There are arguments in the Rishonim about what the 613 mitzvos are. But even if you hold something's not part of the 613, it's still a mitzva, so what's so special if it is part of the 613?

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    How can we say it's a Miswa if it's not in the 613? Then it's a Derabanan. Apr 19, 2013 at 18:40
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    @shlomo I'm confused how a mitvah can be d'oraita and not one of the 613 d'oraita mitzvot. Can you say specifically what you're talking about before asking for a general case? Apr 19, 2013 at 19:50
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    @CharlesKoppelman For instance, dipping metal food utensils bought from non-Jews is considered by many (most?) to be a biblical requirement. However, most (all?) do not list this in their list of the 613.
    – Double AA
    Apr 19, 2013 at 22:40
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    @DoubleAA In my comment here, I'm not aware that I was using any category. When you brought your example for what shlomo was talking about, you used the term "biblical requirement" for it, whereas he was using "mitzva Doraita". Considering the different term you used, I was asking if you two were really talking about the same thing.
    – Tamir Evan
    Apr 21, 2013 at 2:16
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    @shlomo I don't know about others, but it seems to me that the Rambam did not recognize anything outside his count of Mitsvot being a Mitzvah de-Oraita, even if it is mentioned in the Torah shebi-Khtav, but instead would see it as part of listed Mitzvot, or as one of of their specific Halakhot. See, in his introduction to Sefer ha-Mitzvot, Klal 7 and klal 11.
    – Tamir Evan
    Apr 21, 2013 at 3:09

3 Answers 3


This is a very important question which bothered me for a long time by until I saw the explanation of Rav Yeruchom Perlow in his introduction to the commentary on the Sefer HaMitzvos of Rav Sa'adyah Gaon.

The question that he addresses is why some of the Gaonim and Early Rishonim invested so much time and effort in working out the list of the 613 mitzvos. He answered that since on the one hand Chazal teach in several places that there are 613 mitzvos, and on the other hand there are clearly many more mitzvos than this, a set of rules are needed in order to determine which mitzvos should be included in the list of 613. Each one of these early authorities had his own set of rules (the Rambam spells out clearly what his rules are) and thus they each end up with a different list.

And the importance of working out which mitzvos go into the list is this: there are many mitzvos mentioned in the gemara which are not clear if they are d'oraisa (from the Torah) or d'rabanan (from the Rabbis). Even when a mitzvah seems to be derived from a posuk sometimes it is only an asmachta (a mitzvah d'rabanan which is supported by the Torah, but which does not come from the Torah). But if the mitzvah is in the list of the 613, then it is most definitely d'oraisa. And if it is not in the list then the determination of whether a certain mitzvah is d'oraisa or d'rabanan has to be made some other way, or remains a doubt.

  • I have wondered this for some time as well and your answer makes me feel alot better about all the work that the Rishonim did. Do you know of anyone who gives a list of such mitzvas or examples?
    – Gavriel
    Nov 23, 2013 at 18:34
  • "But if the mitzvah is in the list of the 613, then it is most definitely d'oraisa." I was asking for a list or examples of mitzvos mentioned in the Gemara that were not clear if they are d'oraisa or d'rabanan that a Rishon's list would demonstrate how he ruled (or more specifically that the inclusion of the mitzvah in the 613 is itself the demonstration/proof that it is d'oraisa)
    – Gavriel
    Nov 23, 2013 at 19:03
  • Why did they settle on the number 613? Why didn't they agree on 672 or some other random number? I.e. How is 613 not a random number for the purpose of claiming there are 613 mitzvos? Feb 12, 2014 at 2:46
  • @BruceJames - The number 613 is part of the oral tradition, not a made-up number.
    – user4523
    Feb 12, 2014 at 6:17
  • @GeminiMan The Rambam wasn't sure that it was a tradition. Rav Yerucham Fishel Perlow, however, tried to prove otherwise. Feb 12, 2014 at 16:03

The sages teach that the 365 negative commandments parallel the 365 blood vessels and tendons (Gidim), and the 248 positive commandments parallel the 248 limbs (see shaarei kedusha and Mishnah in Ohalos 1:8 which lists them).

