Mitzvot

There are 613 mitzvot, which are Jewish rules or commandments. They cover many issues, including instructions about food, punishments and how God should be worshipped.

Jews agreed to follow these rules when they were given to Moses as part of the covenant. Following these laws is a core part of Jewish identity for many Jews.

The mitzvot can be read as a continuous list in theMishneh Torah, written by Moses Maimonides. Maimonides was a Jewish philosopher who contributed to Jewish understanding and interpretation of the Torah.

Types of mitzvot

Depiction of the positive and negative 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 ta’aseh.

Alternatively, the mitzvot can be divided up according to their purpose:

  • Ritual mitzvot explain what Jews should or should not do to avoid offending God and cover areas such as worship and festivals. These mitzvot form a personal covenant between a Jewish person and God. The first four of the Ten Commandmentsare the most important of the ritual mitzvot.
  • Moral mitzvot explain how Jews should act when dealing with other people. They help Jews to live as a community in a way that God finds acceptable. The Ten Commandments are important mitzvot as they are the basis for moral behaviour. Some laws are judgements from God, for example "you shall not steal". These are known as mishpatim.

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 personal desires - although it might be hard at times to obey all of God’s commands, stay focused

Following the mitzvot

The mitzvot are seen as points of guidance to help Jewish people use their free will correctly. Jews believe that they have free will to follow the mitzvot. They believe that, by following the mitzvot, they will live a good life, meaning that they will be closer to God. Some Jews believe this will also help them to be judged well in the afterlife and achieve a place in Gan Eden.

The story of Adam and Eve shows how God gave free will but also that there are negative consequences if that free will is used to go against God.

Orthodox Jews obey the mitzvot strictly. However, some laws cannot be obeyed as they refer to the Temple, which no longer exists.

Question

What is a constant mitzvot?

Commandments that must always be in the minds of Jews.