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In an article, “The Israeli Millet System: Examining Legal Pluralism through Lenses of Nation-Building and Human Rights”, Yüksel Sezgin puts a critical focus on the Israeli legal system, arguing for the problematic nature of legal pluralism in the state, and the consequences of it.
Besides the proposal of a conscious Israeli choice of the Ottoman Millet system, used in order to create a unified and single Jewish identity, and being able to make a clear differing between this Jewish identity and Israeli non-Jewish identities, Sezgin points out why legal pluralism can be a problem, at least in the case of Israel.
As mentioned in earlier posts, in Israel authority on matters of family and personal law has been granted religious courts, whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian or Druze. This means that each religious group is only able to be married according to its religious laws, which again means that only those recognized as acceptable can be married. This differs from religion to religion, such as in case of Jews/Judaism is it only possible for Jews to marry Jews, while in case of Muslims/Islam is it possible for Muslim men to marry Jewish or Christian women, but not for Muslim women to marry Jewish or Christian men, and this is considered law of the state. In case of divorce this is also done according to the respective religion and its laws, which means that Jewish and Muslim women basically are placed in a worse situation than ditto men.
Should a Jewish man and Muslim woman fall in love and choose to marry, this is only possible outside Israel, but once married they would have to be divorced according to the laws of Israel, even if divorced outside Israel this divorce not necessarily being accepted by Israeli (religious) authorities.
The problematic nature of this is obvious, particularly considering that freedom of religion is secured in Israeli law, which might mean that one can choose any religion he/she wishes for, at least in theory (in practice it might be harder, depending on religion converting away from and which converting to). Basically what is meant, seen from practice, is that one has freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion. If you want to get married, it can only be through a religious court and according to your respective religion, rendering the choice of “no religion” void.
We are left with two problems already, when it comes to the nature of “freedom of religion”, since we see from the already mentioned that religion is not something you can choose to or from, it is forced on you, you can only choose which religion. And your choice of love is not free from you either, leaving anyone not accepted by your religion in the category of “no-go”.
This is a clear clash of Israeli family law and international human rights, but it doesn’t stop there. In case of divorce do we see the clash between the thought of equality, something Israel is claiming, and religious laws. In Judaism a man can give a declaration of divorce, with or without the acknowledgement of the woman, while the same is not the case does the woman want a divorce. There has been implemented ways of forcing the man to give the divorce, should he object, such as daily bills, loosing of drivers license and work license, and even imprisonment, but it is rarely enforced, since many rabbinical judges sees this as going contrary to Halachah, and such do not use this enforcement.
In case of Muslims a woman is ensured payment for a certain time, but it has been shown that Muslim women receive less than divorced Jewish and Christian women, which is another example of inequality.
This is of course problematic in a state, which calls itself Democratic, at least if we understand the “Democratic” as in securing equality and keeping human rights, rather just than “one man, one vote”.
As I pointed out in my last post, there are difference between the Jewish and the Muslim case, having examples overlapping between the two cases. For example does the Muslim man have more choices of spouse than the Jewish ditto.
Sezgin criticizes Israel’s embracing the Ottoman Millet system, both in terms of nation building, that is, as a tool used in order to create distinct groups, making it easier to control them, as well as in terms of human rights, criticizing the enforced religious rule on family and personal matters.
I see the problematic nature, at least in the latter case (I am not so sure we should be cynical about the choice of the Millet system, considering the challenging situation Israel found herself in at the establishment of the state, though Sezgin does refuse this excuse), but as shown from Hofri’s article in my last post, the religious are getting ground in Israel, and the consequence of the growing secularization of the Israeli legal system – which Sezgin doesn’t seem to acknowledge – does create the need, for the religious, for alternatives, which could end creating a split with the state, and the question is whether the state wants or can handle that challenge. And this is not only in case of Jews, but also the Muslims, where we see an Islamic Movement challenging the Shari’a Courts, something which most likely only will be strengthened, the more secular the state attempts to make law in Israel. We will later see that the Shari’a courts are attempting to remove any secular Israeli influence, in order to answer the challenge from the Islamic Movement, but should we get a pure secular family law in Israel, who will then take the religious marriages, and by that controlling part of the religious rituals?
I hope to be able to give some thoughts on the clash between human rights and religious courts later on, when I get more material covered. For now it will mostly be speculation and guesses, but again, I’m only sharing thoughts.
Take care out there.
First some commercial: If you’re on Facebook and you’re interested in interfaith discussions between Jews and Muslims, which are conducted with a good and respectful attitude, then I encourage you to visit the group “Jihadi Jew.” I can’t emphasize enough how important it is with a respectful dialogue between Jews and Muslims, and how rare it is to find a place offering it. Jihadi Jew does just that. It is created by a Jew, Lee Weissman, and moderated by two Muslims, Heshke (who occasionally comments here, even though I’m not so good at responding lately, sorry Heshke), and Marc.
Please check out the group (You can find it here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/jihadijew/)
I’m not making commercial for it without reason though. There is an ongoing discussion in there on the question of state and “church” (church more being synagogue or mosque in this discussion), and one of the participants asked me for my opinion. I promised an answer earlier, but I have to admit that I’ve simply been pondering on it for some days now, not feeling that I could formulate an answer clearly, which would express my thoughts, without it getting way too long for the thread in there.
So I’ll try to formulate an answer here, BE”H, since it might also interest some of you out there.
First off, my premise for dealing with the world and other human beings is based on two ethical teachings, both being expressed by the Jewish rabbi, Hillel, Z”L, though at least one of them (known in differing forms, by the name of “the Golden Rule”) has been expressed by other spiritual teachers as well.
The first is found in the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a, being presented as an answer to a man partly wanting to mock him by requesting him to recite the whole Torah while standing on one leg: “What is hateful to you, don’t do to others!” The whole sentence includes “this is the Torah, the rest is commentary, now go and study!”
My approach in context of my expectation to others and my behavior in the meeting with my fellow being is based on this, not to act in a way or demand things, which I in return wouldn’t appreciate from the other person. And this is indeed Torah, as Hillel states, but it is also a very basic wisdom of life, which I believe that all should accept and strive for. True, I’m not perfect and I at times act in a way, which I wouldn’t appreciate very much myself, but not being perfect doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t strive to get better.
The second sentence is found in Pirqei Avot (1:14): “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” He teaches us to take responsibility for ourselves, for if we don’t do it ourselves, then who will? We need to be focused on our own needs, to attempt to improve our lives and our manners. But if we only focus on ourselves, then what are we? We can’t stop with the self, we also have a responsibility to relate to our fellow human beings (don’t do to others what is hateful to you, don’t ignore the needs of others, when you yourselves would hate to have your needs ignored. We are not alone in this world, human is a social being). And we need to act now, in this moment. We don’t know what the next moment will bring.
These are the basic teachings in my relation to the world. I keep them as guiding principles, attempting to follow them in each choice I take. Another teaching of his I also attempt to follow, but which isn’t so crucial for the understanding of my approach to the question of synagogue and state, is “Be among the disciples of Aharon, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving people and drawing them close to Torah!” (Pirqei Avot 1:12).
