Return to main index
INTRODUCTION BY MICHAEL RUDOLPH [Make a Comment]
The Bible can be appreciated from many points of view. It may be thought of as the biography of God in His dealings with mankind. It may be read as a treatise on the history of the world and, in particular, the history of Israel and the heathen nations. It may also be studied as a prophetic book, revealing our future here on earth and in eternity. In this work, however, it is mainly presented as a book of Torah law, containing God's instructions for holy, moral, and victorious living.
The term "Law of Messiah" appears only once in the Bible ...
TORAH AND THE LAW [Make a Comment]
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament defines Torah ( - Strong's number 8451) as follows1:
The word tôrâ means basically "teaching" whether it is the wise man instructing his son or God instructing Israel. The wise give insight into all aspects of life so that the young may know how to conduct themselves and to live a long blessed life (Prov 3:1 f.). So too God, motivated by love, reveals to man basic insight into how to live with each other and how to approach God. Through the law God shows his interest in all aspects of man's life which is to be lived under his direction and care. Law of God stands parallel to word of the Lord to signify that law is the revelation of God's will (e.g. Isa 1:10). In this capacity it becomes the nation's wisdom and understanding so that others will marvel at the quality of Israel's distinctive life style (Deut 4:6). Thus there is a very similar understanding of the role of teaching with its results in the wisdom school, in the priestly instruction, and the role of the law with its results for all the people of the covenant.
Specifically law refers to any set of regulations; e.g., Exo 12 contains the law in regard to observing the Passover; some other specific laws include those for the various offerings (Lev 7:37), for leprosy (Lev 14:57) and for jealousy (Num 5:29). In this light law is often considered to consist of statutes, ordinances, precepts, commandments, and testimonies.
The meaning of the word gains further perspective in the light of Deut. According to Deut 1:5 Moses sets about to explain the law; law here would encompass the moral law, both in its apodictic and casuistic formulation, and the ceremonial law. The genius of Deut is that it interprets the external law in the light of its desired effect on man's inner attitudes. In addition, the book of Deut itself shows that the law has a broad meaning to encompass history, regulations and their interpretation, and exhortations. It is not merely the listing of casuistic statements as is the case in Hammurabi's code. Later the word extended to include the first five books of the Bible in all their variety.
In addition, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon gives "direction, instruction, law"2 as the primary definitions of Torah, and the Encyclopaedia Judaica states:3
Torah is derived from the root which in the hifil conjugation means "to teach" (cf. Lev. 10:11). The meaning of the word is therefore "teaching", "doctrine", or "instructions"; the commonly accepted "law" gives a wrong impression. The word is used in different ways but the underlying idea of "teaching" is common to all.
There are basically two ways in which Torah
is used in the Tanakh ...
"This is the Torah of the burnt offering..." (Leviticus 6:2ff);4 "grain offering..." (Leviticus 6:7ff); "sin offering..." (Leviticus 6:18ff); "trespass offering..." (Leviticus 7:1ff); "peace offering..." (Leviticus 7:11ff); "leprous plague..." (Leviticus 13:59ff); "jealousy..." (Numbers 5:29ff).
In most instances, however, Torah refers broadly to God's teaching - His universal and eternal standard for conduct and life. Where Torah means "law", it is usually accompanied by other Hebrew words having to do with law, such as:
|mitzvah (commandment - Strong's 4687)5|
|khukah (statue or ordinance ("regulation" in CJB) - Strong's 2708)6|
|mishpat (judgement ("ruling" in CJB) - Strong's 4941)7|
The following examples contain the word Torah combined with one or more of the above words, showing that Torah is connected to, but distinguishable from, commandments, statutes, ordinances and judgments:
"This is the regulation from the Torah which Adonai has commanded." (Numbers 19:2). Here, Torah cannot mean "regulation" or "ordinance".
"... This is the regulation from the Torah which Adonai has ordered Moshe." (Numbers 31:21). Here also, Torah cannot mean "regulation" or "ordinance".
"... so that you obey his mitzvot and regulations which are written in this book of the Torah ..." (Deuteronomy 30:10). Some translations of this verse speak of "statutes" rather than "regulations", so here, Torah cannot mean mitzvot (commandments) or "regulations (statutes)".
"If his descendants abandon my Torah and fail to live by my rulings, if they profane my regulations and don't obey my mitzvot, ..." (Psalm 89:31-32[30-31]). Here, Torah cannot mean "rulings (judgments)", "regulations (statutes)" or mitzvot (commandments).
Another way of distinguishing Torah (teaching) from "commandment", "statute", "ordinance", and "judgment" is by its context. The following Scriptures are best understood when Torah means "teaching":
"Moreover, it will serve you as a sign on your hand and as a reminder between your eyes, so that Adonai's Torah may be on your lips; because with a strong hand Adonai brought you out of Egypt" (Exodus 13:9).
"Adonai said to Moshe, 'Here, I will cause bread to rain down from heaven for you. The people are to go out and gather a day's ration every day. By this I will test whether they will observe my Torah or not." (Exodus 16:4).
"Their delight is in Adonai's Torah; on his Torah they meditate day and night." (Psalm 1:2).
"The Torah of his God is in his heart; his footsteps do not falter." (Psalm 37:31).
