27 May 2017 | Judaism began in a world full of gods. Judaism was the first religion to accept monotheism – the idea that there is one God in heaven and earth. Judaism sees God all-powerful, all-knowing, unique, bodiless, indivisible, and existing everywhere in the universe. God creates our world, reveals how we should live, and redeems us from physical and spiritual bondage.
Jews do mitzvot, and in return God commits to taking care of the Jews. Mitzvot is the pulral of mitzvah which is a commandment given to Jews by God. Sometimes Jews use the word “mitzvah” to refer to any good deed.
“Do one mitzvah leads to doing another mitzvah.” – Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 4:2
The Israelites accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai, creating a Covenant with God Jews follow to this day. The Ten Commandments, as contained in Exodus, are:
- I am Adonai your God who brought you from the land of Egypt, from the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods except for Me.
- You shall not make for yourself a sculpted image of Me or anything else that is in the heavens above or under the earth, or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow to them or worship them, because I, Adonai your God, am a jealous God, placing the guilt of parents on the children, the grandchildren, and the greate-grandchildren of those who reject Me. However, I will act kindly to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments.
- You shall not swear falsely by the name of Adonai your God, because Adonai will not absolve anyone who swears falsely by God’s name.
- Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. You shall work six days and you shall do all your tasks during them, but the seventh days is a Sabbath for Adonai your God. You shall not do any work – you, your sons and daughters, your males or female servants, your cattle or the strangers who are among you – because for six days Adonai made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, and on the seventh day God rested, blessed the story the seventh day, and made it holy.
- Honor your father and your mother in order that you live for many days on the land that Adonai your God is giving to you.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not swear falsely against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet the house of your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servants, oxen or donkeys, or anything else your neighbor has.
There are not just 10 commandments, but 613, ranging from great ethical requirements to the smallest minutia of living. A positive mitzvah is a commandment by which you must do a required action. There are 248 positive mitzvot, representing one for each bone of the human body as believed at the time they were counted. A negative mitzvah is a commandment by which you must refrain from doing an action. There are 365 negative mitzvot, one for each of the days of the year.
Together, the mitzvot are called the halachah, which means “the way” or “the path.” Halachah is the general term to describe the obligations of a Jew, and how each of us behaves to fulfill the Covenant with God.
The rabbis and sages didn’t always agree with each other about what was halachah, or what each mitzvah required. They discussed and debated their opinions in communities around the world at different times, somewhat like an academic debate today. They adopted some rules to determine what was the correct understanding of the sacred text. Certainly, those rabbis and sages who proposed the more logical and elegant positions were considered more authoritative. The rabbis and sages who gained a higher position in the Rabbinic Court or who headed a more respected school were given higher regard. The rabbis and sages who lived in the earlier time periods generally were considered more convincing because they lived closer to Sinai. The majority opinion on a mitzvah usaully outweighted a minority opinion.
Many of the disagreements among the rabbis and sages were preserved in the texts. This showed respect for a differing opinion and teacher even if that opinion was outvoted. The system also recognized it might turn out that the majority was wrong on the issue, or the circumstances of Jewish life might change. They therefore deemed preserving the minority opinions very important.