Having dinner with some Christian friends, they asked us about our faith. As many of you know, we just follow the Tanakh (Old Testament). So, they postured the question “Isn’t it a burden to follow all the 613 Laws?” My wife, Danielle, and I knew where they were coming from. As previous Christians, we were well aware of Acts 15:10 where it says “The law is an unbearable yoke” and Romans 6:14 that states “Christians are not under the law” (actually the New Testament has over 37 verses that talk against God’s laws1). Welcoming the discussion, we spoke about how the law was not a burden and that the 613 mitzvot (Commandments) needed to be broken down further to understand their impact in how it relates to us. Since many of you deal with this question, I thought I would offer my answer here.
Some might ask what does the 613 mitzvot mean? Firstly, a mitzvot can mean either command or law2. As for 613, these are the number of commandments issued by God in the Torah. The number of laws being 613 was established by Rabbi Simlai in the 3rd century in a sermon (Makkot 23b)3. Sadly, the Rabbi never listed them. So over the years many attempted to create lists, but it took about 8 centuries after Rabbi Similai’s sermon for Maimonides to create the generally accepted list. Jewish people hold that there are 613 commandments, but I advise anyone to review Maimonides list. You might find many laws duplicated and some that could be considered a stretch. That being said, Maimonides does give us a great start point.
About 40% of the laws have to do with Temple sacrifice and other ordinances that cannot be done in our current day, we are only able to do about 3964 of the laws. This list becomes pared down even further since some are exclusively for Jews, some are for Priests, others relate only to Kings, others for lepers. Others deal only with men, while other are only for women. These are commands dealing with things like pregnancy and circumcision. So now we get down to the basic laws. I jotted down my findings of what’s left from the list of 6135. After each topic I wrote down the amount of related laws:
Ethics and Morality
Business Practices 14
Fair treatment of Employees 6
Human Animal Treatment 1
Honoring a Vow 7
Honoring God 10
Sabbath and Holidays 17
Court and Judicial Procedure 36
Injuries and Damages 4
Property and Property Rights 11
Criminal Laws 7
Punishment and Restitution 24
Agriculture and Animal Husbandry 7
Helping the Poor and Unfortunate 13
When you review these remaining tenants, you are simply left with methods for living a good life. Being ethical in business, helping the poor, honoring your family and treating animals humanly, it doesn’t make sense that anyone should be bothered by being yoked by this. Additionally, the laws covered under religion are the basic tenants of most synagogues and churches. As for the commands covered under civil law, we already are under these same laws as American citizens.
It is possible that the sticking point for some is not this long list. We all follow rules everyday whether at work, at school in the home or on the highway. If we listed them all out, it could appear burdensome, but most of us understand why they are there. I offer that the true point of contention, for some, is just a few laws:
Tattoos Leviticus 19:28
Eating Clean Leviticus 11
As we know, compromising the legitimacy of one of God’s laws is tantamount to eliminating all of God’s laws. Not to mention, the New Testament supports at least one of these three rulings (1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10, Romans 1:26-27).
One of the strongest selling points of Christianity is that they are not burden by the laws. On the surface this is very appealing. Yet, is anyone taking time out to determine what this burden truly is? If this list of laws is a grouping of concepts for us all to live by to create a better society, this is not such a bad thing. Christianity also stresses the impossibility of following these laws, thus their messiah. Nonetheless, God has already made provisions in the event we ever fail following His law;
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
- “37 Scriptures That Prove Christians Are Not Under The Law.” PhilDrysdalecom. N.p., 11 Oct. 2013. Web. 14 Aug. 2016.
- Freeman, Tzvi. “What Is a Mitzvah? – The State of Being Connected.” – Chabad.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Aug. 2016.
- Israel Drazi (2009). Maimonides and the Biblical Prophets. Gefen Publishing House Ltd. p. 209.
- Danzinger, Eliezer, Rabbi. “How Many of the Torah’s Commandments Still Apply?” – Questions & Answers. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 2016.
- “Judaism 101: A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments).” Judaism 101: A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments). N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 2016.