believe in God, and that he created all things.
  2. Not to believe in anything else other than God.
  3. To believe in God's Oneness.
  4. To fear God.
  5. To love God.
  6. Not to pursue the passions of your heart and stray after your eyes.

Academic treatment

In modern Biblical scholarship, six different law codes are considered to compose the body of the Torah's text:

  • The Ten Commandments.
  • The 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, causing Moses to ask Yahweh for greater clarification.
  • The 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 are followed.
  • The 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, "remembered".

In Biblical criticism, not accepted throughout the Jewish world, 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 instead by theme, rather than the location in which they are found within the Bible.

The Mitzvot and Jewish law

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, loosely Jewish Law. The Halakha is the development of the Mitzvot as contained in the written law, via discussion and debate in the Oral law, as recorded in the rabbinic literature of the classical era, especially the 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 kings or 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 Era. 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 views include:

  • 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, Tractate Avodah Zarah 3a, 4b).
  • That today we should observe the commandments, 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 9:7)
  • 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, Mizmor 146:5).
  • That most mitzvot will no longer be in force. (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Niddah 61b and Tractate Shabbat 151b).

There is no authoritative answer accepted 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 halachah. It is important to note that in the Messianic era itself there are different stages. In addition there is a dispute between Maimonides and Nachmonides whether the ultimate Messianic state will be bodies with souls or souls alone. So that the various opinions as to the annulment of Biblical prohibitions need to be understood in this context.

See also

References

  1. ^ Philip Leroy Culbertson A word fitly spoken Page 73 1995 "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."
  2. ^ 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 Romano-Jewish ..."
  3. ^ Mark Rooker The Ten Commandments: Ethics for the Twenty-First Century 2010 Page 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 ..."
  4. ^ Midrash Sifra to Leviticus 27:34; Talmud, Yoma 80a.

External links


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • MITZVAH — (Heb. מִצְוָה), a commandment, precept, or religious duty. The term is derived from the Hebrew root צוה which means to command or to ordain. In common usage, mitzvah has taken on the meaning of a good deed. Already in the Talmud, this word was… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Mitzvah — מצוה es una palabra hebrea que significa mandamiento (plural mitzvot; de צוה, tzavah mandar ). La palabra se usa en el Judaísmo para referirse a ● (a) los mandamientos, de los cuales se cree que hay 613, según el Torah (el primero de los cinco… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • mitzvah — (n.) Jewish rabbinical commandment, 1640s, from Hebrew mitzwah commandment, precept, from base of tziwwah he commanded, related to Arabic wasa he bound, united …   Etymology dictionary

  • mitzvah — [mits′və, mits vä′] n. pl. mitzvahs or mitzvoth [mitzvōt′] [Heb mitsva, lit., commandment < root cwh, to command, order] Judaism 1. a) a commandment or precept in the Bible or from the rabbis b) an act fulfilling such a command 2. loosely a… …   English World dictionary

  • Mitzvah —  Ne doit pas être confondu avec matzevah (מצבה, monument ). Mitzvah (Hébreu: מצווה, ; pluriel, mitzvot) signifie prescription (de צוה, tzavah, commander ). Il s agit d une occurrence particulière au Judaïsme pour désigner soit les… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • mitzvah —    (MITZ vah) [Hebrew] In Judaism, a commandment, precept, or rule of conduct taken from the Bible or issued by a rabbi; any commendable or praiseworthy deed.    See also bar mitzvah, bat mitzvah …   Dictionary of foreign words and phrases

  • mitzvah — Seph. /meets vah , mits /; Eng., Ashk. /mits veuh/, n., pl. mitzvoth, mitzvot, mitzvos Seph. / vawt /; Ashk. / vohs/, Eng. mitzvahs. Hebrew. 1. any of the collection of 613 commandments or precepts in the Bible and additional ones of rabbinic… …   Universalium

  • mitzvah — noun (plural mitzvoth or mitzvahs) Etymology: Hebrew miṣwāh Date: 1650 1. a commandment of the Jewish law 2. a meritorious or charitable act …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • mitzvah — noun a) Any of the 613 commandments of Jewish law b) An act of kindness …   Wiktionary

  • mitzvah — Synonyms and related words: act of grace, act of kindness, benefaction, benefit, benevolence, benignity, blessing, canon, code, commandment, convention, courtesy, dictum, favor, form, formula, general principle, golden rule, good deed, good… …   Moby Thesaurus


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.