When I consider the question of synagogue and state, then a number of opportunities come to mind. By now I have lived in two countries who both have official religions, Denmark and Israel, the one Christian (Lutheran) and the other Jewish. The extent of the religious influence is way bigger in Israel than in Denmark, where religion at times are shunned by the population, and where the population are deciding for the religion, more than the religion is deciding for the population, whereas it is the opposite in Israel.
I wonder how it is to live in a country, where the church and the state is totally separated? I don’t know. In Denmark it seems like the religious are beginning to ask for this, at least some of them (when I say “religious,” I’m thinking about the practicing Christian part of the population), though that definitely isn’t consensus yet. The motive behind this wish for separation is a wish to keep the state out of church matters, something that I fully understand, since the state is basically trying to define theological questions. And it isn’t without a sense of irony that it has to be pointed out that the minister for the ministry of the church is a Hindu, who is trying to force the church to accept homosexual marriages. Whether I’m for or against this is not the issue here, personally I don’t care much for church matters, but the motive behind this attempt is clear. The church is a popular church, a church for the people, and since the people isn’t only consisting of practicing Christian heterosexuals, then it should not only be for them. That is the motive, it is not necessarily my thought.
In Israel it’s the opposite. Since Israel is a Jewish state (whatever that means) then it is in the belief of the ministers of religious affairs, that Judaism (rabbinical Judaism) should be the defining norm, relating a range of questions to the matter of Jewish religious law (Halachah). And since the Jews in Israel are citizens in a Jewish state, then they are also (more or less) forced to accept this law. Whereas the church of the people in Denmark is defined (to a certain extent) by the people, then the synagogue of the people in Israel is defining the people.
It has to be said here that non-Jewish citizens are under the authority of whoever is accepted/elected as their representatives. In that matter Muslims are not married according to Jewish religious law, but rather according to Islamic law and practices. The same goes for Christians and so on.
But this mean that if a Jew and a Muslim is falling in love (a Jewish man and a Muslim woman) and want to get married, then they have no opportunity to get married in Israel, unless he converts to Islam or she converts to Judaism, no matter how secular and irreligious they might be. Whether they are spending their Shabbats in front of the television, the nights getting drunk, and they are eating pig for dinner, then they still have to be married either as Muslims or Jews. Of course, they can go to Cyprus and get married there, a marriage which then is accepted by the Jewish state (though not by the religious authorities). And you can forget being a homosexual wanting to be married here.
Let me point it out very clear for everyone: I am a practicing Jew who believes in the Torah. I accept the Oral Tradition and believe that it goes back to Moshe Rabenu, A”S, as well as I believe that we should follow Halachah (we being the Jews). But I also believe in the ethical teachings of R. Hillel, Z”L, and therefore I don’t want to do to others what is hateful for me. I don’t want to force rules or laws on people, which isn’t decided by the general population (there will always be those who disagree no matter the law or decision). Therefore I don’t believe that Halachah should be forced on people who don’t believe in its higher level of spirituality, compared to secular law and our own faulty decisions. Yes, I do believe Halachah to be Divine, and I do believe that the perfect society would be following Halachah, but it would do it from an understanding of the necessity of the Halachah, not because they are forced. And – to be honest – by establishing a Halachic society with Torah as the foundation, we would need a true righteous leader, one who would be the example for the others to follow. And he simply doesn’t exist, his time hasn’t come. And since that is the case, then I can’t support any state as being lead by Halachah, but rather want to encourage each Jew to accept it in his or her life for themselves. Only by acknowledging and accepting it themselves, would it be able to fulfill its Divine purpose in our lives.
That said then I do believe it needed for the societies to offer the opportunity for people of any faith, to live according to that faith, as far as they participate and accept the laws of the country. We have an expression in the Talmud, Dina Malchuta Dina, the law of the land is the law (Bava Kama 113a, Bava Batra 54b-55a et.al. The extent of the principle is discussed among the Rishonim (the medieval rabbis), some stating that it is only related to financial matters, where others state that it is in general where the law doesn’t go against the Torah), at least so far as it doesn’t force people to go against the Torah. For example, should ritual slaughter be prohibited in Denmark, it wouldn’t mean that the Jews in Denmark would have to eat unkosher meat, though it would make it hard for them to find and achieve kosher meat.
So, to conclude, I’m not for a state synagogue. I am for a secular society where there is room for the believers of each faith (or lack) to live and fulfill their religious beliefs.
Comparative study on the law schools and overall structure of Islam and Judaism – Defining the Schisms
Considering finding the comparison of the evolution of the Jewish maḍhab, I think there are some things that need to be in place, before we can begin the comparison. First off, one of the reasons the various maḍâhib appeared was the internal split as well as the geographical distance between the centers. People became more focused on their local center than on the overall center. When do we see the same in Judaism? Another thing which needs to be in place, is the acknowledgment of the same basic sources. When talking about Islam the split in the legal sources is the Sunnah and the Imams, where the Shi’as don’t acknowledge the Sunni compilations of Hadith, so the Sunnis don’t acknowledge the Shi’a ditto as well as the status of the Imams. Within the Sunni maḍâhib the basic sources where agreed upon, as they were, I believe, in the case of the Shi’a maḍâhib.
So we have two levels of comparison here. One is in the schism of disagreement on basic sources, that is, the sources considered holy and thus basic for further understanding of Allah’s will, the other the schisms within the major movements, where it is a question more about different principles in the interpretation of these sources, than the sources themselves.
When I think of examples on the first schism in Judaism, I find many and from various periods of time. During the Biblical times the obvious example is that of the Samarians and the Judeans. During the time of the Second Temple there are the schisms between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the Essenes and the other Jewish groups (in regards to the status of the Temple as well as the priesthood of the Essenes), and later on between the Rabbinic Jews and the Karaites. Today we might even talk about the schism between the Orthodox on the one hand and the Reform on the other (with the Conservative movement somewhere in between). What is worthwhile to notice here is that we are talking about schisms, which emphasis the struggle on who are the right ones to define what “true Judaism” is, that is, where do we put the limits. That is also the case in the Islamic schism between the Sunnis and the Shi’as. Of course, which I dare say is obvious, it doesn’t mean that the two parts in each schism, whether Jewish or Muslim, denies the other side’s right to leave an imprint on the religion, as well as the case can be that sometimes the one part denies the other side’s right, while the other side acknowledge the right of the first side.
The schisms which I believe cannot be placed within this category of schisms, let’s call it the Schism of Who is Right, are those of the Ashkenazim and Sfaradim, and that of the Talmuds Yerushalmi and Bavli, simply because we have two sides, in both cases, agreeing on the basic sources.
This leaves me though with maybe even more work. First off, which groups should I focus on? It is clear that I need to decide on whether I focus on the Rabbinical Jews, the Sadducees, the Reform, the Sunni, or the Shi’as, for the sake of focus. Second off, I also need to establish whether we can find examples on the maḍâhib in all cases. Maybe I find it among the, let’s say, Karaites, but it doesn’t mean that it exists in the case of the Sadducees. I need to define my approach, my focus, and be able to explain why I chose that focus.