"Doing your will, my God, is my joy; your Torah is in my inmost being." (Psalm 40:9).
"For the mitzvah is a lamp, Torah is light, and reproofs that discipline are a way to life." (Proverbs 6:23).
"Obey my commandments, and live; guard my teaching like the pupil of your eye." (Proverbs 7:2).
"The teaching of a wise man is a fountain of life, enabling one to avoid deadly traps." (Proverbs 13:14).
1. R. Laird Harris, editor, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, TWOT No. 910, p. 404, Moody Press (Chicago, Illinois: 1980)
2. Francis Brown, editor, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon, Torah, p. 435-436, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1979)
3. Louis Isaac Rabinowitz, Encyclopedia Judaica, Torah, vol. 15, pp. 1235-36, Keter Publishing House Ltd. (Jerusalem: 1971)
4. Except where otherwise noted or as part of a quotation, the English translation of Scripture used in this book is from David H. Sterns "Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)"
5. "A commandment is an order from, and enforceable by, a singular authority such as a king." Francis Brown, editor, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon, mitzvah, p. 846, Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1979).
6. A statute is a legislated directive, generally enforceable by a branch of government. An ordinace is similar, but at a lower level.
7. A judgement is law created by a decision made in a case in controversy or a specific situation.
TORAH IN THE NEW COVENANT [Make a Comment]
The New Covenant was prophesied in Jeremiah 31:30-33[31-34]8
'Here the days are coming,' says
Adonai, 'when I will make a new covenant ...
Since in the Hebrew text of this Scripture, the word for "law" is (Torah), Jeremiah is quoting God as saying "I will put My Torah in their minds, and write it on their hearts".
Handily, this Scripture is repeated in the Greek New Covenant Scriptures in Hebrews 8:8-12. There, the Greek word corresponding to Torah (verse 10) is nomos (Strong's 3551). This word is defined as Torah by Friberg's New Testament lexicon9 as follows:
w. a basic mng. of what is assigned or proper law; (1) gener. any law in the judicial sphere (Ro 7.1); (2) as rule governing one's conduct principle, law (Ro 7.23); (3) more specif. in the NT, of the Mosaic system of legislation as revealing the divine will (the Torah) the law (of Moses) (Lk 2.22); in an expanded sense, Jewish relig. laws developed fr. the Mosaic law (Jewish) law (Jn 18.31; Ac 23.29); (4) as the collection of writings considered sacred by the Jews; (a) in a narrower sense, the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, as comprising the law (Mt 12.5; Ga 3.10b); (b) in a wider sense, the OT scriptures as a whole (Mt 5.18; Ro 3.19); (5) fig. as the Christian Gospel, the New Covenant, as furnishing a new principle to govern spiritual life law (Ro 8.2a; He 10.16).
A word related to nomos, the Greek root word, nomotheteo ( - Strong's 3549), occurs in Hebrews 8:6 as . This word is translated "established" in the New King James Version:
"But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises."
Stern recognizes the equivalence of nomotheteo and Torah in his translation of Hebrews 8:6 in his "Jewish New Testament"10:
"But now the work Yeshua has been given to do is far superior to theirs, just as the covenant he mediates is better. For this covenant has been given as Torah on the basis of better promises."
In support of Stern's thesis that the root word nomotheteo and Torah are equivalent, consider that (nomothetersai from the root nomotheteo) is also found in Exodus 24:12 of the Septuagint11 and that very same word in the Hebrew text is - v'ha-Torah. Employing these definitions, one may confidently modify Hebrews 8:6 in the New King James Version to be rendered:
"But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was given as Torah (based) on better promises."
Since the "better covenant" in Hebrews 8:6 is the "New Covenant" which is referred to in Jeremiah 31:31 and Hebrews 8:8, one must conclude that the New Covenant was given as Torah, and therefore is Torah12 referring to the New Covenant Scriptures, but the covenant itself.
8. The CJB verse numbering for these verses is not standard; the majority Tanakh Hebrew verse numbering is Jer. 31:31-34
9. Timothy & Barabara Friberg, Analytical Lexicon to the Greek New Testament, , BibleWorks 4.0, Hermeneutica Bible Research Software (Big Fork, Montana: 1999).
10. David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament, 1st ed., p. 302, Jewish New Testament Publications (Clarksville, Maryland: 1991).
11. George Morrish, editor, A Concordance of the Septuagint, p. 166, Zondervan Oublishing House (Grand Rapids, Michigan: 1988)
12. "According to MJ 8:6&N, the New Covenant itself has been made Torah". David H. Stern, Jewish News Testament Commentary, 1st ed., p. 498, Jewish New Testament Publications (Clarksville, Maryland: 1992). See also p. 220 and p. 466.
WHAT MAKES THE PENTATEUCH TORAH? [Make a Comment]
Since Torah is God's teaching, there is
a sense in which all Scripture is Torah.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living; thus anyone who belongs to God may be fully equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Nevertheless, Yeshua himself recognized a distinction between the Torah of the Pentateuch and other classifications of Scriptures:
Yeshua said to them, 'This is what I meant when I was still with you and told you that everything written about me in the Torah of Moshe, the Prophets and the Psalms had to be fulfilled.' (Luke 24:44).
