How many different individuals listed the 613 Mitzvot? Who was the first, and who was the most recent?

  • 7
    @robev - this is your specialty
    – Dov
    Jan 17, 2022 at 21:02
  • 1
    Do we count all the Azharot?
    – Double AA
    Jan 17, 2022 at 21:07

1 Answer 1


Section 1 – The first to count the Taryag

1) Bahag – Ba’al Halachos Gedolos (identity disputed, 8th century Babylonia)

Life: Most1 say Halachos Gedolos was written by Rav Shimon Kaira in the year 741 CE. Others2 say it was written by Rav Yehudai Gaon3. Both lived in the 8th century.

Style: His list is really just an introduction to a work on halacha. He lists all of his mitzvos by name, originally without any punctuation. The names are usually just a quotation of the verse they’re from. As such, it’s hard to determine when one mitzvah starts and when one stops. He doesn’t number them, and one could easily find a different number other than 613 mitzvos in his list. As such, later authorities struggled to divide up his list into 613. They often had to emend the text, or interpret one mitzvah to be really multiple in one, or the vice versa.

Unique Characteristics: Besides being the first to enumerate the mitzvos, he doesn’t hesitate including DeRabbanans in the list. He divides the mitzvos into 7 categories, instead of the better-known division of 248 positive and 365 negative mitzvos. Instead he lists 71 “Onshim” (ordered from most severe to least severe), 277 negative mitzvos for the individual, 200 positive mitzvos for the individual, and 65 “Parshiyos”. This latter category is a mix of 48 positive and 17 negative mitzvos, understood to be incumbent upon the community instead of the individual.

Section 2 – The Azharos (Taryag composed into a poem)

2) Rav Sa’adiah Gaon (c. 892 – 942 CE, Babylonia)

Life: He became the Gaon, or Rosh Yeshiva, of the Yeshiva in Sura, Babylonia, at the age of 36. He wrote a translation of the Torah into Arabic. His most famous work is most likely Emunos V’Deos, a philosophical work originally written in Arabic.

Unique Characteristics: He wrote two piyutim: one according to the division of the Bahag (although with a different order), and one organizing the mitzvos according the Ten Commandments. This latter piyut is referenced by Rashi4. The two versions differ in the exact listing of the Taryag. Both are featured in Rav Sa’adiah Gaon’s Siddur. He doesn’t list dozens of mitzvos which everyone else counted (for example: Bal Tosif and Bal Tigra5, Ahavas Hashem, Kiddush Hashem6).

3) Ata Hinchalta (identity disputed)

Life: Some7 say this piyut was written by Rav Eliyahu HaZaken (see below). Others8 say it was written by Rabbeinu Shimon HaGadol (c. 950 – 1020 CE, France). Others9 even date this work to the times of Rav Sa’adiah Gaon, or even earlier.

Style: A poem written as an alphabetical acrostic, sometimes going forwards, sometimes backwards. There isn’t a clear order to the mitzvos, and the main commentary on it expresses an inability to discern the order.

4) Rav Eliyahu HaZaken (c. 980 – 1060 CE, France)

Life: He was Rav Hai Gaon’s brother-in-law. He lived in France and was a student of Rabbeinu Gershom. His Azharos are cited by Tosafos in a few places10.

Style: It’s a poem written mostly as an alphabetical acrostic which goes forwards and backwards. Like the Bahag, he divided the mitzvos into unique categories. First the mitzvos aseh, then parshiyos, then onshim, then mitzvos lo sa’aseh.

5) Rav Shlomo ibn Gabirol (c. 1021 – 1070 CE)

Life: He was a very popular paytan or poet, and some of our Shabbos zemiros were written by him. Some say11 he composed the popular song “Anim Zemiros”, and others say12 he wrote “Adon Olam”. He was also a philosopher. By the age of 25 he had written many poems and a few works on character development.

Style: Each stanza is written in the same way, with the first three parts sharing a rhyming scheme, with the last part always ending in –im. Each stanza usually includes one or many mitzvos, depending on the interpretation of the commentator.

Unique Characteristics: Unlike the other Azharos, he divides his piyut into 248 positive mitzvos and 365 negative mitzvos, like the Rambam would later do.

