Avodah Mailing List
Volume 24: Number 103
Sun, 23 Dec 2007
Subjects Discussed In This Issue:
From: "Simon Montagu" <email@example.com>
Date: Mon, 24 Dec 2007 00:11:57 +0200
Subject: Re: [Avodah] All transgressions are sins?
On Dec 23, 2007 9:30 PM, saul mashbaum <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> I have seen sources (which I can't quote precisely now), that there are a
> total of 620 mitzvot, 613 for Jews and 7 for BN (I think that there are 620
> words in the aseret hadibrot).
I also can't quote precise sources, but I remember hearing a different
version many years ago: there are 620 *letters* in the aseret hadibrot (I
just checked, and this is correct), representing 613 mitzvot d'oraita and 7
mitzvot derabbanan on which we say "...asher kiddeshanu bemitzvotav
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From: Micha Berger <email@example.com>
Date: Sun, 23 Dec 2007 17:53:33 -0500
Subject: Re: [Avodah] All transgressions are sins?
On Sun, Dec 23, 2007 at 04:30:35PM -0500, Zev Sero wrote:
: The 620 includes the 7 mitzvot derabbanan.
Only according to the Rambam, and therefore the Chinukh.
The Sma"g and Sma"q both count the 7 mitzvos deRabbanan amongst the 613.
Go to top.
From: Richard Wolberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Sun, 23 Dec 2007 18:48:05 -0500
Subject: [Avodah] 613 or 620?
The following from Chabura-Net's Home Page, is very instructive and
THE MAGIC 613
It is a well-known fact in Judaism that there are 613 commandments
that were given to us in the Torah (mitzvot d?oraita). While several
gemarot (most notably Makkot 23b) search for references to this
figure, it seems somewhat clear that the number was not arrived at at
a given point in history, but rather that it is a received tradition
from Mount Sinai that such is the number. The issue that arises in
this regard is exactly what those 613 commandments are. While reading
through the five books of the Torah is the seemingly obvious way to
tally them, it is not as simple as it seems. While many verses clearly
state a commandment (e.g. "Thou shalt not steal"), there are many
others that may or may not qualify as commandments, and others that
may contain more than one. This problem is fleshed out in the
different list of commandments arrived at by various Rishonim. Rav
Sa?adiah Gaon, the Ba?al Halachot Gedolot (Behag), Rambam, Semag,
Semak, and others compiled Sifrei Ha-Mitzvot, Books of the
Commandments, yet while their lists are identical to a very large
extent, there are many differences between them (the particular
differences are not our concern here). How did each one arrive at
their particular list?
Rambam, for his part, provides us with an answer. His Sefer Ha-Mitzvot
begins with fourteen shorashim, principles, in which he states what
qualifies or does not qualify to be included among the 613. It is the
first of these principles that will be our focus here.
NO RABBINIC LAWS NEED APPLY
Rambam states that the first type of commandment that cannot be
included in his list is any commandment of Rabbinic origin (mitzva
d?rabbanan). While this would seem to be an obvious criteria when
trying to list only those commandments that are found in the Torah,
Rambam is responding to the list of the Behag, who listed, among other
things, the commandment to light candles on Chanukah and to read the
Megilla on Purim, two commandments that were clearly made by the
Rabbis at the appropriate times in history.
Before proceeding, we must ask what prompted the Behag to include such
laws that clearly do not belong in such a list? As Rambam notes, Behag
relies on Devarim 17:11. The verse there, speaking of the authority of
the Sanhedrin states that one "should not deviate (lo tasur) to the
right or to the left" from that which he is instructed by the
Sanhedrin to do. According to Behag, this verse commands us to follow
the words of the Sages, and thus any commandment put forth by them
falls under the rubric of this Torah injunction. As such, it is fair
to include Chanukah candles and the reading of the Megilla in a list
of mitzvot d?oraita.
Rambam vehemently protests against this line of reasoning. If the
rationale of the Behag were to be followed to the nth degree, that
would result in a situation where all Rabbinic injunctions are deemed
to be mitzvot d?oraita. More than just swelling the list of mitzvot
way beyond 613, such a move would collapse several important criteria
that arise in the would of halacha. The notion of following a lenient
path in a case of doubt, the general rule by mitzvot d?rabbanan, would
be void, and we would be forced to always take the stricter option in
such cases, as is the rule for mitzvot d?oraita! The concept of
following a Torah-ordained law over a Rabbinic one when the two come
head-to-head would similarly be rendered meaningless. Several other
examples may be given for the effects of this notion, but these two
are enough to give an idea of how far-reaching this would be.
So, all is fine and well for Rambam. He blasts the Behag and leaves
Chanukah and Purim off of his list. But what about the Behag himself?
How is he to explain his position?Ramban, in his commentary on Rambam,
gives several lengthy responses to the attacks of Rambam. While they
are interesting, the are particular to the specific claims of Rambam.
Our goal now is to understand what exactly a mitzva d?rabbanan is and
why it may or may not be viewed in a d?oraita light.
