Should we force exactly 613 commandments?

Dec 18, 2009 at 4:23 PM
Edited Dec 18, 2009 at 4:34 PM

There are a number of commandments which Maimonides interprets rather dubiously. For example, in Deut 13:8:

Do not yield to [the idolator] or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him.

Maimonides' pulls 5 commandments from the above verse:

  1. No loving the idolator.
  2. Not to cease from hating the idolator.
  3. No saving the idolator.
  4. Not to speak anything in defense of the idolator.
  5. Not to refraim from incriminating the idolator.

IMO, this is a stretch: there's nothing in the text or the context that suggest criminal defense. And the not to sound like a touchy-feely Christian, but the word "hate" doesn't appear here. If I were to interpret this verse, I'd say, "Don't listen to the idolator, don't pity him, don't spare him, don't shield him".

Here's another example, Lev. 19:17:

Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt.

Maimonides pulls 3 commandments from these 2 sentences:

  1. Do not hate fellow Jews.
  2. Rebuke the sinner.
  3. Don't embarrass others.

I don't mean to dismiss the great wisdom of Maimonides, but at the same time, a study of the text and the context doesn't jive with some of Maimonides' interpretations. In this case, the text and the context don't suggest anything about embarrassment. And his applying these 3 interpretations to different groups (Jews, sinners, others) is also questionable.

Sometimes I want to add a property to some of Maimonides' interpretaions: .PulledOutOfRearEnd = true;-)

When we come across Maimonides dubious interpretations (like "Don't embarrass others" from Lev. 19:17), I'm wondering if we should either add some property to indicate it is a questionable interpretation, or omit the commandment altogether.

On the other hand, it would be nice to retain that sexy 613 number. 


Dec 22, 2009 at 4:30 AM

I think it would be best to add a property to indicate a questionable interpretation, and also probably a visual indication (e.g. a yellow border, italic summary, or similar).

I don't think we want to be in the position of generating our own list of commandments, precisely, but only restating the existing traditions -- despite their obvious flaws. At any rate, that's the impression I got at the beginning.

Dec 22, 2009 at 3:26 PM

Yeah, you're right. If we do anything, we ought to keep the existing commandment -- for sake of respecting existing traditions, and also for ease of figuring out the next commandments to map. Perhaps we'll add some extra data to it to indicate a contested interpretation. I'll have a look at doing that the next batch of commandments I map.