Maimonides or Rambam is one of the most influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages and codified the “613 commandments’ in his Misneh Torah which is considered by most to be a significant canonical authority in Talmudic law. Although many of his interpretations commandments are followed by Jew and Christian alike there are a few which Jesus directly countermanded.
Specifically these are the commandments to hate and destroy. While some of these were specifically to the people of Israel as they entered the land, some are expressed as a commandment forever. Deuteronomy 20:16& 17 and Deuteronomy 25:17-19 are commands to wipe out the Canaanites and the Amalek. Deuteronomy 25:19 says” ..”you must destroy the Amalekites and erase their memory for under heaven”. By Rambam’s caculations this accounts for 5 commandments.
I cannot imagine having to live under such hateful commands, but fortunately Jesus addressed these specifically in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:44-48 commands us to love our enemies and to pray for them. In fact, it states that in loving our enemies we show by our actions that we are truly the children of God. Romans 13:10 states that “love does no wrong to others, so love fufills the requirements of God’s law. Proverbs states: “If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If they are thirsty give them water to drink”.
This causes a sticky problem in that God does not change. However, the Lord is one God therefore Jesus’ teaching must be taken as authoritative. In spite of this anomaly, I think we can safely assume that Maimonides, writing thousands of years after the crucifixion and resurrection may have missed the mark by calling these commands permanent. I believe these were given only to the Israelites as they entered the land.
I have noticed lately the tendency in Messianic congregations to call their leaders Rabbi. Some of these leaders are not only untrained rabbinically, but they are not trained by any seminary. The response I get when I point this out if that the Hebrew word means teacher. By that standard you should all be calling me Rabbi. I at least have a degree to teach. But I digress.
The creation fo a “Rabbi” began at least 73 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus when the formulation of Rabbinic law was codified. As opposed to Levitical priests the Rabbi was a person trained like a lawyer to make decisions on application of the law among the people.
Here’s the problem to everyone except Messianics; a Rabbi is someone who has been trained in Halacha of Jewish law. They may or may not be a congregational leader. You only need to web search to see this is how most Jewish people view the practice. If Messianic congregations are at all interested in outreach to actual Jews calling your pastor a Rabbi is deceptive. When you call him Rabbi, to a Jew that’s just a lie.
In my quest to study and make sense of the 613 commandments, there are few as confounding as the question of beards. More specifically trimming of beards, the exact wording generally translated “not to harm the edges of your beard”. Most commandments are easy to categorize and apply or disallow for modern life, but I’m on the fence with this one.
One only needs to look around your local congregations to see that few judeo-christian people in America take this prohibition to heart, so why is it there? Context is king in this case. The people of Israel where to be very meticulous in avoidance of anything pagan. In this case, the surrounding people made it a habit to shave their hair and beards into distinctive shapes to honor their gods. For example, they would shave their hair so that it would resemble sun rays around their face or make their beards square.
So why am I on the fence? This scripture is an immediate neighbor to the prohibitons to cutting yourself for the dead, and tatooing. Both cutting and tatooing were pagan practices of the Canaanites. I believe our bodies are to be dedicated to the Lord, so cutting or tatooing seem in direct violation. So how can I recommend avoiding tatoos and cutting while in the same breath say it is okay to shave your beard? It is partially personal: I don’t like beards. Obviously that is not a good enough defense.
A better defense is to point out that our current society has few pagan religions that use shaved heads as a defining charcteristic. The only example that comes to mind is members of Hare Krishna who shave all of their hair except for a small tuft at the top of their head.
So I say cut your hair and shave your beard, just not in that pattern. If you want to have a beard that’s okay too. At any rate, it is no longer the common custom in either Christian or Jewish circles.
I suspect I am re-evaluating work done by some other historic saint, but it is quite eye-opening to evaluate the 613 and attempt to organize them into general concepts. I know there is a whole series of books on the thoughts of the Rabbis on the mitzvot. As a Christian and a Jew in our modern world, I have to make sense of them for myself. I am only about a third of the way through. It is more than a days work and some mitzvot have given me sufficient pause to qualify for their own blog.
That said there are some general categories that take care of large groups of the law. It’s no surprise that my own grouping matches up with that of the writer’s of the Talmud. The surprise is that the majority of Christian actually follow the law, despite the frequent statements to the contrary.
Following the numerical listing provided on-line by Chabad, I found these general categories:
1-12 are about Loving God
13-21 expound on how we are to treat others
22-23 have to do with studying and teaching the scriptures (Torah)
24-55 delineate all the ways idolatry, false prophets, and the occult can creep into our lives and how to keep them out
56-67 go on to caution us to avoid idolaters and those who practice the occult (people give up those horoscopes!)
139-161 are about sexual immorality and align with the thinking of most Christians.
136-138 and 169-175 have to do with the priesthood and sacrifices that cannot be kept at this time because the Temple was destroyed.
So there we have not just 10, but 105 that are commonly considered ideal to Jews and Christians alike.
I have been feeling a bit guilty about ignoring my posts for the last month. Life finds a way to distract. In the face of the monumental events of the past month in South Carolina and in our nation at large, it is difficult to know where to begin.
Life is more than a blog and there is much to think about. My personal issues of where to live and where to work are puny first world problems. Any yet, our lives are actually lived in these moments of self-awareness. So I open my heart to the possibility or change, as well as, the possibility of sameness because either way the sun rises and sets in it’s glory which we should take time to absorb.
My unscientific counts of commandments pertaining to the Temple, the priests, and sacrifices was a whopping 176. Then there’s 4 about the King….which we don’t have. Okay not such a whopping number, but that brings us to 429. There about 25 about the courts or judges which are not for the individual: down to 404. Still a bunch!
So I did some research. In my internet travels I discovered Cahfetz Chayim.
According to Chaftez Chayim, there are 77 positive and 194 negative commandments that can be observed today, of which there are 26 commands that only apply to those within the Land of Israel.
So of the remainder which ones are still problematic in our modern world? I still have have a few. One is not to cross breed species (No mules for you!) The there’s the whole not neutering your male animals which gives me visions of cat hoards! Then there’s not planting the seeds of more than one plant together and not marrying a non-jew. Most mystifying is destroying of the decendants of Amalek not that I would know who they are……
As a part of my move away from Messianic Jewish congregations I have finally taken a closer look at the 613 commandments. I have always said that you cannot take just 10 and call it good, but there are some very hard laws in those 613. Some just don’t make sense in the modern world. Others just seem heartless.
I’m still working on what my position should be in relation to the law, but I can’t imagine advocating for some of these commandments. Let’s start with Deuteronomy 21:18-22 where the parents are told to take their stubborn and rebellious son to the elders where he is stoned to death by all the men of the city. Granted teenagers can really be a pain, but I don’t know any sane person that would go for the death penalty even for those who are “drunkards and gluttons”.
How about breaking the sabbath? I’m all for the Sabbath day of rest, but Exodus 32:5 says anyone who works on the Sabbath shall be put to death. So before you go grab a bite at the local restaurant after service, pick up some rocks. You decide if you’re going to kill the workers before or after dinner. By the way, did I see you working in the congregational store last Saturday?
Here’s one for you gardeners: when you plant a tree the fruit is forbidden for three years. (Lev 19:23). I wonder if that applies to tomatoes? I guess that’s not a tree. There’s also the one about not planting more than one crop in a field. I suppose my raised bed is not a field, but still confusing!
In spite of these obvious problems, the majority of the commandments seem moral and wise. I like the idea that we should continue to use the commandments as guidelines. However, I have to ask myself, who am I to pick and choose? And if I choose some commands and not others what is my justification?