Some recommended reading:
“Studies in Usul al-Fiqh,” Iyad Hilal, can be found at www.islamic-truth.fsnet.co.uk
“Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence,” M. H. Kamali, can easily be found by search on Google.
“Hadith : Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World,” Jonathan A. C. Brown. Oneworld Publication, 2009.
“The Most Learned of the Shi’a: The Institution of the Marja’ Taqlid,” edited by Linda S. Walbridge. Oxford University Press, 2001.
“Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law,” Ignaz Goldziher (translated by Andras and Ruth Hamori). Princeton University Press, 1981.
“Halakha in the Making: The Development of Jewish Law from Qumran to the Rabbis,” Aharon Shemesh. University of California Press, 2009.
“The Talmud: A Selection,” Edited by Norman Solomon. Penguin Books Ltd, 2009.
“Who Owns Judaism? Public Religion and Private Faith in America and Israel,” edited by Eli Lederhendler. Oxford University Press, 2001.
“For the Love of God and People: A Philosophy on Jewish Law,” Elliot N. Dorff. The Jewish Publication Society, 2007.
“An Introduction to the History and Sources of Jewish Law,” edited by N. S. Hecht, B. S. Jackson, S. M. Passamaneck, D. Piatelli, and A. M. Rabello. Oxford University Press, 1996.
“The Sages,” R. Ephraim Urbach. The Magnes Press, 1987.
“The Halakhah: Its Sources and Development,” R. Ephraim Urbach. Modan Ltd, 1996.
I have been working on an introduction to Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, and thought that I wanted to share what I have done so far with you. It is far from done, for now only being a general introduction to the background and structure of the work, which needs to be edited and have more information added, as well as other parts, such as criticism, commentaries and so on. That’ll come later, BE”H.
Please give share thoughts and reactions.
The Mishneh Torah is a Halachic work, consisting of the 613 Commandments (mitzvoth), the so called Taryag (based on the reading of the Hebrew writing of 613), defined by Maimonides, who is also the author of the book, or books as it is. It consists of fourteen books, each consisting of smaller parts, which again is consisting of chapters, which consist of a number of Mitzvot. The number of books, fourteen, have given the work its other name, yad, hand – from the Hebrew writing of 14, yod:dalet – which was added the adjective “hazaqah”, strong, and hence got known as “Yad haHazaqah”, the Strong Hand.
The name, Mishneh Torah, which means “Repetition of Torah”, was given by Maimonides, since he saw the work as being the only necessary thing to read for the observant, but uneducated, Jew in order to know all of the Commandments of the Torah.
Maimonides points at Moshe Rabenu, A”S, receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:12), as the foundation of Jewish Law. There, we are told, Moshe Rabenu, A”S, was given the “Tablets of Stone,” the “Torah,” and the “Mitzvah.” These are the three parts of the Law, the Tablets of Stone being the two Tablets with the Ten Commandments, the Torah being the Written Law, and the Mitzvah being the Oral Tradition, which Moshe Rabenu, A”S, did not write down, but instead commanded it orally to the elders, to Yehoshu’a, and the congregation. It is in this verse, that we find the hint at the Oral Law, and can learn that the Torah was given both orally and written. Maimonides then goes on to explain the chain of tradition, mentioning the receivers and givers of the Oral Tradition, all the way down to Yehudah HaNasi, Z”L, who found it necessary to write down the Oral Tradition, which became known as Mishnah. He then explains how Rav, who was the disciple of one of Yehudah HaNasi’s disciples, R. Yannai, composed the Sifre and Sifra, two other Halachic works, so called Midrashim, and Rabbi Hiyah composed the Tosefta, Mishnaic material, that wasn’t written down in Mishnah, and how R. Hoshaia and Bar Qapara composed Beraitot, other Mishnaic material, that wasn’t included in neither the Mishnah nor the Tosefta. This material was collected and commented by the following era of Rabbis, called “Amoraim”, which is what is known as Talmud today. This is the basis for Maimonides’ decision, as we find them in his Mishneh Torah, except few cases, where he finds himself in disagreement.
Maimonides felt himself compelled to write this work, based on the situation of the Jewish people of his time. After accounting for the chain of the tradition of the Oral Law, all the way from Moshe Rabenu, A”S, until Rav Ashi, Z”L, who composed Talmud Bavli (according to Maimonides), he began to explaining how the situation evolved from a reality where the masses of the Jews went to the Yeshivot, the religious schools, to study there, to a reality where all the Jewish people were dispersed in “all the countries”, and each country followed the decisions of their local courts. The Talmud got closed for the layman Jew, who – even in Babylonia – didn’t speak the language of the Talmud, Aramaic, and hence didn’t have understanding nor insight in the Oral Law. As he writes in his introduction to Mishneh Torah:
“At this time, we have been beset by additional difficulties, everyone feels [financial] pressure, the wisdom of our Sages has become lost, and the comprehension of our men of understanding has become hidden. Therefore, those explanations, laws, and replies which the Geonim composed and considered to be fully explained material have become difficult to grasp in our age, and only a select few comprehend these manners in the proper way.”
Hence he saw the need to make a compilation, where he would explain the Oral Law, so people would only need to read his work of Halachah, next to the Written Law, in order to understand what was demanded of and prohibited to them:
“To summarize: [The intent of this is] that a person will not need another text at all with regard to any Jewish law. Rather, this text will be a compilation of the entire Oral Law, including also the ordinances, customs, and decrees that were enacted from the time of Moses, our teacher, until the completion of the Talmud, as were explained by the Geonim in the texts they composed after the Talmud.
Therefore, I have called this text, Mishneh Torah [“the second to the Torah,” with the intend that] a person should first study the Written Law, and then study this text and comprehend the entire Oral Law from it, without having to study any other text between the two.”