Why then, are the first five books of the Bible traditionally classified as Torah13 whereas the remaining Hebrew Scriptures are not? It cannot be their inspiration, for by definition, all Scripture is inspired (2 Timothy 3:16). No, the uniqueness of the Pentateuch is that it contains God's major covenants prior to Yeshua. The other books of the Tanakh expound on these covenants, teach about them, prophesy about them, and present their history, but they do not themselves contain the covenants.
13. Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy, p. 23, William Morrow and Company, Inc. (New York: 1991)
THE GOSPELS AS TORAH [Make a Comment]
I hope by now the reader is convinced that the New Covenant is a covenant of Torah - God's teaching written on our hearts. Now let us see if any of the New Covenant books are Torah analogous to the Pentateuch. If the test for pentateuchal Torah is whether a New Covenant book of the Bible contains the New Covenant itself - that is, the Torah; put in our minds and written on our hearts - then the Gospel books - Mathew, Mark, Luke and John certainly pass the test. Consider the many similarities between the Pentateuch and the Gospels:
Yeshua's life and blood are the substance of the New Covenant - its Torah (John 1:14, 14:6), and Yeshua's sacrificial death and resurrection mark both the New Covenant's beginning (John 19:30) and its fulfillment. It is in the Gospel books that we find this New Covenant substance, and therefore the New Covenant itself.
14. The Pentateuch also contains the lives of the patriarchs of earlier covenants.
15. Yeshua's priesthood begins with his resurrection.
THE MOSAIC LAW: RABBINICAL VIEW [Make a Comment]
16. This categorization, to wit, Torah, Nevi'im and Ketuvim, has resulted in the Rabbinical canon of the Bible being known by the acronym Tanakh. It is noteworthy that Yeshua Himself referred to Scripture by these categories (Luke 24:44).
STATUTES OF THE MOSAIC LAW: DEPENDENT AND TRANSCENDANT [Make a Comment]
The Commandments contained in the Tanakh are God's explicit directives and are, therefore, divine statutory law17. There are two categories of statutes commanded by God under the Mosaic Covenant - those whose literal compliance depends upon the Covenant's continued existence, and those whose literal compliance does not. We shall call the first of these, "covenant-dependent", and the second of these, "covenant- transcendent". Recognizing these two categories is important, because the Book of Hebrews teaches:
"By using the term, 'new', he has made the first covenant 'old'; and something being made old, something in the process of aging, is on its way to vanishing altogether." (Hebrews 8:13)18.
Hebrews 8:13 suggests a diminishing literal role for covenant-dependant statutes; consequently, such statutes are not incorporated into New Covenant law in their original form and application, while statutes that are covenant-transcendent are readily adopted without change19. So, for example, the literal application of statutes dealing with the Levitical priesthood, the Temple, and the government of ancient Israel, are in the process of vanishing (or have already vanished20 as the Mosaic Covenant has been vanishing, but the principles they teach remain as important as ever21, and we dare not ignore them.
"But now we have been released from this aspect of the Torah, because we have died to that which had us in its clutches, so that we are serving in the new way provided by the Spirit and not in the old way of outwardly following the letter of the law." (Romans 7:6)
It is my opinion that "oldness of the letter", as some translations read, refers to the diminishing role of covenant-dependent statutes as literal law, whereas our need for literal obedience to covenant-transcendent statutes (e.g. Exodus 20:1-17) is timeless.
In the Tanakh, statutes are not labeled as "covenant-dependent" or "covenant-transcendent", and so one must exercise judgment in determining which is which. A rule-of-thumb test is to ask: "Can or should this statute be complied with in the New Covenant era exactly and literally as commanded?" If the answer is "yes", it is "transcendent". If "no", it is "dependent".
Sometimes, the answer to the above "test" question is obvious. No one would disagree, for example, that it is as sinful to commit murder today, as in the past. On the other hand, the question of whether Jews in the New Covenant are still required to wear fringes on the corners of their garments (Numbers 15:38-41), may evoke two opinions: (1) Yes, the original reason for doing so still applies - to remind those who see the fringes of the commandments of God, and (2) No, one can comply with the commandment's principle by wearing an alternative item such as a necklace depicting two tablets. In making such decisions for myself, I rely on the wisdom of a saying that is not found in Scripture: "If it isn't broken, don't try to fix it." So, if the literal commandment is as appropriately performable today as during the time of Moses, then I do not search for an alternative.
17. The terms "statutory law" and "statutes", as used here, contemplate ordinances as well.
18. All Scriptures quoted in this book, unless otherwise stated, are rendered in the King James Version with English versification (chapter and verse), followed by Hebrew versification in parentheses when it is different.
19. Mosaic statutes are not enforceable as law in the New Covenant; it is their underlying teaching (Torah) and not the statutes themselves that carry over (See Torah infra).
20. Some believe that the Mosaic Covenant has already "vanished" as evidenced by Israel's two thousand-year inability to conduct the Temple sacrifices (The Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.).