6) Rav Yitzchak ben Reuven Albargaloni (1043 – ? CE)

Life: Lived in the same generation as the Rif. Albargaloni just means from Barcelona, or in Hebrew HaBartzaloni. He should not be confused with Rav Yehuda HaBartzaloni (12th century). Both have been referred to as Ri HaBartzaloni. He was an ancestor to Ramban (see below). He was the one who translated Rav Hai Gaon’s important work on business halachaHaMekach VeHamemkar” from Arabic into Hebrew.

Style: An alphabetical acrostic where each stanza has four lines where the first three start with the same letter. All four lines share the same rhyming scheme, and the last line is a verse in Tanach. Like Rav Eliyahu HaZaken (see above), first he lists 200 positive mitzvos, 65 parshiyos, 71 onshim, then 277 negative mitzvos.

7) Sefer YereimRav Eliezer MiMitz (1140 – 1237 CE)

Life: He was one of the Ba’alei HaTosafos, often quoted by Tosafos and other Ashkenazi poskim. He was a student of Rabbeinu Tam, and the teacher of the Ra’avya and the Rokeach.

Style: Although not one of the Azharos, he based his sefer on the list of the Halachos Gedolos, with many differences. It is unclear if he had a different version of Halachos Gedolos, if this was how he interpreted its vague listing, or he simply disagreed in certain instances. There are only 464 sections in the work, although the author says he grouped together similar mitzvos. Toafos Re'eim attempted to divide them all into 613. In each mitzvah he spells out all of his rulings related to that mitzvah. As such, it’s an often-quoted halacha sefer.

Section 3 – The Rambam and those who followed him

8) RambamRav Moshe ben Maimon (c. 1135 – 1204 CE)

Life: Also known as Maimonides. He is arguably the most famous Jewish philosopher of all time, and one of the most influential Torah scholars of his time. He was born in Spain, and eventually came to live in Egypt. He was the first to structurally organize and codify all of the laws scattered throughout the Talmud into clear, delineated topics and sections. He also codified laws that aren’t presently relevant but will be when the Temple is rebuilt. This was all put in his work Mishneh Torah. Besides his Sefer HaMitzvos, he wrote a commentary on the entire Mishnah, and the philosophical work Moreh Nevuchim, or Guide to the Perplexed. All three of these works were originally written in Arabic, and later translated by others into Hebrew. He famously became the Sultan of Egypt’s personal doctor in his later years.

Unique Characteristics: He prefaces his list with 14 “Shorashim”, which are the rules he created and followed to determine which mitzvos made it into his list. If you read any verse in Chumash and follow his rules, you’ll apparently know if it counts as a mitzvah or not. Every mitzvah he lists, he tells you the verse it came from, a source in Chazal that it’s a mitzvah (if one exists), and where in the gemarra one can learn more about it. He standardized listing the mitzvos as a list of 248 positive mitzvos and 365 negative mitzvos13.

9) RambanRav Moshe ben Nachman (1194 – 1270 CE)

Life: Spent most of his life in Spain. Renowned Jewish scholar, mystic, and doctor. He wrote a commentary on the Torah, Talmud, Rif, and Responsa. He also wrote on many topics.

Style: He doesn’t explicitly write his list anywhere. Rather, he comments on the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos and let’s you know when he disagrees. Silence often implies concurrence. After the Rambam’s list the Ramban tells you the 25 mitzvos that he feels the Rambam “forgot”. However, this list isn’t enough, as reading the whole sefer yields a much greater disagreement between these two giants14. At the very end of his commentary the Ramban summarizes every mitzvah he disagrees with, and it’s up to you to figure out how he fills in the gaps.

10) Sefer HaChinuch (identity disputed)

Life: Many15 assume this work was written by Rav Aharon HaLevi of Barcelona (1235 – c. 1290 CE). However, this assumption has been disproven, as the author frequently disagrees explicitly with known rulings of Rav Aharon HaLevi. A convincing argument has been made16 that the author is really Rav Aharon’s brother, Rav Pinchas HaLevi. Either way, we know for a fact the author was a Levi from Barcelona. He seemingly was a student of the Rashba, as he frequently agrees with the latter’s rulings.