The work was written in Mishnaic Hebrew, in order to emulate the Mishnah and, as stated earlier, consists of fourteen books; each separated in sub books and again separated in chapters, representing the Mitzvot, which again are separated in explanations, and definitions of the Mitzvot. Hence the Mishneh Torah is consisting of the following fourteen books, with their respective sub-books:
|Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah
Hilchot Talmud Torah
Hilchot ‘Avodat Kochavim
הלכות יסודי התורה
הלכות תלמוד תורה
הלכות עבודת כוכבים ומזלות וחוקות העכו”מ
|Hilchot Qri’at Shma’
Hilchot T’fillah u’Virkat Kohanim
Hilchot T’fillin uM’zuzah v’Sefer Torah
הלכות קריאת שמע
הלכות תפלה וברכת כהנים
הלכות תפילין ומזוזה וספר תורה
Hilchot Shvitat ‘Asor
Hilchot Shvitat Yom Tov
Hilchot Hametz u’Matzah
Hilchot Shofar v’Sukkah v’Lulav
Hilchot Qiddush haHodesh
Hilchot Megillah v’Hanukkah
הלכות שביתת עשור
הלכות שביתת יום טוב
הלכות חמץ ומצה
הלכות שופר וסוכה ולולב
הלכות קידוש החדש
הלכות מגילה וחנוכה
Hilchot Yibum v’Halitzah
Hilchot Na’arah Betulah
הלכות יבום וחליצה
הלכות נערה בתולה
|Hilchot Issurei Biah
Hilchot Ma’achalot Asurot
הלכות איסורי ביאה
הלכות מאכלות אסורות
Hilchot ‘Arachin v’Harmim
הלכות ערכין וחרמין
Hilchot Matnot ‘Ani’im
Hilchot Ma’aser Sh’ni v’Neta’ R’vi’i
Hilchot Sh’mitah v’Yovel
הלכות מתנות עניים
הלכות מעשר שני ונטע רבעי
הלכות בכורים ושאר מתנות כהונה שבגבולין
הלכות שמיטה ויובל
|Hilchot Beit haB’hirah
Hilchot Klei haMiqdash v’ha’Ovdim bo
Hilchot Biat haMiqdash
Hilchot Issurei haMizbeah
Hilchot Ma’aseh haQorbanot
Hilchot Temidim u’Musafim
Hilchot Pesulei haMuqdashim
Hilchot ‘Avodat Yom haKipurim
הלכות בית הבחירה
הלכות כלי המקדש והעבודה בו
הלכות ביאת המקדש
הלכות אסורי המזבח
הלכות מעשה הקרבנות
הלכות תמידין ומוספין
הלכות פסולי המוקדשין
הלכות עבודת יום הכפורים
|Hilchot Qorban Pesah
Hilchot Mehusar Kipurim
הלכות קרבן פסח
הלכות מחוסר כפורים
|Hilchot Tumat Met
Hilchot Parah Adumah
Hilchot Tumat Tzara’at
Hilchot Metamei Mishkav uMoshav
Hilchot Sh’ar Avot haTumot
Hilchot Tumat Ochalin
הלכות טומאת מת
הלכות פרה אדומה
הלכות טומאת צרעת
הלכות מטמאי משכב ומושב
הלכות שאר אבות הטומאות
הלכות טומאת אוכלין
Hilchot Gezeilah vAvidah
Hilchot Hovel uMaziq
Hilchot Rotzeah uShmirat Nefesh
הלכות נזקי ממון
הלכות גזילה ואבידה
הלכות חובל ומזיק
הלכות רוצח ושמירת נפש
Hilchot Zechiyah uMatanah
Hilchot Shluhin v’Shutafin
הלכות זכייה ומתנה
הלכות שלוחין ושותפין
Hilchot Sheilah uPiqadon
Hilchot Malveh v’Loveh
Hilchot To’en v’Nit’an
הלכות שאלה ופקדון
הלכות מלוה ולוח
הלכות טוען ונטען
Hilchot Melachim uMilhamoteyhem
הלכות סנהדרין והעונשין המסורים להם
הלכות מלכים ומלחמותיהם
The books are ordered in importance and relevance for the individual Jew’s relation and worship of G-D, hence we see that he begins with the Book of Knowledge, where he explains concepts as the foundation of faith, study of Torah and Idol worship, and ends with the Book of Judges, that works with concepts in governing societies.
The contents of the books are as follows:
Sefer HaMada’ (The Book of Knowledge)
This book is consisting of five halachot, namely the Laws of the Foundation of the Torah, the Laws of Personal Development, the Laws of Studying the Torah, the Laws concerning Idol worship, and the Laws of Repentance.
The whole perspective of this book, is the individual worship and relationship to G-D, beginning with the understanding of the Laws of faith, then how to evolve as a person, how to study Torah and the laws related to this, prohibition of Idol worship, and what is related to Idol worship, and in the end the laws on repentance.
It consists, in total, of 75 Mitzvot, 16 positive and 59 negative Mitzvot.
Sefer Ahavah (The Book of Love)
This book, the Book of Love, is consisting of six halachot, which is the Laws concerning the Recitation of the Sh’ma, the Laws concerning Prayer and the Kohanitic Blessings, the Laws concerning T’fillin, Mezuzot and Torah Scrolls.
As the name of the book alludes to, Maimonides views these subjects as expressions of love to G-D. Hence the Qriyat Sh’ma’, the recitation of Sh’ma, is said sitting, since “the predominant emotion of [Qriyat Sh’ma’] is love rather than awe.” (R. Jonathan Sacks, shlita, in the Koren Siddur).
It consists, in total, of 11 Mitzvot, all positive. Since the positive Mitzvot is representing love to G-D, and the negative Mitzvot represent awe of G-D, this book only consists of positive Mitzvot.
Sefer Z’manim (The Book of the Seasons)
This book is consisting of ten halachot, namely the Laws concerning Shabbat, the Laws concerning ‘Eruvin, the Laws concerning resting on Yom Kippur (the tenth day of the year), the Laws concerning resting on Hagim (Holy Days), the Laws concerning Hametz and Matzah, the Laws concerning the Shofar, the Sukkah and the Lulav, the Laws concerning the half-shekel, the Laws concerning, the Laws concerning sanctifying the new month, the Laws concerning the Fasts, and the Laws concerning the Megillah and Hanukkah.
The word, “z’manim” (“zman” in singular) actually means “times”, and relates to the fact that this book is about the times and periods in the Jewish calendar, that has value as a holy time. Hence we see that there are rules relating to Shabbat and the haggim, and the circumstances related to them.
It consists of 35 Mitzvot, 19 positive and 16 negative, but also also three Mitzvot d’Rabbanan (of Rabbinic decision).
Sefer Nashim (The Book of Women)
This book is consisting of five halachot, namely the Laws of Marriage, the Laws of Divorce, the Laws of Yibbum and Halitzah, the Laws concerning a non-married virgin, and the Laws concerning Sotah.
Though the title of the book connotes that it is about women, it is not only that, but more specific about sexual relation and the rules related to them. Hence there are laws concerning marriage and what is necessary for marriage, as well as the status of a “Sotah” (a whore), and how this subject is to be treated.
It consists of 17 Mitzvot, 9 of them positive, and 8 negative.
Sefer Qedushah (The Book of Holiness)
This book is consisting of three halachot, namely the laws concerning Forbidden Sexual Relations, the Laws concerning Forbidden Food, and the Laws of Ritual Slaughter.
The title of the book hints at how to be “Holy”, and hence focuses on subjects as (sexual) relations that are forbidden, and of which one should refrain from, as well as it is with the kind foods, that is also deemed “impure” and in such matter would be “unholy” to the Jew. It ends with the subject “Ritual Slaughter”, in order to make it possible for the Jew, to make sure that the kosher animal is slaughtered accordance to the Torah, and hence will be “sanctified”. It is also organized like this by Maimonides, since this is what G-D did to sanctify and separate the Jewish People from the other Nations, as he writes: “[I have grouped the two] (forbidden sexual relations and forbidden foods) [together] because it is in these two matters that G-D has sanctified us and separated us from the [other] nations.” (Introduction to Mishneh Torah, The Division of the Mitzvot According to the Halachot of the Mishneh Torah).
It consists of 70 Mitzvot, of which only 8 is positive, and 62 are negative, hinting that the subject of being Holy, is related to awe of G-D.
Sefer Hafla’ah (The Book of Utterances)
This book is consisting of four halachot, namely the Laws concerning Oaths, the Laws concerning Vows, the Laws of the Nazarite, and the Laws concerning Endowment Evaluations and Devotion Offerings.