21. The author does not believe that the temple, priesthood, and statutes prophesied in Ezekiel 40-48 indicate a revitaliztion of the Mosaic Covenant, This is because (1) The priests serving in that temple are limited to the sons of Zadok, (2) the High Priest in that temple is "the prince" - not the sons of Aaron - and (3) revitalization of the Mosaic Covenant would contradict Hebrews 8:13. That being the case, the statutes appearing in the Ezekiel chapters are, even when similar to Mosaic statutes, newly enacted and not continuations of those in the Mosaic Covenant.
TORAH UNDERLIES THE STATUTES [Make a Comment]
Underlying each of God's commandments is Torah, which we have seen is broadly defined as His essential teaching22,23. Although not all torah is statutory in origin, all torah is God's law because it is the essence of His will. Even if a commandment is covenant-dependent, its torah transcends the change in covenant because God's values never change (Numbers 23:19; ; Hebrews 13:8).
Torah is not only revealed through Mosaic commandments, but through all Scripture24. The apostle Paul expressed this in his second epistle to Timothy:
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living; thus anyone who belongs to God may be fully equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
And of the Torah that underlies covenant-dependent statutes contained in the Law of Moses, Paul wrote:
"Accordingly, the Torah functioned as a custodian until the Messiah came, so that we might be declared righteous on the ground of trusting and being faithful. But now that the time for this trusting faithfulness has come, we are no longer under a custodian." (Galatians 3:24-25)
Finally, Jeremiah prophesied that God would make a New Covenant based upon existing Torah:
"'Here the days are coming,' says Adonai, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Isra'el and with the house of Y'hudah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers on the day I took them by their hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt; because they, for their part, violated my covenant, even though I, for my part, was a husband to them,' says Adonai. For this is the covenant I will make with the house of Isra'el after those days,' says Adonai: 'I will put my Torah within them and write it on their hearts; I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will any of them teach his fellow community member or his brother, 'Know Adonai'; for all will know me, from the least of them to the greatest; because I will forgive their wickednesses and remember their sins no more.'" (Jeremiah 1:30-33[31-34])25,26.
Thus, not only does Torah pass into the New Covenant, it defines it, and without it there would be no New Covenant27.
22. R. Laird Harris, p. 404.
23. Francis Brown, p. 435-436
24. This includes New Covenant Scripture.
25. Quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12.
26. Here the CJB verse numbering is not standard; the majority Tanakh Hebrew verse numbering is Jer. 31:31-34.
27. "According to MJ 8:6&N, the New Covenant itself 'has been made Torah.'", David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary
THE LAW OF MESSIAH [Make a Comment]
In the Book of Galatians, Paul instructs us:
"Bear one another's burdens - in this way you will be fulfilling the Torah's true meaning, which the Messiah upholds." (Galatians 6:2).
Most English translations of this verse of Scripture employ the expression "the Law of Messiah",28 which is from where I derive the title of this book.29 Although this verse is the only occurrence of the term in Scripture, the Apostolic writings are replete with references to operative law in the New Covenant; for example:
"Dear Theophilos: In the first book, I wrote about everything Yeshua set out to do and teach, until the day when, after giving instructions through the Ruach HaKodesh to the emissaries whom he had chosen, he was taken up into heaven." (Acts 1:1-2)
"The way we can be sure we know him is if we are obeying his commands; anyone who says 'I know him,' but isn't obeying his commands is a liar." (1 John 2:3-4).
"For you know what instructions we gave you on the authority of the Lord Yeshua." (1 Thessalonians 4:2)
"For whenever Gentiles, who have no Torah, do naturally what the Torah requires, then these, even though they don't have the Torah, for themselves are Torah! For their lives show that the conduct the Torah dictates is written in their hearts." (Romans 2:14-15)
"For what the Torah could not do by itself, because it lacked the power to make the old nature cooperate, God did by sending his own Son as a human being with a nature like our own sinful one [but without sin]. God did this in order to deal with sin, and in doing so he executed the punishment against sin in human nature, so that the just requirement of the Torah might be fulfilled in us who do not run our lives according to what our old nature wants but according to what the Spirit wants." (Romans 8:3-4)
We have seen that there are two components of Law in the Tanakh that are eternal; they are (1) covenant-transcendent statutes, and (2) Torah (teaching) that is revealed through all Scripture. Since, by definition, covenant-dependent statutes vanish along with their vanishing covenant, it is the covenant-transcendent statutes, plus all Torah contained in the Tanakh, plus all law added by the New Covenant Scriptures, which form the "Law of Messiah" to which we are accountable today. Hence, the Law of Messiah is the New Covenant counterpart of the Law of Moses.
DIBEYR, TORAH AND MITZVOT [Make a Comment]
As used in this book, a "dibeyr" is an explicit commandment of God in Scripture - an imperative directive (usually a statute or ordinance of the Mosaic Law) which may be either covenant-dependent or transcendent. "Torah" can mean several things but, in the absence of the article "the" (e.g. "the Torah"), it most often means God's essential and eternal teaching or instruction. As used in this book, Torah underlies all of God's dibrot,30 and is revealed (explicitly or implicitly) by all Scripture - not just the Scriptures of the Pentateuch. A "Mitzvah" is an interpreted statement of God's will, derived from Scripture, and expressed in the form of a commandment. A Mosaic statute or ordinance does not become a mitzvah (as used herein) until it is interpreted and restated. NormalParagraphText There have been several attempts in history to codify God's Word into numbered mitzvot31. The earliest of these was Hilchot Gedolot, a work by Simon Kairo published sometime in the 8th century. By that time, a principle had already been established in the Talmud, that the total number of mitzvot in the Torah was Taryag (613)32; and of these, two hundred forty-eight (248) were positive (mitzvot aseh), and three hundred sixty-five (365) were negative (mitzvot lo ta'aseh)33.