Style: His list is exclusively based on the list of the Rambam17. However, he reordered the list according to the weekly parsha. He writes that this way his son (for whom he wrote the book) will know what mitzvos appear in each parsha. Each mitzvah is listed with a title, the verse, a general description of the mitzvah, the “shoresh” of the mitzvah (see next section), a summary of its relevant halachos, and details of its obligation.

Unique Characteristics: What makes Sefer HaChinuch so unique and enjoyed by many is that he shares what he believes is the reason behind each mitzvah, which he calls the “shoresh” of the mitzvah. He also at the end of each mitzvah tells you who is obligated in it, when, and where. He also lists the punishment for neglecting the mitzvah.

11) Semag – Sefer Mitzvos Gadol - Rav Moshe of Kotzi (13th century)

Life: He was one of the Ba’alei HaTosafos and was born in France. He was a student of Rabbi Yehudah HaChossid. He writes in the introduction to the work that he consistently received visions in his dreams commanding him to write a two-volume work on the Taryag Mitzvos. He eventually complied.

Style: His sefer is a work of halacha. He goes through each mitzvah and lists all the halachos related to that mitzvah. Very often he quotes the language of the gemarra and the Rambam, although as one of the Ba’alei HaTosafos he also brings the rulings of the Ashkenazi Rishonim. At the beginning of the work he lists all the Taryag Mitzvos, basically making an index for the rest of the work. His list is mostly based on the Rambam’s, differing only in 20 mitzvos.

12) Zohar HaRakiahRav Shimon ben Tzemach (1361 – 1444 CE)

Life: He lived in Algeria. Besides being a major halachic decisor, he was a mathematician, philosopher, and doctor.

Style: He wrote his work as a “commentary” to Rav Shlomo ibn Gabirol’s Azharos (see above). However, it’s not really a commentary, but merely uses the latter’s listing as a springboard to discuss his own listing of the mitzvos. He mostly follows the Rambam and Ramban, so he rejects most of what Rashbag counts.

Unique Characteristics: Being one of the later Rishonim, he had access to all of the works that came before him. He uses every opportunity he can to bring the disputes of the Rambam and the Ramban, and to discuss the logic and merits of each. He will often take sides, or come up with his own opinion. In this work he was the first to suggest that when the Rambam says derashos are MiDerabanan, he meant they’re Biblical but were extracted by the Rabbis.

13) Sefer CharedimRav Elazar Azikri (1533 – 1600 CE)

Life: He was born and lived in Tzfas. He was a contemporary of Rav Yosef Caro, the Arizal and Rav Shlomo Alkabetz. He was the author of the popular shabbos zemer Yedid Nefesh18.

Style: He only writes mitzvos that apply today yet includes mitzvos MiDivrei Kabbalah and MiDivrei Soferim. To be honest, I don't think his list reaches 613, but I haven't confirmed that yet.

Unique Characteristics: He divided the mitzvos into the body parts, so one can always know which mitzvos can be fulfilled with which part of the body. Being one of the last to count the mitzvos, he had the knowledge of all the opinions which preceded him. He lists all the mitzvos which everyone or most agree to in a general way, and will list lone opinions by name.

This isn't an exhaustive list, but I believe these are the main ones. See Chida's Shem HaGedolim II § אזהרות where he lists more azharos which I've never heard of. I left out Ibn Ezra's Yesod Morah, Rabbeinu Yonah's Sha'arei Teshuva, Semak, and the Chofetz Chaim's Sefer HaMitzvos HaKatzar, as they don't list all 613. I left out Ma'amar HaSeichel, attributed to Ra'avan, since if I'm not mistaken it just reorders the Semag's list into the Ten Commandments. I left out Mitzvos Hashem, as it's basically just a compilation of the Rambam, Ramban, Semag, Semak, and Chareidim.

1 Including Rav Sherirah Gaon (Zichron LaRishonim p. 191), Meiri in Beis HaBechira Pesicha L’Maseches Avos, Ra’avad in his Sefer HaKabbalah, Rambam in Pe’er HaDor § 229 (also printed in Iggeros HaRambam Chidushei HaRambam § 191), Ramban in his introduction to Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos, (it’s also almost explicit in the Rambam’s statement in ibid Shorashim § 10), Tosafos Rid to Megillah 30b s.v. ושאר כל ימות, and Zohar HaRakiah Introduction, Aseh § 11, 50 (see below). Later authorities who say this are the Aruch LaNer in his Teshuvos Binyan Tzion § 134 and Netziv in his Ha’emek She’eilah 1:25, 9:2, 16:6, 45:4, 100:23, and 128:7.