This book is concerned on the oaths, vows, Nazarite commitments, and donations and devotions, for example not to swear in the Name of G-D falsely, when making an oath, to fulfill one’s vow, live up to the conditions for taking the Nazarite vow and what they are, as well as the rules for deeming an endowment value, as well as the rules concerning the devotion offering.
It consists of 25 Mitzvot, 10 positive and 15 negative.
Sefer Zera’im (The Book of Agriculture)
This book is consisting of seven halachot, namely the Laws concerning the Mixing of Forbidden Species, the Laws concerning the Gifts to be Given to the Poor, the Laws concerning T’rumah, the Laws of Tithes, the Laws concerning the Second Tithe and the Produce of the Fourth Year, the Laws concerning the First Fruits, and the Laws of the Seventh and the Jubilee Year.
As the title of the book reveals, the subject is agriculture, or – as the Hebrew title says – “seeds”. Hence Maimonides here teaches about which species are forbidden, that we are not to mix the species, how to contribute to the poor from the fields, and the rules for tithes, and the Sabbatical seventh year, where the fields has to “rest”.
It consists of 67 Mitzvot, 30 of them positive and 37 negative.
Sefer ‘Avodah (The Book of the Temple Service)
This book is consisting of nine halachot, namely the Laws concerning of the “Chosen House” (the Temple), the Laws concerning utensils used in the Temple and the people using them, the Laws concerning the entrance to the Temple, the Laws concerning animals that are forbidden for offerings on the Altar, Laws concerning the procedures of the Offerings, the Laws concerning the Daily and the Special Offerings, the Laws concerning Offerings that are no longer accepted, the Laws concerning the Yom Kippur Service, and the Laws concerning the misuse of Sacred Property.
The title of the book, Sefer ‘Avodah, reveals that the subject is Temple Service, and anything related to it. The term, ‘avodah, which can be translated to “work”, is considered to be understood as “work devoted to G-D” in contrast to the word po’el, which is “normal” work. So even though la’avod and ‘avodah can relate to the work of workers or slaves, here it is meant to signify “holy labor”, mainly done by the Kohanim or the Levi’im.
It consists of 103 Mitzvot, 47 of them positive and 56 negative.
Sefer Qorbanot (The Book of Sacrifices)
This book is consisting of six halachot, namely the Laws concerning the Pessah offering, the Laws concerning the Festive Offerings, the Laws concerning the Firstling Animal, the Laws concerning the Atonement Offerings for Unintended Transgression, the Laws of the Offerings of those whose Process of Atonement is incomplete, and the Laws of Substitute Offerings.
From the halachot in this book, it is clearly a book that is concerned with Sacrifices and Offerings, which the title of the book also claims. Hence we here read about almost all the rules and relations that evolves the Sacrifices, though some are found too in other books of the Mishneh Torah.
It consists of 39 Mitzvot, 20 of them positive and 19 negative.
Sefer Tohorah (The Book of Ritual Impurity)
This book is consisting of eight halachot, namely the Laws concerning Ritual Impurity caused by contact with a Human Corpse, the Laws concerning the Red Heifer (and the Purification Process it is involved in), the Laws concerning Ritual Impurity caused by Leprosy, the Laws concerning Ritual Impurity causing the places of dwelling (both sitting and laying) to be Impure, the Laws concerning other Sources of Ritual Impurity, the Laws concerning Ritual Impurity caused by certain Food, the Laws of Ritual Impurity caused by contact with Impure Vessels, and the Laws concerning Mikvaot (the Ritual Cleaning Baths).
As revealed, the theme of this book is Ritual Impurity, what causes it, and how to relate to it. Hence we read about all the circumstances and contacts, that will lead to Ritual Impurity, as contact with a human corpse. We read about how to relate to Ritual Impurity, as in the case of the leper, who is commanded to make his state known. And we read about how to clean ourselves of the Ritual Impurity, as in the case of immersing in a Mikveh (a Ritual Cleaning Bath).
It consists of 20 Mitzvot, 18 of them positive and two negative.
Sefer Neziqin (The Book of Damages)
This book is consisting of five halachot, namely the Laws concerning Damage to Property, the Laws concerning Theft, the Laws concerning Robbery and returning Lost Objects, the Laws of Personal Injury and Damages caused by direct human action, and the Laws concerning Murder and Protection of Life.
The title of the book reveals that it is focused on the subject of damages, but damages here are understood in a wider sense, not only on things that are damaged or destroyed, but also things that are lost, stolen or robbery, and even with more severe cases, as for example injuries on humans as well as murder, and how we are supposed to relate to these cases. Hence we can read about how to relate to the grazing of animals. We can read that we are forbidden to steal and the laws concerning the punishment of a thief. We can read that we are not allowed to desire the belongings of another man, and that we are not allowed to ignore a lost object seen on the road. We can read about the laws concerning a murder, that he is not to be killed without a trial, that the pursuer [of a man fleeing to one of the cities set of for refuge] should be stopped, and that we are not to show him mercy. And we can read about how we are commanded to guard life, for example by setting up a guard rail on our roofs.
It consists of 36 Mitzvot, of them 16 positive and 20 negative.
Sefer Qinyan (The Book of Acquisition)
This book is consisting of five halachot, namely the Laws Governing Sales, the concerning the Governing the Acquisition of Property and Gifts, the Laws concerning the Relations with Neighbors, the Laws concerning Agents and Partners, and the Laws concerning Slaves.
This is a book, whose theme is the rules and circumstances regarding acquisition things and objects. Hence we can read about the rules of sales and purchases. We can read about the circumstances and rules concerning the relation between neighbors, agents and partners. And we can read about the circumstances of slaves and how to tread them.
It consists of 18 Mitzvot, six of them being positive and 12 of them negative.
Sefer Mishpatim (The Book of Judgments)
This book is consisting of five halachot, namely the Laws concerning the Relations between the Employer and the Employee, the Laws concerning Borrowed or Entrusted Objects, the Laws concerning Lenders and Borrowers, the Laws concerning Disputes between Plaintiffs and Defendants, and the Laws concerning Inheritances.
The title is somehow misleading, since the theme of the book is more concerned with the relations between people who own something to others, and how to protect the weaker part in these relations. Hence it is still a book of judgments, but more about relations than judgment. Hence we can read about the rules concerning a hired worker or a paid watchman, and that we have to pay them their wage when it is due time for it. We can read the rules concerning an unpaid watchman. We can read that we are commanded to lend a poor and unfortunate person money, and not to demand repayment of his dept, and the rules of about this relation. And we can read about the claims and how to deal with them, whether the defendant admits to them or denies them.
It consists of 23 Mitzvot, of them 11 being positive and 12 negative.
Sefer Shoftim (The Book of Judges)
This book is consisting of five halachot, namely the Laws concerning the Courts and the Punishments they have Jurisdiction over, the Laws concerning Witnesses, the Laws concerning the Rebellious Ones, the Laws concerning Mourning, and the Laws concerning the Kings and their Wars.