Anyone who attempts to enumerate mitzvot in the Torah soon realizes that there are decisions to be made. What, for example, should one consider to be a mitzvah34? What level of departure from the plain meaning of the Biblical text is permissible? What level of inference is allowable? How does one count similar expressions of God's will that are stated differently at different places in the Scriptures? Do we count as two mitzvot, those that are expressed both in the positive and in the negative in different verses of Scripture, or do we count them as one? It is not surprising that those who have attempted this work have sometimes come to different conclusions.
28. Usually rendered "the law of Christ."
29. It is ironic that the CJB translation does not employ the term "law of Messiah" (the title of this book) in its rendering of Galatians 6:2
30. The plural of dibeyr.
31. The plural of mitzvah.
32. Shab. 87a
33. Mak. 23b
34. I. Brull, Jewish Encyclopedia, "Commandments, the 613", vol. 4, p. 181 (ed. Isidore Singer, New York: 1901-1906). Describes the opinions of early Jewish scholars over the selection of commandments that comprise the taryag.
MAIMONIDES AND YISRAEL MEIR HAKOHEN [Make a Comment]
To bring consensus, Judaism needed a scholar of such prestige that he could define 613 mitzvot that would be acceptable to a majority of the Jewish community. Such a scholar emerged in the person of Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides) who, sometime prior to 1170 c.e., wrote his compilation of Torah law in Arabic under the title Kitab Al-Fara'id (The Book of Divine Precepts). He subsequently revised his work and so, by the end of his life, there were two Arabic texts or versions of Kitab Al-Fara'id in existence. Unlike his predecessors, Maimonides was careful to follow defined principles (fourteen) to justify his conclusions. This made all the difference, and his work received almost universal acceptance35.
Three contemporaries of Maimonides translated his texts into Hebrew, and these translations became known as Sefer haMitzvot. Abraham ibn Chasdai made his translation from Maimonides' first version36. Maimonides' second text, translated into Hebrew by Solomon ibn Job of Granada and separately by Moses ibn Tibbon is, however, today considered the "standard Arabic text." More recently, Dr. Chaim Heller published a "corrected" Hebrew text in which he compared and reconciled Maimonides' Arabic texts with that of ibn Job, and an even more recent translation (Jerusalem Hebrew Text) was made by Rabbi Joseph Kapach.
As an academic achievement, Maimonides' enumeration of mitzvot was huge. However, it was too exhaustive to be a convenient tool in the post-Temple era, when many of the mitzvot dealing with sacrifices and the Levitical priesthood could no longer be performed.
Enter Rabbi Yisrael Meir haKohen37. In 1931, Rabbi Meir published Sefer haMitzvot haKatzar (The Concise Book of Mitvoth)38, in which he extracted from Maimonides' list, Two Hundred Ninety Seven (297) mitzvot - Seventy-seven (77) positive, One Hundred Ninety-four (194) negative, and Twenty-six (26) applicable only in the Land of Israel. Rabbi Meir intended his book to be a compilation of mitzvot that could be observed by Jews in the post-Temple era and, particularly in the Diaspora.
Besides listing fewer mitzvot than Maimonides, Rabbi Meir differs from him in other ways as well. To begin with, the two compilers number their mitzvot differently and present them in a different order. As a consequence, it is not always easy to determine which one of Meir's mitzvot corresponds to a given mitzvah of Maimonides. Second, while they usually agree on the Scriptures that define a given mitzvah, it is not always the case (nor is it the case with other commentators). It is also important to note that, while both Maimonides and Meir quote Hebrew Scripture as proof texts for their respective mitzvot, neither of their original writings give supportive chapter and verse numbers39,40 and their quotations are not always of the entire verses as they appear in modern Hebrew Bibles. Translators and editors of both their works added chapter and verse citations that did not appear in the originals41 and, in some cases, they quoted entire verses of Scripture where the original writings quoted only parts of verses42.
Finally, Maimonides and Meir do not always agree on the statement of the mitzvah that they extract from a given Scripture. For example, in response to Exodus 12:18, Maimonides' Positive Mitzvah #158 states that we are to eat unleavened bread on the evening of the 15th day of Nisan, while Meir's Positive Mitzvah #23 states that we are to eat unleavened bread on the evening of the 14th day of Nisan. Presumably, the interpretive difference is in whether "evening" is understood to be before or after sundown. Another example is presented by Deuteronomy 6:13. The Scripture itself states that we are to "fear the LORD your God and serve Him". That notwithstanding, Maimonides' Positive Mitzvah #5 interprets it as "worshipping" God, while Rabbi Meir's Positive Mitzvah #7 says it means to "pray" to God. Clearly, the ways the two compilers interpret Scripture and write their respective mitzvot reflect both their judgment and their theology.