2 Rashi to Sukkah 38b s.v. הוא אומר ברוך, Tosafos HaRosh ad. loc. s.v. שמע ולא ענה, Tosafos to Gittin 88b s.v. ובעובדי כוכבים, Sefer Yereim End, Semag Hakdama. See also Mesoras HaShas to Bava Kamma 53b, Rashi s.v. ה"ג מאי ניהו.

3 See further in Yad Malachi Klalei Bahag § 4, Shem HaGedolim II § הלכות גדולות, Introduction to Halachos Gedolos (5635 Warsaw ed. and Rav Hildesheimer ed.), and Maharatz Chayes to Sukkah ad. loc.

4 To Exodus 24:12.

5 For the reason for these two, see Rav Yerucham Fischel Perla’s commentary to Lo Sa’aseh § 141, 142.

6 For the reason for these latter two, see Rav Yerucham Fischel Perla’s commentary to Aseh § 1.

7 Chida in Shem HaGedolim I § רבנו האי גאון.

8 Rav Wolf Heidenheim in his Machzor L’Shavuos, concluding like the Teshuvos Maharshal § 29.

9 Rav Yitzchak Isaac ben Yaakov (19th century) in Otzar HaSefarim § אזהרות says it was written before Rav Sa’adiah Gaon, or at least in the same lifetime. See also Rav Naftali Tzvi Hildesheimer’s introduction to Halachos Gedolos, who brings those who date this piyut to the time of the Halachos Gedolos.

10 For example: Tosafos to Yoma 8a s.v. דכולי עלמא, Sukkah 49a s.v. שכל מזבח, Bava Basra 145b s.v. ואין השביעית, Makkos 3b s.v. איכא דאמרי, and Niddah 30a s.v. ושמע מינה. Piskei Rosh Makkos 1:3 also cites it.

11 See HaTorah HaGoelet IV p. 156 by Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook.

12 See Keser Shem Tov p. 446, by Rav Shev Tov Gaguine (20th century).

13 Although he was preceded by the Azharos of Rav Shlomo ibn Gabirol, the latter didn’t make it a list of mitzvos. He just divided his piyut this way.

14 See here for more on their dispute.

15 For example: Shach to Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 87:1 § 1, Sidrei Tahara ad.loc. 196:4 § 18, Pischei Teshuvah ad. loc. Choshen Mishpat 1:1 § 2, Nodah B’Yehudah II Yoreh Deah § 53, Teshuvos Chasam Sofer Orach Chaim § 32, Aruch HaShulchan Orach Chaim 1:14, Yoreh Deah 270:6.

16 Professor Yisroel Ta-Shma, Kiryat Sefer XV p. 789-791.

17 However, see here, which discusses why the Chinuch differs from the Rambam in exactly one mitzvah.

18 However, see here.

  • +1 for thoroughness. Two notes: I'm pretty sure Rambam wrote Mishneh Torah in Hebrew. Also, the Mosad Harav Kook edition of Kitvei HaRamban has a work deriving the 613 Mitzvos from the Ten Commandments. I saw someone say it is not actually the Ramban, but I didn't research it myself.
    – N.T.
    Jan 18, 2022 at 2:16
  • 1
    @N.T. if you reread it carefully, he says that the three works in Arabic were Sefer Hamitzvot, Perush Hamishnah, and Moreh Nevuchim. Jan 18, 2022 at 4:57
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    @magicker72 my impression is the azharos were specifically intending on listing all the mitzvos. Perhaps I'm mistaken, but those who try to figure out the 613 in the azharos (rav yerucham fischel perla, nesiv mitzvosecha, yashir moshe , rav refoel shapira, etc.) seem to assume like me.
    – robev
    Jan 18, 2022 at 20:00
  • 1
    Regarding the last few comments, a list that does not contain 613 mitzvot is not necessarily incomplete; the author may not have felt bound to the count of 613. See, e.g. this explanation. cc @magicker72
    – Alex
    Jan 19, 2022 at 1:55
  • 1
    @N.T. Thanks. Added.
    – robev
    Jan 31, 2022 at 8:39

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