Being the last book in the Mishneh Torah, this book is focused on the Laws of governing and regulating the society. Hence we can read about the rules concerning the appointment of judges, how to appointment and who to appoint/not to appoint. We can read about the rules concerning their work and jurisdiction. We can read about the rules concerning witnesses, who can be a witness, and how to treat them. We can read about the rules concerning the “rebellious ones”, how to relate to them, how to “spot” them, that we are to honor our parents and not to rebel against them. We can read about the rules concerning for who to mourn and how to mourn. And we can read about the rules concerning whether to appoint a king [over Israel], who are and who are not allowed to be appointed as kings. And we can read about the rules that are related to the wars of the kings, which wars that are obligated, which are volunteering, and the circumstances and rules relating to these wars.
It consists of 74 Mitzvot, of them 27 are positive and 47 negative.
Recently I’ve read a couple of articles on being religious and homosexual, as well as discussing the subject.
Mostly it has been related to the discussion on the subject in Denmark, where the new minister of the church has proposed himself as a frontier soldier for the rights of the gay community to be married in the church (in Denmark the state and the church is still connected), but some of the articles and discussions have also been related to Judaism and acknowledging homosexuals, see for example Los Pumbedita’s post on the subject.
Anyway, some have asked me how I feel about it, and though my opinions are pretty clear when it comes to Halachah (Jewish religious law), that is – I stick to Halachah, then I’m also aware that we are dealing with human beings, who are going through something most of us couldn’t imagine. Of course, some places it’s easier than other to come out or living as a homosexual, though I’m still not aware of any place where it isn’t presenting some challenges.
Regarding Halachah, I still haven’t seen anything that remotely opens up for gay marriages, and I have been spending some time looking into it. I certainly don’t agree with Reform Jews in their approach, going outside the boundaries of Halachah, in order to change Halachah, so it conforms with their thoughts on how Halachah is supposed to be, because then we’re basically left with something that is solely based on what we feel and think would be right, and not Halachah. It would be something else.
That aside, within Halachah, the ethical aspect of the law, though I do find that homosexuality – the act – are not allowed, I’m still obliged to love the person. I have a great respect for a person, who by staying true to what he/she is, still dare to stand out and being honest by it. And honest, when I look around in our societies today, people who are living in openly homosexual relations are far from the “worst” (I find it hard to describe homosexuals as bad people, it’s not their personality we’re dealing with, it’s a natural urge) people I see. There are things that are far worse than living as a homosexual, such as slander, encouraging hatred, gambling with other people’s money and so on. Seriously, I would think that those things are much graver than any homosexual act to be ignored. What homosexuals choose to do in their private lives, have no interest for others, that is totally between the two (or more) of them, but people spreading slander, encouraging hatred and so on, are not just dealing with their own lives, they are hurting and damaging the lives of others. I’m even finding it hard to make this comparison, since a gay person isn’t even a bad person, but one who is struggling, succumbing, living with, whatever you choose to call it, his/her inclinations. People who are spreading slander, encouraging hate, and so on, are people who destroy.
And honestly, if we look at ourselves don’t we have flaws that we should correct, before we begin to look for flaws in others?
Another aspect is the aspect of being a citizen in a secular society. I saw an interview with Ricky Martin, where he stated something true, that as a citizen in the US, who pay taxes, why is he not entitled to the same rights, as anybody else? I differ strongly between Halachah and the laws of a secular society. I basically don’t know of any country which is ruled by Halachah, not even Israel, which might implement Halachah in parts of its secular law, but is far from being ruled by Halachah. Actually the specific law in Israel is termed as Mishpat ‘Ivrit, “Hebrew Law”, which not being something completely remote, then still different enough from Halachah to not being the same. Halachah is based on Torah and the Sages’, Z”L, interpretation of the Torah, Mishpat ‘Ivrit is based on part Israeli jurisdiction, Ottoman and British law, as well as Halachah. Halachah is Divinely inspired, Mishpat ‘Ivrit is rationalized and compiled by various groups of law.
In a secular society, even Israel, the law of the land is law, and though I certainly encourage a role of Halachah in Israel, I think it should be up to the single individual whether he/she will succumb to Halachah, and to how great an extent it should be covering his/her life. And I will leave out the discussion on who should define the Halachah for another time.
In a secular society any citizen should have equal rights, within the boundaries of reason, and two mature individuals should be allowed to build their lives together if they so wish, whether man/woman, man/man, or woman/woman.
Basically this post is not so much about promoting/defending homosexual’s rights, as it is a post for any individual’s rights in a secular society. If we only allow equality to those we agree or sympathize with, then we’re not talking about equality at all. We have to establish some basic understandings of the rights for all citizens, if we want to create societies not defined by a distinct group, but rather defined as a society for all its citizens. If we want to live in democratic secular societies, then we need to live up to the demands of such societies, and if we want to encourage others to accept Halachah (or any other religious body of laws), then we – as individuals – should live up to the demands of it ourselves before we demand that others succumbs to it.
All the best.
So far we have found out that there are textual variances both between the Mishniyot in the two Talmuds as well as between different manuscripts of the same Talmud. And in this post we will see yet two other differences, one of them which I probably should have pointed out earlier, though it isn’t the biggest difference.
In the Bavli the parts of the Mishnah is also called “mishnah”. The way the reference to a certain mishnah in the Mishnah goes according to order (Seder), tractate (Masechet), chapter (Pereq) and mishnah, so for example if we are talking about the second mishnah in B’rachot, then it would be Seder Zera’im, Masechet B’rachot, pereq alef (one), mishnah alef. Most often it would just be B’rachot alef, alef though, since people would know which Seder we are talking about.
Anyway, when we read the Yerushalmi the mishnayot are called “halachot”. The meaning being more or less the same, but still an interesting difference. Why I mention this will become obvious in the coming part.
We went through the first mishnah in the first post, so now I will quickly go through the next two mishniyot and end with the fourth in the end of this post.
מאימתי קורין את שמע בשחרין\ת. משיכיר בין תכלת ללבן. ר’ אליעזר אומר בין תכלת לכרתן\י (וגומרה) עד הנץ החמה, ור’ יהושע אומר עד שלש שעות שכן דרך בני מלכים לעמוד בשלש שעות. הקורא מיכן\מכאן ואילך לא הפסיד כאדם שהוא קורא\הקורא בתורה.
From when do we read the Shma’ in the morning/during morning prayer? From when you can recognize the difference between blue and white. R. Eli’ezer says, between blue and green (and completes) until sunrise, and R. Yehoshu’a says, until the [end of the first] three hours, since it is the practice of the princes/kings to rise [at the end of the] in the three hours. He who reads from here and onwards did not lose [heavenly reward], [but] is like a person who reads the Torah.
בית שמאי אומרים: בערב כל אדם יטו ויקרו\יטה ויקרא ובבוקר יעמודו\יעמוד, שנאמר: ובשכבך ובקומך. ובית הלל אומרים: כל אדם קורין כדרכן\קורא כדרכו, שנאמר: ובלכתך בדרך. א”כ\אם כן, למה נאמר ובשכבך ובקומך אלא בשעה שבני אדם שוכבין\ם ובשעה שבני אדם עומדין\ם
The house of Shamay says: In the evening every person will recline and recite, and in the morning they will stand, as it is said: “and in your laying down and in your rising.” And the house of Hillel says: Each person recites as is his practice, as it is said: “and your walk in the path.” If so, why is it said “and in your laying down, and in your rising”? Rather, in the time when people lay down and in the time that they stand up.
