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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Precepts, the Six Hundred and Thirteen
or תריג מצות . In the preface to his Jad Hachezaka (fol. 2, Colossians 2), Moses Maimonides (q.v.) writes thus: "The number of the precepts of the law is 613, of which there are 248 affirmative precepts, or precepts of commission, מצות עשה, corresponding to the 248 members of the human body, and 365 negative precepts, or precepts of omission, מצות לא תעשה, corresponding to the number of days of the solar year." The rabbins assert that the multiplicity of precepts which God has given to the nation of Israel in preference to all others is a sign of his predilection for them, for, says rabbi Chanania ben-Akashiah, "The Holy One (blessed be he!) has been pleased to render Israel meritorious; therefore he multiplied to them the law and the commandments, as it is said, "The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honorable" (Isaiah 42:21). If we may believe Jewish notions, we also learn that the patriarchs already fulfilled the 613 precepts. The Jewish commentator Rashi (q.v.) thus comments very gravely on Genesis 32:5 : לבן גרתי עם, ‘ I have sojourned with Laball' the word גרתי, to the Gematria [comp. the art. (See CABALA), vol. 2, p. 4], amounts to 613 (i.e. י =10, ת = -400, ר =-200, = ג 3, or 10+400+200+3= 613), by which he (i.e. Jacob) wished to communicate (to his brother Esau), ‘ It is true I have sojourned with the wicked Laban, but still I observed the 613 precepts, and I have not been infected with his evil deeds;' or, as the original reads, תריג כלומר עם חרעים לבן הרשע גרתי ותריג מצות שמרתי וכא למרתי גרתי בגי ממעשיו ;" the same is the remark of Baal Haturim, ad loc. Strictly orthodox Jews make their children commit to memory all the 613 precepts, as they consider a thorough knowledge of them to be a key to the oral law, though the majority of them are unintelligible to a child. Rabbi Gedaliah, of Amsterdam, published a catalogue of them in 1745, which he designated תורת קטן, Toerath Katon, or The Lawin Miniature. He says in his preface, "Which children are to learn in their infancy, to know them off by heart; which will be a great introduction for them to learn the oral law; and also that what they have learned in their youthful days they may remember in their old age; that they may know to do them, and live by them in this world and in the world to come." The arrangement of these precepts is different. Some, as Maimonides, arrange them according to the matter, and the same has been followed by Jon Eybenschü tz, who put them in verse (Prague, 1765). Another is that by Gedaliah, of Amsterdam, who gives them according to the order of the Pentateuch, which is by far more preferable. As it would be tedious and fruitless to enumerate them, we will refer the reader who may feel interested to Jost, Geschichte d. juden u. s. Sekten, 1, 451 sq.; Bodenschatz, Kirchliche Verfassung der heuiten Juden (Erlangen, 1748), 4:181 sq. (where the Helrew is also given); Margoliouth, Modern Judaism Investigated (Lond. 1843), p. 115 sq.; and The tome and the Synagogue of the Modern Jew (ibid. 1843), p. 202 sq. (B. P.)
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Precepts, the Six Hundred and Thirteen'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/p/precepts-the-six-hundred-and-thirteen.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.