What is the difference between the following words?

  • Commandments
  • Law
  • Testimonies
  • Precepts
  • Judgements
  • Statutes
  • Ordinances

Deut 26:16 - 19 reads

16: This day, the Lord, your God, is commanding you to fulfill these statutes and ordinances, and you will observe and fulfill them with all your heart and with all your soul.
17: You have selected the Lord this day, to be your God, and to walk in His ways, and to observe His statutes, His commandments and His ordinances, and to obey Him.
18: And the Lord has selected you this day to be His treasured people, as He spoke to you, and so that you shall observe all His commandments,
19: and to make you supreme, above all the nations that He made, [so that you will have] praise, a [distinguished] name and glory; and so that you will be a holy people to the Lord, your God, as He spoke.

Deut 6:1 reads:

This is the commandment, the statutes, and the ordinances that the Lord, your God, commanded to teach you, to perform in the land into which you are about to pass, to possess it.

There are many other places in the Hebrew Bible where these words appear, but I couldn't quite grasp distinctly what they mean.


3 Answers 3


Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch's book Horeb divides the commandments into six categories:

  • Torot (teachings) - fundamental principles relating to mental and spiritual preparation for life
  • Edot (testimonies) - symbolic observances representing truths which form the basis of Israel's life
  • Mishpatim (ordinances/judgements1) - declarations of justice towards human beings
  • Chukim (statutes) - laws of righteousness towards those beings which are subordinate to man: toward earth, plant, animal, toward one's own body, mind, spirit, and word2
  • Mitzvot (commandments) - commandments of love
  • Avodah (work) - divine service

(Explanations are translated from the original German into English by Dayan Dr. I. Grunfeld.)

1 Both translations are commonly used, but refer to the same Hebrew word.

2 Others (such as Rashi) explain the term to mean decrees which have no reasons we can understand.

  • Ahh I was just in the middle of typing this up!! Commented May 27, 2014 at 19:51
  • what about "davar" (as in the decalogue) or "din?" Does Hirsch not count them for some reason? Know of any distinguishing definitions for those like the original question?
    – SophArch
    Commented May 5, 2019 at 19:04

I can give a partial answer regarding the statutes and ordinances - in Hebrew "Chukim Umishpatim"

A statute is a law that has no "logical" reasoning for example, the laws of kashrut (kosher) are not based on human "logic". We cannot logically reason why we cannot eat shellfish, for example.

An oridnance - "mishpat" is something that we can logically determine. We intrinsically know that we shouldn't steal, because civilized people understand the protection of other people's property and it is "immoral" to steal.

Regardless of the classification of the law, we should perform them with the intention that God commanded us to do them, even if it's something we would think of doing on our own.


Commandment--law dictated by a God or God's appointees

Law--general term for body of rules governing human behavior in many different areas,e.g. economics, politics, health, etc.

Testimony (pl. 'ies')--oral statements made under oath given by a person in a formal hearing or court proceeding.

Precepts--Basic/fundamental principle underlying a philosophy, religion, political movement, or other organization. Usually this word is seen in written English. 'Policy' is the more orally-used version.

Judgement (pl. -s) Decision announced by a judge (in court) or other official in an administrative hearing.

Statutes--A body of laws enacted by a state or Federal legislative body and published in State codes and Federal codes.

Ordinances--A body of laws enacted by municipal (city) councils, usually relating to health and safety.

  • 3
    I don't think the question was looking for dictionary definitions (even of the underlying Hebrew). If it was, it would be off topic.
    – Yishai
    Commented May 27, 2014 at 22:19

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