And then something interesting happens. In the Bavli the mishnah continues with the following account:
א”ר טרפון: אני הייתי בא בדרך והטתי לקרות כדברי ב”ש וסכנתי בעצמי מפני הלסטים. אמרו לו: כדי היית לחוב בעצמך שעברת על דברי ב”ה.
Said R. Tarfon: I was coming on the street and inclined to recite, according to the sayings of the house of Shamay, and I endangered myself due to the robbers. [They] said to him: You owe that to yourself since you passed the words of the house of Hillel.
But in the Yerushalmi the third mishnah ends without the account of R. Tarfon. The account appears as the fourth halachah instead, changing the common order. So now we don’t only have difference in text, but also in order.
I will end my series of post on this subject for now, but when I have studied more, I will share some of my findings. From now on though, whenever I’m relating to a part in the Bavli, I will mention it as “mishnah”, whereas every time I’m relating to a part in the Yerushalmi, I will mention it as “halachah”. That will be the practice as long as they don’t follow the same order.
For those of you, who are interested to follow the study, you are welcome to join the group I have made on Facebook, “Comparative Studies in Talmud“.
All the best.
 I will differ between whether I am speaking about the compilation of mishniyot or a single mishnah, by writing Mishnah with a capital letter or normal letter. So the compilation will be written “Mishnah”, while a single part of it will be written “mishnah”.
 Not etymologic though, the word “mishnah” having the meaning of something being repeated, whereas the word “halachah” hints at a path to follow.
 The change between nun-sofit (ן) and the taw (ת) in the end changes the meaning of the word from “mornings” to “morning prayer”.
 The word “techelet” (תכלת) is a special kind of blue, which true nuance has been lost today. Traditionally it has always been the opinion of the majority that it came from a see-snail, though which one has been doubted. Today there are some who believe that they have found out which snail it is.
 The word means “leek”, which has a special green color, hard to distinguish from blue when there isn’t sufficient light.
 The adding of the word “bney” (בני), “sons of”, renders the meaning from “kings” to “sons of kings”.
 The two meanings of the “she’hu qore” (שהוא קורא) and “ha’qore” (הקורא) are “that he reads” and “a reader” respectively.
 The words for recline and stand up, are expressed in singular in the Bavli and in plural in the Yerushalmi. This is done in all this mishnah.
 This word is only found in the Yerushalmi, stating that “instead of thinking that the biblical verse used here has anything to do with how, rather read it as telling when”.
Yose ben Yo’ezer of Zereda and Yose ben Yohanan of Jerusalem received from them. Yose ben Yo’ezer of Zereda used to say: “Let your house be a meeting place for Sages; sit in the dust at their feet, and with thirst, drink in their words.”
Yose ben Yo’ezer’s, Z”L, advice seems to be a very relevant advice for our days. Today it is not the wise, those we can learn valuable lessons from, people who know what they are talking about, people who have deep insights in life, we invite in, or even relate to. Today it is X-Factor, Paradise Hotel, people who are famous just for being famous, people who get known from getting drunk, Jersey Shore, more or less opportunistic (and sometimes even corrupt) politicians, and other people the like, who are getting our attention.
I often wonder what can be learned from a pop-actress, who are promoting herself as being drunk all the time or suffering from hangovers after being drunk. Or from two girls travelling around the country, getting by more on looking good than knowing what to do in life.
When these examples are what makes people known and attracted, and this is what people – especially the young among us – want to make the example for their lives, then I believe that we are far from an ethical society, where the knowledge and insights in law and the reasons behind laws, is a guiding principle. As Yose ben Yo’ezer says it, we should focus on the Sages of our times, not on the drunkards.
Who are introduced here?
Yose ben Yo’ezer from Zereda was the one half of the first Zug (pair), having the title of “Nasi.” He lived in the period of the Hasmonean revolt against the Seleucid ruler and was a staunch opponent against Hellenism, so much that he declared all other lands for being unclean, in order for Jews not to settle outside Eretz Yisrael, as well as being a member of the Hasidean party. He was a Kohen, and known as “The Hasid of the Kohanim.”
He is mentioned various places, both as taking part in halachic discussions, as part of a controversy with his nephew, Alchimus, and in an account telling about him that he gave all his property to the Temple, since he believed that his son wasn’t worthy of inheriting him
Yose ben Yohanan of Jerusalem was the other half of the first Zug, taking the position as the Av Beyt Din. As well as was the case with Yose ben Yo’ezer, Yose ben Yohanan was also a member of the Hasidean party, but still had disagreements with Yose ben Yo’ezer, who was considered more liberal, on some questions, which in the end created two different schools of opinions.
Av Beyt Din: The vice leader of the Sanhedrin, the highest religious court, was called Av Beyt Din (אב בית דין), “Father of the religious court,” and constituted the one half of the sitting “zug,” during the period of Zugot.
Eretz Yisrael (E”Y): The Land of Israel is in Hebrew called Eretz Yisrael (ארץ ישראל), and constitutes more of a religious definition than a political definition, since certain specific rules apply to E”Y, even in our days. It is not to be confused with the modern state of Israel, which in Hebrew is called Medinat Yisrael, the State of Israel.
Halachah: Jewish Jurisprudence is in Hebrew called Halachah (הלכה), from the root heh, lamed, khaf, halach – “to walk” – which means to hint that “this is the path in which the Jew should walk.”
Hasidean: From the root “hesed,” the Hasidean (or in Hebrew, Hassidim) formed a religious party, who took part in the revolt against the Seleucid ruler in the second century BCE. They are believed to have been very strict in their religious observance, and were strongly opposed to Hellenism.
Hasmonean: The Hasmoneans were the rulers of Judea, from the liberation from the Seleucid to the Romans conquest of Judea. It succeeded to keep independence in 103 years, from ca. 140 BCE until ca. 37 BCE, where the rule were taken from them by Herod the great, who founded the Herodian dynasty.
Hellenism: Hellenism was the dominant cultural system in the classical periods Middle East, being a mix of Greek and Oriental culture. It was the result of Alexander the Great’s dream of a united (known) world.
Nasi: The leader of the Sanhedrin was called Nasi (נשיא), “Prince.” Together with the Av Beyt Din, he constituted the highest Halachic authority in Israel. Later on the term has been used about the leader of the Jews, when there was one who was deemed significant and influential enough to be called leader. Today the term is used for the president of Israel.
Zug: The Hebrew term for “pair,” zug (זוג), was used for the sitting “pair,” who governed the Sanhedrin, in the period of “Zugot” (זוגות), which is a term used in describing a period in the history of Halachah, which covers the time of the Second Temple, from ca. 515 BCE until ca. 70 CE.
 As described in the two books of Maccabean.
 Talmud Bavli, Shabbat 46a.
 With his colleague, in the Mishnah, Eduyot 8:4, and Talmud Bavli, Pessahim 15a.
 Bereshit Rabba 1:65.
