This article is about commandments in Judaism. For the Jewish rite of passage, see Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah
Mitzvah (Hebrew: מצוה, ˈmɪtsvə, "commandment"; plural, mitzvos or mitzvot; from צוה, tzavah, "command") is a word used in Judaism to refer to the 613 commandments given in the Torah and the seven rabbinic commandments instituted later for a total of 620. The term can also refer to the fulfilment of a mitzvah.
The term mitzvah has also come to express any act of human kindness, such as the burial of the body of an unknown person. According to the teachings of Judaism, all moral laws are, or are derived from, divine commandments.
The opinions of the Talmudic rabbis are divided between those who seek the purpose of the mitzvot and those who do not question them. The former argue that if the reason for each mitzvah could be determined, people might try to achieve what they see as the purpose of the mitzvah, without actually performing the mitzvah itself.
Three of the negative commandment fall under the category of Yeihareig ve'al ya'avor, meaning "one should [let himself] be killed rather than transgress the prohibition."
The number 613 can also be obtained by gematria (a traditional method of number substitution). The gematria value for the word "Torah" is 611, which corresponds to the number of commandments given via Moses, with the remaining two being identified as the first two of the Ten Commandments, which tradition holds were the only ones given by the Mouth of God Himself.
According to Rabbi Ishmael only the principal commandments of these 613 were given on Mount Sinai, the remainder having been given in the Tent of Meeting. Rabbi Akiba, on the other hand, was of the opinion that they were all given on Mount Sinai, repeated in the Tent of Meeting, and declared a third time by Moses before his death. According to the Midrash, all divine commandments were given on Mount Sinai, and no prophet could add any new one (Midrash Sifra to Leviticus 27:34; Talmud, Yoma 80a).
These seven rabbinical commandments are treated like Biblical commandments insofar as, prior to the performance of each, a benediction is recited, i.e.:
The divine command is considered implied in the general law to follow any instructions of the religious authorities (Deuteronomy 17:11, and 32:7; Shab. 23a). In addition, many of the specific details of the Biblical mitzvot are only derived via rabbinical application of the Oral Torah; for example, the reading of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-7), the binding of the tefillin and the fixing of the mezuzah (Deuteronomy 8-9), and the saying of Grace After Meals (Deuteronomy 8:10).
In Biblical criticism, not universally accepted throughout the Jewish world, these codes are studied separately, particularly concerning the features unique, or first appearing, in each. Many of the mitzvot enumerated as being from one or other of these codes are also present in others, sometimes phrased in a different manner, or with additional clauses. Also, themes, such as idolatry, sexual behaviour, ritual cleanliness, and offerings of sacrifice, are shared among all six codes, and thus, in more religiously motivated theological studies, it is often the case that the mitzvot are organised instead by theme, rather than the location in which they are found within the bible.
The system describing the practical application of the commandments is known as Halakha, loosely Jewish Law. The Halakha is the development of the Mitzvot as contained in the written law, via discussion and debate in the Oral law, as recorded in the rabbinic literature of the classical era, especially the Mishnah and the Talmud.
The Halakha dictates and influences a wide variety of behavior of traditionalist Jews
Many of these laws concern only special classes of people, such as kings or the priesthood, Levites, or Nazarites, or are conditioned by local or temporary circumstances of the Jewish nation, as, for instance, the agricultural, sacrificial, and Levitical laws.
The majority view of classical rabbis was that the commandments will still be applicable and in force during the messianic era. However, a significant minority of rabbis held that most of the commandments will be nullified by, or in, the messianic era. Examples of such rabbinic views include:
There is no authoritative answer accepted within Judaism as to which mitzvot, if any, would be annulled in the messianic era. This is a subject of academic debate and, not being viewed as an immediately practical question, is usually passed over in favor of answering questions of the practical halachah.