Key principles – mitzvot

There are 613 mitzvot, which are Jewish rules or commandments. They cover many aspects of Jewish life, some in great detail. Jews agreed to follow these rules when they were given to Moses as part of the covenant at Mount Sinai. Following these laws is a core part of Jewish identity. The 613 mitzvot can be found in the Torah and they guide Jews on how to live a good life. Many Jews believe that disobeying the mitzvot will result in punishment.

A Torah scroll containing the mitzvot in a Jewish synagogue
curriculum-key-fact
Mizvot means ‘commandments’ (plural). Mitzvah means ‘commandment’ (singular).

Types of mitzvot

One way of thinking of the mitzvot is as ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ rules:

  • There are 248 positive mitzvot, which explain what Jews should do. These rules are known as mitzvot aseh.
  • There are 365 negative mitzvot, which explain what Jews should not do. These rules are known as mitzvot lo ta’aseh.
Depiction of the positive and negative mitzvot.

Constant mitzvot

There are also six constant mitzvot. These are rules or laws that should always be in the minds of Jews:

  • Know there is a God.
  • Do not believe in other gods.
  • Know that God is one.
  • Love God.
  • Fear God.
  • Do not be misled by your desires - although it might be hard at times to obey all of God’s commands, stay focused.

Chukim and mishpatim

Mitzvot may also be categorised as:

  • chukim - mitzvot that humans cannot understand, for example many of the kashrut food laws
  • mishpatim - mitzvot that humans can understand, for example mitzvot from the Ten Commandments such as ‘do not commit murder’

Reform Jews may prioritise keeping the mishpatim mitzvot over the chukim mitzvot. Orthodox Jews are likely to see the chukim mitzvot as equally important to the mishpatim mitzvot. For them, God gave the commandment so it should be followed.

Question

Why do Jews believe it is important to follow the mitzvot?

Jews believe that Moses received the mitzvot from God. Therefore, following the mitzvot will help them to live a good life as God would want.