 Talmud Bavli, Bava Batra 133b.
(Earlier posted on my blog Law and the Purpose of Law)
In my last post I explained a little about the difference in the usage of the terms “Torah” and “Halachah.” Today I read and thought about difference in and of ordering of the Commandments.
First off, it should be explained, as is evident from the dictionary on this blog, that the Hebrew technical term for “Commandment” is Mitzvah (Mitzvot in plural). The rood of the word is Tzavah, to command someone something, which is used various places in the Jewish Bible, e.g., in the Jewish daily declaration, the “Q’riat Sh’ma,” where it is stated “V’hayu had’varim haeleh, asher anochi metzav’cha hayom“, “These words which I command you today.” A Mitzvah is therefore, in its strictest sense, a commandment.
The Jewish Sages found 613 Mitzvot in the Five Books, which are confirmed by later Rabbinic authorities and ordered, such as Maimonides and the author of the Sefer Hinuch. These 613 Mitzvot are called the Taryag HaMitzvot, from the number 613, which Hebrew numerical value is spelled taryag. These Mitzvot can be ordered in the “to-dos” and the “not-to-dos,” named respectively Mitzvot ‘Aseh and Mitzvot lo Ta’aseh. Of the first there are 248 and the latter 365, which is explained as the 248 being the numbers of the bones in the body, and the 365 being the number of days in a (solar) year.
This is one way of organizing the Mitzvot. Another is in Huqim and Mishpatim, two terms which are used a number of times in the Five Books, where they are normally translated as statutes and ordinances respectively. They are defined as having two distinctly different meanings. When reading and studying the Mitzvot, the Rabbis reached the conclusion that some Mitzvot were more or less obviously, e.g., the Mitzvah against stealing and killing, whereas others were not so obvious, e.g., the Mitzvah against mixing milk and meat. They understood from this that that was what was hinted at, with the Huqim and Mishpatim, the Huqim being the Mitzvot, which reason is not yet clear for us and might not be, whereas the Mishpatim were the Mitzvot, which could be derived from rational logic by most.
The Sefer Hinuch has another organization of the Mitzvot:
- Commandments that are obligatory upon all Israel, both men and women, everywhere and in all times.
- Commandments that are obligatory everywhere and in all times, but upon Israelites, and not upon Kohanim or Levites.
- Commandments that are obligatory upon Levites only.
- Commandments that are obligatory upon Kohanim only, everywhere and in all times.
- Commandments that are obligatory upon the king of Israel only.
- Commandments that are obligatory upon the whole community, and not on the individual alone.
- Commandments that are obligatory only in a specific place and in a specific time, namely in the land of Israel, and in the time that the majority of the people of Israel is there.
- Commandments whose obligation differs as between men and women, and as between Israelites and Kohanim and Levites.
- Commandments that are obligatory constantly, such as the commandment to love God, to fear God, and the like.
- Commandments that must be observed at a specific time, such as the commandments of the Sabbath, Lulav, Shofar, rest on the festivals, the recitation of the Q’riat Sh’ma, and the like.
- Commandments whose observance is contingent upon a given circumstance, and which are therefore not obligatory unless that circumstance should arise, as for example the commandments to give the hired man his wages in the appointed time which is obligatory only upon the one who has hired workers.
Some extra categories can be added to these, namely:
- Commandments that apply only in the time of the Temple, or when the Jubilee law is in force.
- Commandments that are binding upon all mankind.
- Commandments punishable by death or by stripes.
- Commandments not legally punishable, but nevertheless morally binding.
These ways of organizing the Mitzvot gives a deeper and better understanding of how to relate to them, as well as how to apply them.
 Deuteronomy 6:6.
(Earlier posted on my blog Law and the Purpose of Law)
Sometimes terms are used, which are not always having a clear understanding. Such a term is for example torah, which can have many meanings, depending on how it is used. For example can it mean law, guidance or teaching, all depended on the context. Torah is very rarely used in the understanding of strict jurisprudence, as is the case with the term halachah, and it is mostly the last term that will be in focus in this book, though the term torah will be used a number of times.
Torah, in its popular meaning, are used in the understanding of Torat HaShem, God’s Law or Teaching. It is, in its simplest meaning, meant to point at the five books of Moses, which covers the Written Law, or The Written Torah, but it covers a vast variety of subjects, not only legalistic subjects alone. As such we see how it covers historical accounts, which works to illustrate a certain point to be learned by the reader, through the use of the PaRDeS, a principle used in studying the Torah. It can be ethical questions, issues of punishment, long explanations of family links, and so on, also on legal questions. In such manner, the Torah covers both legal and non-legal issues.
Moreover, when talking about Torah, one can mean the Five Books of Moses, but one can also mean the whole Jewish Bible, including both the Prophetical Books, as well as the Scriptural Books. And not only that, but all teachings on Judaism, which is believed to be based on the Five Books of Moses. Or to put it differently, all teachings which is believed to be based on Torah, is Torah. In such manner a book written in present time, explaining and teaching the principles of the Five Books of Moses, is Torah. But only in so far that is has as its purpose, to raise the reader to a higher spiritual purpose. An academic book written about the Jewish Bible is – as praiseworthy and informative as it might be – not Torah. It is the lack of spirit that deems it non-Toranic, so to speak. Moreover, which should be self-evident, books belonging to other religions or not to be defined within the boundaries of Judaism, are neither Torah, even if they are written about the Jewish religion, and the author might be as holy a person as can be. Torah is only Torah within the scope of Torah itself, as it is given and received in the Sinaic tradition 3,300 years ago, and since expanded and explained to its loyal followers through history.
Halachah is a more specific term, pointing at the Jewish jurisprudence, the legal conclusions, systematic behind them, and discourse. When one is asking when to light the candles before Shabbat, the Halachic answer is “18 minutes before sunset.” This is a conclusion based on a halachic discussion, which can be found in halachic works, covering a vast range of material, leading back to the prime source, the Torah. But, as explained, where Torah is broad, covering all issues, Halachah attempts to search out the specific rulings, in regards to “what-to-do” vs. “what-not-to-do.”
There are different kinds of halachot, as well as different grades. For example can we see halachot being named d’orayta, meaning “from the source,” which are halachot directly based on the Five Books of Moses or other parts of the Jewish Bible. That can be the prohibition against wearing wool and linen in the same shirt, or mixing crops on the field. There are also, as opposed to halachot d’oreyta, halachot d’rabbanan,which are rabbinical commandments that are not found in the Jewish Bible, but have been derived by later rabbis. Among such halachot do we find the commandment of celebrating Hanukkah, which is based on a later episode, happening after the closure of the Jewish Bible, but still of such an importance that it is worth to be celebrated.
 The Hebrew and technical term for these commandments are Mitzvot ‘Aseh, a commandments to do, and Mitzvot lo Ta’aseh, a commandments not to do. An example on the former being for men to wear Tzitzit, the fringes on the corners of one’s garment, and an example on the latter being not to steal.
 The two terms, d’orayta and d’rabbanan, are both Aramaic terms, consisting of the prefix d-, meaning “from,” and the body, orayta and rabbanan, meaning respectively Torah and Rabbis.