35. Some critics remained, notably Moshe ben Nachman Gerondi (Nachmanides).
36. Sefer HaChinuch and Nachmanides' criticisms are based upon Maimonides' first version.
37. Known respectfully as "the Chafetz Chaim".
38. English adaptation and notes by Charles Wengrov, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem / New York, 1990.
39. For Maimonides, this may be confirmed (without consulting Kitab al Fara'id in Arabic) by consulting early copies of Sefer haMitzvot, all of which lack chapter and verse references.
40. For Meir, see Yisrael Meir haKohen, Sefer haMitzvot haKatzar (The Concise Book of Mitzvot), p. VIII, (Charles Wengrove, trans. & ed.; Jerusalem: Feldheim Publishers, 1990).
41. E.g. see Moshe ben Maimon, Sefer haMitzvot, vol. 1 of Rambam L'am, (Jerusalem: Mossad harav kook, 1957) and ibid. 1971 (both in Hebrew). The former contains chapter and verse references while the latter does not.
42. To see an example of this in English, compare Positive Mitzvah #1 appearing in Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides), The Commandments, (Charles B. Chavel, trans. & ed.; London: The Soncino Press, 1967) with Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides), Sefer HaMitzvot (The Book of Mitzvot), vols. 21 & 22 in the Mishneh Torah series, (Shraga Silverstein, trans.; New York: Moznai Publishing Corporation, 1993). The former contains the entire text of Exodus 20:2 while the latter contains only the few words of the verse quoted by Maimonides.
OTHER CLASSICAL ENUMERATIONS [Make a Comment]
Codifications written after Sefer haMitzvot have added to our overall understanding of God's commandments, but no other codifier ever attained the prestige and influence of Maimonides. As already stated, Yisrael Meir haKohen's work, Sefer haMitzvot haKatzar, was chosen here as a major comparison to Maimonides because he attempted to limit his list of commandments to those he deemed performable in the Twentieth Century. Although a complete listing and in-depth discussion of other law codifiers are beyond the scope of this book, several nevertheless deserve special mention:
Most other codifications of Jewish law such as the Shulchan Aruch and the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch combine Scriptural and rabbinical elements, and are therefore beyond the scope and purpose of this book.
43. A few differences exist between this list and Sefer haMitzvot, particularly in the Scriptures chosen as proof texts.
44. Alternatively, the Chumash, which consists of the Pentateuch and selections from the remainder of the Tanakh.
45. Aaron haLevi of Barcelona, Sefer haHinnuch, vols. 1-5, p.xiii, (Charles Wengrove, trans,. Jerusalem/New York: Feldheim Publishers, 1978-89).
NEED FOR A NEW COVENANT CODIFICATION [Make a Comment]
For Messianic Jews and Torah-adherent Gentile followers of Messiah Yeshua, neither Maimonides', nor Meir's, nor HaChinuch's works are a sufficient guide for daily conduct and for relating to God46. It is because these believers acknowledge the continuing priesthood of Yeshua, look to regular communication with the Ruach Hakodesh for personal guidance, including for applying Scripture47, and seek to be obedient to additional Torah contained in the Kitvey B'rit Chadasha (the New Testament Scriptures)48 - all part of a New Covenant between God and the Jewish people49. Jews who do not acknowledge New Covenant realities have no sacrifice for sin, no benefits of an interceding priesthood, and therefore their approach to God is necessarily more limiting. That notwithstanding, New Covenant believers (both Jews and Gentiles) have the same need as Rabbinical Jews for a handy compilation of Scripture-based mitzvot to assist them in their walk of obedience.
The challenge in writing this book was to provide such a tool - one that parallels the older works in form, but which adds additional Scriptures, and provides interpretation for New Covenant usage. Under-girding this attempt is my conviction, based in Scripture, that the Torah, which God gave to the ancient Israelites, is relevant today for both the Jew and the non-Jew, albeit sometimes differently for each:
"The same teaching is to apply equally to the citizen and to the foreigner living among you." (Exodus 12:49)50,51,
"For everything written in the past was written to teach us, so that with the encouragement of the Tanakh we might patiently hold on to our hope." (Romans 15:4)
"Being circumcised means nothing, and being uncircumcised means nothing; what does mean something is keeping God's commandments." (1 Corinthians 7:19)
"Accordingly, the Torah functioned as a custodian until the Messiah came, so that we might be declared righteous on the ground of trusting and being faithful." (Galatians 3:24)
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is valuable for teaching the truth, convicting of sin, correcting faults and training in right living; thus anyone who belongs to God may be fully equipped for every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
"For the Torah has in it a shadow of the good things to come, but not the actual manifestation of the originals. Therefore, it can never, by means of the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, bring to the goal those who approach the Holy Place to offer them." (Hebrews 10:1)
46. Rabbinical Jews do not believe that Yeshua is the Messiah.
47. Messianic Jews and Gentiles affiliated with them do not look to the Talmud for authoritative interpretation.
48. Rabbinical Jews do not consider these Apostolic Writings to be Scripture.
49. Rabbinical Jews do not acknowledge the existence of a New Covenant
50. This verse of Scripture is sometimes wrongly generalized to mean that all the commandments of Torah are applicable to Jews and Gentiles in the same way. This is a mistaken view because the context of this Scripture is of the sojourner who desired to eat the Pesach and this needed to be circumcised.