LO TASUR - WHAT DOES IT MEAN?
We mentioned above the verse from Devarim 17:11. What exactly does it
mean when it commands us not to deviate from that which the Sanhedrin/
Sages tell us? Rashi cites the Sifrei, which states that we must
follow them even if it appears to us that what they tell us is right
is really left and what they tell us is left is really right. In other
words, the Sanhedrin have absolute power over interpreting the law,
and even if we think that they are wrong, it is our obligation to
support their position and follow their ruling. The Yerushalmi in
Horayot debates this point. It claims that we should follow them if
they tell us that right is right and that left is left. However, it
would seem, if we know that they are wrong we are under no obligation
to blindly obey them. The Yerushalmi limits somewhat the power of the
Sanhedrin, giving them a large degree of power, but not absolute and
Beyond that issue, we have to ask what the force of this verse is? It
appears that there are three potential answers. The first is that the
verse has the power that Rambam fears - it is a positive commandment
to listen to the words of the Sages, and even further, this
commandment has the power to imbue anything that they say with the
status of being a Torah-ordained law. The other extreme is to claim
that this verse has very little significance, i.e. that it is not an
actual commandment, but rather what is known as an "asmachta," a verse
used after the fact to lend textual support to a law or concept that
is known from elsewhere. The third option will be the main focus of
our investigation. Perhaps this verse does have the force of a mitzva
d?oraita, but not to the full extent that we envisioned previously.
However, if this is the case, then what exactly is the power of this
verse? How far-reaching is this commandment?
THE POWER OF THE RABBIS
One of the first notions that there is a d?oraita aspect to the laws
of the Rabbis comes from the gemara in Shavuot 39a. There, the gemara
asks how we know that all commandments that were created after Sinai
are included in the "oath" taken by the Jews at Sinai to uphold the
Torah. The gemara responds by citing a verse from Esther "The Jews
kept and accepted (the laws of Purim)." The gemara learns from this
verse that they "kept that which they had already accepted," meaning
that by keeping the laws of Purim at the time of Esther, the Jews were
in fact keeping something that they had already accepted upon
themselves at Sinai to do. Obviously, there is no explicit command in
the Torah to read the Megilla, and thus this may be viewed as a veiled
reference to the injunction of lo tasur.
More significant is the gemara on Horayot 2b. The mishna there
discusses the case when Sanhedrin err in a ruling and a majority of
the people follow them and thus sin. When the error is later
discovered, assuming all conditions are met it is the responsibility
of the Sanhedrin, and not the individuals, to bring the sin-offering.
However, if a person is deemed to be a "student fit to teach," he may
not claim protection along with the rest of the nation and thus must
bring his own sin-offering. The gemara tries to establish exactly what
type of person fits into this category. If he is someone such as
Shimon Ben-Azzai or Shimon Ben-Zoma, i.e. a person extremely well-
versed in all of the Torah, then he would not bring a sin-offering as
his action would be judged to be intentional (for which one gets the
primary punishment). After some discussion, the gemara concludes that
the sin-offering is brought because this person erred with regard to
the mitzva to listen to the Sages. In other words, he felt that he was
obligated to follow the Sages even if he knew them to be wrong, when
in fact their power is not so total and he actually was obligated to
ignore their ruling and not follow it (interestingly, while this
applies for his own actions, were he to teach others to act counter to
the Sanhedrin he would be tried as a Rebellious Elder and potentially
be subject to the death penalty). There are two main points to be made
here. First, we must note that what he is punished for is not for the
content of the ruling of the Sanhedrin. He does not bring a sacrifice
because he did something against what they had told him to do. If that
were the case, it would imply that WHAT they say can gain the status
of a d?oraita law to the extent that one would have to bring a
sacrifice for violating their words. Instead, he is punished for the
fact that he erred with regard to the more general concept of adhering
to the words of the Sages. Further, we note that this concept is
itself considered to be Torah-ordained, as the punishment for his
error is a sin-offering, something brought only with regard to Torah
Our next test-case is the gemara is Shabbat 23a. After discussing many
of the laws related to Chanukah, the gemara finally reaches the
question as to what blessing is made on the lighting of the candles.
The answer given is that the blessing is "asher kideshanu b?mitzvotav
v?tzivanu l?hadlik ner shel Chanukah" - that Hashem sanctified us with
his commandments and commanded us to light Chanukah candles. The
gemara then asks the obvious - where is this commandment to be found?
