Crafting the 613 Commandments: Maimonides on the Enumeration, Classification, and Formulation of the Scriptural Commandments

Crafting the 613 Commandments: Maimonides on the Enumeration, Classification, and Formulation of the Scriptural Commandments

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Albert D. Friedberg

ISBN: 9781618111678 (hardcover) / 9781618113870 (paper)
Pages: 400 pp.
Publication Date: February 2014

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Rabbinic tradition has it that 613 commandments were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, but it does not specify those included in the enumeration. Maimonides methodically and artfully crafts a list of 613 commandments in a work that serves as a prolegemenon to the Mishneh Torah, his monumental code of law. This book explores the surprising way Maimonides put this tradition to use and his possible rationale for using such a tradition. It also explores many of the philosophical and ethical ideas animating the composition of such a list. In the book's second half, Friedberg examines the manner by which Maimonides formulated positive commandments in the Mishneh Torah, leading him to suggest new dimensions in Maimonides' legal theory.

Albert D. Friedberg (PhD University of Toronto) is a scholar of medieval Jewish literature and philosophy and early rabbinic literature. His published articles include “A New Clue in the Dating of the Composition of the Book of Esther,” and “Maimonides’ Reinterpretation of the Thirteenth Article of Faith: Another Look at his Essay on Resurrection.”

With citation index, extensive bibliography, and informative notes, this book is an invaluable discussion of the objectives and motivations behind Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah. It provides an important contribution to the study of Jewish legal theory.
— Randall C. Belinfante, American Sephardi Federation, AJL Reviews
Albert Friedberg’s exceptionally learned investigation of Maimonides’ Book of Commandments fills a glaring lacuna in the overcrowded field of Maimonidean studies. There is no comparable scholarly study I know of that offers such a comprehensive and deep analysis of Maimonides’ method, structure, and aims in enumerating the scriptural commandments, the proverbial “six hundred and thirteen”, so essential to understanding normative Judaism. Friedberg offers a refreshing and radical analysis that demonstrates philosophy as the driving force behind Maimonides’ halakhic project posing a formidable argument for the symbiosis between his legal and philosophical thought that is so often mistakenly bifurcated. As such Friedberg’s conclusions impact on the entire range of Maimonides’ intellectual oeuvre. From here on in scholarship undertaken on any aspect of Maimonides’ thought, be it metaphysics, jurisprudence, politics, rabbinics, or scriptural exegesis would be sorely deficient without consulting this work.
— Professor James A. Diamond, Joseph & Wolf Lebovic Chair, Jewish Studies, University of Waterloo
Maimonides’ Book of Commandments is often ignored, treated as nothing more than a prolegomenon to the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides’ epochal code of Jewish Law. This is actually surprising, given the close attention paid to the work by none other than Nahmanides. In Crafting the 613 Commandments: Maimonides on the Enumeration, Classification, and Formulation of the Scriptural Commandments, Albert Friedberg rectifies this want of scholarly attention in a work which is both incredibly detailed and impressively wide-ranging. For students of Jewish Thought, perhaps the most important of the many insights to be found in this imposing work of scholarship is that Maimonides was not actually attached to a specific commandment count and that, indeed, his whole project was “financed,” as it were, by his need to include the first two positive commandments (concerning God’s existence and unity) in any tally of Jewish law. In other words, even the Book of Commandments, despite its technical character (a character brilliantly analyzed by Friedberg), subserves Maimonides’ aim of exposing the fundamentally philosophical nature of Judaism.
— Professor Menachem Kellner, Chair, Dept of Philosophy and Jewish Thought, Shalem College, Jerusalem
Friedberg’s thesis is original and groundbreaking. . . . Students of Maimonides will find the book very worthwhile.
— H. Norman Strickman, Touro College, author of Without Red Strings or Holy Water: Maimonides' Mishneh Torah
Crafting the 613 Commandments is an extraordinary and seminal work that is a critically important and highly recommended contribution to academic library Judaic Studies reference collection and supplemental reading lists.
— The Midwest Book Review (June 2014)

Table of Contents

Important Definitions and Concepts
Typology of Mitsvot
Logically Inconclusive Individuations
Innovative Commandments
Revisiting the Term Mitsvat ‘Aseh
Peshateh Di-Qera
The Participial Form and Other Peculiarities
When Mitsvah Stands Alone
Summary and Conclusion