51. Even if one generalizes the verse from its narrow context of Pesach and circumcision, the CJB's choice of the word "teaching" rather then "law" suggests that there may be different applications for the Jew and the Gentile.
CONSIDERATIONS IN WRITING THIS BOOK [Make a Comment]
The matter of proper application of Scripture looms very large. I have approached this work prayerfully, and my interpretations are derived from my sincere attempt to receive the wisdom of God through the Ruach HaKodesh. I began with the mitzvot promulgated by Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen (the Chafetz Chaiyim) in his Sefer haMitzvoth haKatzar52, determined which mitzvot in Maimonides'53,54, and HaChinuch's55 compilations corresponded, and then compared each of them with the Scriptures they were intended to interpret. As a final step, I consulted a third translator of Maimonides56, as well as New Covenant Scriptures that appeared relevant. Differences in the chapter and verse citations among the various translated sources can be explained by the fact that the translators and editors - not Maimonides, Meir, or HaChinuch - placed them there57.
Not being bound by Talmudic authority, I did not attempt to arrive at Taryag (613) mitzvot and I did not follow Maimonides' practice of listing mitzvot in categories of positive and negative. Mitzvot that addressed the same or similar issues were combined, and I made independent judgments regarding their applications and preferred means of expression. All of this was done in collaboration with Dr. Daniel C. Juster whose occasional comments are included.
After merging the work of Meir and Maimonides and eliminating duplications, I reduced the resulting list by eliminating those mitzvot that I judged to be not literally observable in the New Covenant58. For example, Meir's Positive Mitzvah #52 (Deuteronomy 18:4) requires that we give the kohen (Levitical priest) the first wool of our sheep. With the Mosaic Covenant in the process of vanishing away or having already vanished (Hebrews 8:13)59, I conclude that there is no longer a reason to support the Levitical kohanim with such gifts60.
Although the New Covenant has rendered some of the Mosaic mitzvot literally unobservable, it also produced new ones, and changed how some of the Mosaic mitzvot are to be applied today. Consider, for example, Meir's Positive Mitzvah #38 (Leviticus 25:35-36; Deuteronomy 15:8), in which he states that we are to give charity to the poor in Jewry. This limited interpretation was justified under the Mosaic Covenant because the terms "brethren" and "brother" in Leviticus referred only to fellow Israelites and gerim. Under the New Covenant, however, our brethren include non-Jews of the faith grafted to Israel as well (Romans 11:16-19), and so I broaden the mitzvah to read: "We are to give charity to our poor brethren who dwell among us"61.
52. Yisrael Meir haKohen, Sefer haMitzvot haKatzar (The Concise Book of Mitzvot) (Charles Wengrove, trans. & ed.; Jerusalem: Feldheim Publishers, 1990).
53. Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides), The Commandments, (Charles B. Chavel, trans. & ed.; London: The Soncino Press, 1967).
54. Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides), Sefer HaMitzvot (The Book of Mitzvot), vols 21 & 22 in the Mishneh Torah series, (Shraga Silverstein, trans.; New York: Moznaim Publishing Corporation, 1993).
55. Aaron haLevi of Barcelona, Sefer haHinnuch, vols. 1-5, p. xiii, (Charles Wengrove, trans.; Jerusalem/New York: Feldheim Publishers, 1978-89).
56. Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides), Sefer haMitzvot, 10th ed.; vol. 1 in the Rambam L'am (Yosef Kapach, trans.; Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1990).
57. Although most Hebrew and English renderings of Sefer haMitzvot, Sefer haMitzvot haKatzar and Sefer haChinuch contain parenthetical chapter and verse citations, these were not in Maimonides
58. Even commandments which are no longer observable have teaching value for our lives (Galatians 3:24, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
59. The author believes that after Yeshua's death and prior to the 70 c.e. destruction, both the Mosaic and the New Covenant existed simultaneously, but that after the destruction, it is likely that the Mosaic Covenant, already in the process of vanishing away, finally came to an end. Even if the Mosaic Covenant has not yet fully vanished, the author's view is that we are to enthusiastically pursue where God is leading - not dwell on what He is ending.
60. There is a reference to what we understand to be a Millennial Temple in Ezekiel, that some think implies a future restoration of a functioning Levitical priesthood.
61. It is interesting to note that Maimonides'' Mitzvah #P195
ORGANIZATION AND REFERENCES [Make a Comment]
The organization of this book and the Scripture verses selected to support each mitzvah are not necessarily the same as those of either Maimonides or Meir and, similar to their respective works, no attempt is made to reference every confirming Scripture. Indeed, some mitzvot are included here that were not contemplated by Maimonides or Meir - e.g. mitzvot that are derived from parts of the Tanakh other than the Torah, and mitzvot derived from the Apostolic Writings. Also, I list some Scriptures merely because they are relied on by Maimonides or Meir, and not necessarily because I deem them critical for proving the mitzvah under discussion. Finally, when I quote Scripture, I quote entire verses even where Maimonides or Meir quote them only in part, and even when I am only relying on part of a verse to prove or support the mitzvah under discussion.