Two suggestions are offered. The first is our verse of lo tasur; the
second is the verse in Devarim 32 of "she?al avicha ve-yagedcha" - ask
your father and he will tell you. The reliance on this second verse is
somewhat strange. Lo tasur at least appears to have to potential to
serve as a commandment of some sort, however this second option comes
from the song of Ha?azinu - not a usual source for laws! Why would
someone choose the latter option over the former? Ritva offers an
answer for this. He claims that the opinion that favors the latter
verse does so because he does not believe that lo tasur can work in
all cases. Only when a Rabbinic law comes as a function of a Torah law
(such as laws established as "protective fences" around pre-existing
Torah laws) can we rely on lo tasur. However, when the Sages establish
a law from scratch, as they do by Chanukah, that power is not one
derived from lo tasur. Rather, we rely on the verse of "she?al avicha"
as advice that we should follow the Sages. Thus, the "commanding" that
we refer to in the blessing may not be an actual commandment but
rather a verse in the Torah (which in and of itself is a significant
source) advising us to follow the laws set down by the Sages. Thus we
see that at least according to one view, lo tasur is somewhat limited
in its scope. While it does grant some power to the Sages, it does so
only when they work with pre-existing laws. It does not, however,
grant them the full power of creativity.
Finally, we come to the gemara is Brachot 19b. In discussing the laws
of kavod ha-beriot (lit. "honor for living creatures") the gemara
states that if a person discovers that they are wearing sha'atnez
(forbidden admixtures of wool and linen), they must remove the garment
at once, even if they are in public. Why is this so? Since sha'atnez
is a mitzva d?oraita it overrides the notion of kavod ha-beriot, since
"there is no wisdom, no understanding, and no advice in the face of
Hashem," i.e. Hashem?s laws remain firm in the face of other
principles that we often rely on to guide our lives. However, later on
the same page the gemara notes that the concept of kavod ha-beriot is
extremely important, as evidenced by the fact that it pushes aside a
Torah-bound commandment. Which commandment is that? None other than lo
tasur, and the gemara goes on to note that all Rabbinic laws rely on
lo tasur to lend a degree of credence to them. We have a major
difficulty to deal with here: if lo tasur really is, as the gemara
states, a mitzva d?oraita, then why do we not say, as we did earlier,
that there is no wisdom in the face of Hashem and thus that it is not
overridden by kavod ha-beriot? Ritva answers that lo tasur is merely
an asmachta, but that it is not actually a commandment to follow the
Sages. As such, the notion of following the Sages may be pitted on a
more equal footing against the notion of kavod ha-beriot and it is
thus possible for kavod ha-beriot to prevail. Rashi also notes that lo
tasur is not a full-forced Torah law. Rather, it allows us to refer to
mitzvot d?rabbanan as positive or negative commandments, but it does
not actually confer such status on them to the point where we may say
that they are tantamount to Torah-ordained laws. This seems to
restrict our conception of lo tasur even further, reducing its power
across the board, and not just with regard to new commandments created
by the Sages.
THE VIEW OF RAMBAM
Before proceeding, let us sum up where we stand. First, the fears
raised by Rambam are largely unfounded. Nowhere have we seen it said
that mitzvot d?rabbanan actually gain the status of their Torah-
ordained counterparts. The bigger question seems to lie with regard to
the status of the actual commandment to listen to the Sages. While
Horayot indicates that it is a Torah law, both Shabbat and Brachot
offer clues to the extent that while it has some basis or support in
the Torah, it does not have the full status of a Torah law.
What about Rambam himself? Forgetting what he said in his Principles,
which can be viewed in the context of an attack on the Behag, what is
his take on lo tasur? The answer comes from his Hilchot Mamrim 1:2.
There, in laying out the powers of the Sanhedrin, Rambam states that
anyone who does not follow their decrees, however they are derived,
violates the injunction of lo tasur. Indeed, Rambam lists following
the words of the Sages as one of the 613 commandments (interestingly,
he lists it as a positive commandment based on the first part of
Devarim 17:11 and not a negative commandment based on lo tasur). With
regard to this, the Mishne LaMelech cites the Maharam Trani who offers
an overall view of this notion. He claims that the Torah only
commanded us to follow the words of the Sages. However, the Sages were
given the right not only to make laws, but also to set rules regarding
their laws. Thus, the Sages ordained that in any case of doubt
regarding a Rabbinic law one should follow the more lenient approach
and that a Torah-ordained law can prevail over a Rabbinic one.
I would like to refine this point a little bit. We take it for granted
that there is such a concept that is known as a Rabbinic law. However,
where did that concept come from? Hashem gave us the Torah with its
laws, and seemingly it would be admitting a deficiency in that system
to claim that there exists another body that can create laws and add
them on to the divine system. Thus, Hashem stated "lo tasur," and by
doing so He effectively created the entire notion of Rabbinic laws.
The concept of mitzvot d?rabbanan is thus built into the Torah?s
system, but it is left unclear as to what status those laws will have.
That is a decision that was left up to the earliest Sages to decide,
and they set down the rules for how Torah-ordained laws and laws later
set down by the Rabbis would interact with each other. While it is a
matter of great debate whether or not the Behag was justified in
counting Chanukah candles and the reading of the Megilla among his
list of commandments, there is no doubt that all mitzvot d?rabbanan
have a certain d?oraita element about them. Rabbinic laws do not exist
beyond the pale of the divine system, but rather are an intrinsic part
of it and help to keep it dynamic and progressive.
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