Hence, there is special significance to those included and special kavanos to have when fulfilling them as alluded to in shaarei kedusha part 1.

Therefore a man should seek out with all his strength to fulfill all the 613 commandments, and when he fulfills a positive commandment, he should have kavana (mental intent) to remove from that specific limb of his soul which corresponds to that mitzva the impurity of that klipa. And then the limb of that holy mitzva will settle on him after the impurity has been removed, as in "and their sins were on their bones" (Yechezkel 32:27). Because when this one rises, this one falls. And likewise when a sin comes one's way, he should refrain from doing it, and he should have kavana (intent) that through this the impurity in the specific gid (pipe) of the soul which corresponds to that sin shall be removed. And then he will be able to pass the spiritual energy which is drawn through the spiritual pipe, and through this his soul will be a chair and a chariot for His holiness, may He be blessed, and this is the Sod (secret meaning) of "the forefathers, they are the chariot" (Midrash Raba - Bereishis 47:6, Zohar 1 Daf 173)

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    In my opinion it is rather anachronistic to use a kabbalistic explanation to explain the works of the likes of R. Saadya Gaon, and the Rambam who for better or for worse did not adopt the kabbalistic approach.
    – mevaqesh
    Jun 10, 2015 at 22:20
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    "In my opinion it is rather anachronistic to use a kabbalistic explanation to explain the works of the likes of R. Saadya Gaon, and the Rambam" Since Taryag is based on Midrashim and other words of Chazal, the explanation doesn't need to point to particular Rishonim.
    – MichoelR
    May 25, 2020 at 14:26
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    Relevant to this is the Maalos Hatorah (brought by R' Zelig Epstein in the Yeshurun I mentioned) quoting his brother the Gr"a: ומה שהוזכר תרי"ג אינו אלא שרשים אבל הם לענפים הרבה עכ"ל. By this he explains all the machlokos on which exactly are the 613.
    – MichoelR
    May 26, 2020 at 11:21

Note the reason the Rambam actually gave in his hakdama (https://www.sefaria.org/Sefer_HaMitzvot%2C_Introductions%2C_The_Rambam's_Introduction?lang=bi): He needed a way to organize his Mishnah Torah, so he wanted to give the mitzvos relevant to each section (the "keser" to each book). Then he saw that others had different lists, so he had to explain and justify his list... Rav Yaakov Weinberg z"l once pointed this out to me. It really doesn't make this pursuit sound very important at all. Just sayin'.
Update: "why some of the Gaonim and Early Rishonim invested so much time and effort in working out the list of the 613 mitzvos." Worth noting that according to the Rambam, only the Behag "invested so much time and effort". The Rambam says in his hakdamah that other Rishonim mostly just took the Behag's list as a starting point and tweaked this point or that. Then others wrote piyutim about the subject, which the Rambam says is fine as music goes, but not that relevant in terms of really working it out correctly.
After the Rambam, of course, we all have an additional reason for studying it: The words of the Rambam, his explanations, the alternate point of view of the Ramban - all that became a subject in itself.

  • That's why the Rambam listed the 613, but doesn't explain why the other dozens of geonim and rishonim spent time on this pursuit, or why Chazal tell is that there are 613. Also, the Rambam was very much against the other's lists. If he simply wanted to organize his sefer differently than them, I don't understand his kashas on what's considered a mitzvah and what not.
    – robev
    May 25, 2020 at 14:33
  • Agreed, but I'm just quoting him. I think he explains this in his hakdamah: "ידעתי כי אם אזכור אני המנין האמתי שראוי שימנה זכרון מוחלט מבלתי ראיה, הנה הקורא הראשון שיקראהו יחייב במחשבתו שזה טעות, ותהיה ראית הטעות אצלו ראותו בחלוף מה שזכר פלוני ופלוני", see there at length.
    – MichoelR
    May 25, 2020 at 15:16
  • This doesn't account for the many Rishonim after the Rambam who developed their own list.
    – N.T.
    Jul 20, 2022 at 0:07

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