Maimonides, Meir and HaChinuch are the principal Torah codifiers referenced in this book. Each Torah-derived mitzvah that I list includes its Scripture proof texts as well as secondary references where pertinent. I also include comparative comments where I deem them appropriate.
There is a modern work, "The Mitzvot: The Commandments and their Rationale" by Abraham Chill62, that I rely on and that deserves special mention because, in addition to his own commentary, he includes extensive references to classical rabbinical literature. Mainly, the order of his mitzvot are the same as HaChinuch's - organized according to the Scripture order of the Tanakh - and, when more than one Scripture is cited, it is the first that governs the order; unfortunately, there are several occasions in which the order of Chill's mitzvot depart from this plan, but the reader is alerted where that happens. Chill's Scripture proof texts for the various mitzvot he lists are more numerous and diverse than those of either Maimonides or Meir, but his mitzvot are not easy to reference because they are not numbered.
There is another modern work "The 613 Mitzvot: A Contemporary Guide to the Commandments of Judaism" by Ronald L. Eisenberg63, that I recommend for its clarity of commentary, and its excellent indices that allow one to easily determine Maimonides' mitzvah number from its Scripture citation, and vice versa.
In addition to the rabbinical commentaries that focus on the mitzvot, there are others of a more general character, and there are also a growing number of Messianic Jewish commentaries such as "Jewish New Testament Commentary: A Companion Volume to the Jewish New Testament" by David H. Stern64.
I would be remiss if I did not mention that there are two organizations within Messianic Judaism that are developing and publishing principles of Messianic Jewish practice that speak to some of the same issues as do the mitzvot; these are (1) the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council, and (2) Tikkun International. Wherever relevant, I quote from these two sources.
The following list summarizes this book's overall approach and content:
Finally, I should like to say a word about usage. The writings of Meir, Maimonides, HaChinuch, and my writings as well, are attempts at interpretation, codification, explanation, and application of mitzvot that we believe we have found in the Scriptures. Although we did not write or compose (or intend to write or compose) any new commandments, this book follows the common usage of saying that XYZ "wrote" mitzvot, or of referring to one of our writings as "XYZ's mitzvah" when talking about our compilations and explanations. I follow this convention of usage both for the historical commentators as well as for myself within this book.
62. Abraham Chill, The Mitzvot: The Commandments and their Rationale, 2nd ed., (Jerusalem, Keter Publishing House, 2000).
63. Ronald L. Eisenberg, The 613 Mitzvot: A Contemporary Guide to the Commandments of Judaism, (Rockville, Maryland: Schreiber Publishing, 2005).
64. David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary.
CHOICE OF TRANSLATION [Make a Comment]
The mitzvot which are the subject of this book derive from the original biblical languages and not from any English or other translation. Nevertheless, because this book was written with the English speaker in mind, it was necessary that I select an English translation in which the Scriptures being discussed could be displayed. I chose to use David H. Stern's Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)65 because, more than any other, it brings out the Jewish background and nuances of the Scriptures, and this despite Dr. Stern himself stating:
"So the Tanakh you have in this book is something between a translation and a paraphrase; since it is partly one and partly the other, I refuse to define it as either and instead call it simply a "version". On the other hand, the books of the New Covenant are my translation from the original Greek."66
65. Stern, Complete Jewish Bible (CJB). The copyright of "The Complete Jewish Bible" and its translation are held by "Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc.", and may not be reproduced without its permission.
66. Stern, CJB, p. xiv.
COLLABORATION WITH DANIEL C. JUSTER [Make a Comment]
This book has been written in major collaboration with Dr. Daniel C. Juster. Dr. Juster is the shaliach of Tikkun International, an international network of Messianic Jewish congregations, and he is the author of numerous books and journal articles on Messianic Jewish theological and ministry subjects. In some cases, Dr. Juster's commentary is labeled as such but, in most cases, his and mine are integrated seamlessly. On the rare occasion where Dr. Juster and I could not come to agreement, his dissenting view is clearly expressed.
A WORK TO BUILD UPON [Make a Comment]
The uniqueness of this book is not so much in its commentary (although I have prayerfully sought God's wisdom while writing it), but in its utility as a handbook and a framework for others to build upon. I am aware that there are some who might criticize me for publishing my personal views and interpretations of God's commandments, preferring that a work such as this be undertaken by a plurality of scholars and with the authority of a community behind it. In my defense, I will only say that this work is no different than any other commentary on Scripture, most of which have been written by individuals. Indeed, Maimonides himself came under criticism for not citing Talmudic sources to support his application of rules for deciding which mitzvot to codify67, and for not disclosing the identity of the scholars that declared the rules68.
67. Nahum Rakover, ed., Maimonides as Codifier of Jewish Law, p. 26, in the Library of Jewish Law, (Jerusalem: The Jewish Legal Heritage Society, 1987).
68. Ibid., p. 39.
DEDICATION [Make a Comment]
I am greatly indebted to my wife Marie for her loving support of all my
endeavors, to my son Dr. David J. Rudolph, for his advice, encouragement, and
scholarly example, and to my long time mentor Dr. Daniel C. Juster, for his
collaboration and his many contributions to ensure biblical and cultural
Return to main index
Return to main index