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I was wondering how Jewish people understand this word with a specific interest in how it is best translated into English. In case it’s context specific here’s an example from Ezekiel (5:7) I was looking at today:

לָכֵן כֹּה-אָמַר אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה יַעַן הֲמָנְכֶם מִן-הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר סְבִיבוֹתֵיכֶם בְּחֻקּוֹתַי לֹא הֲלַכְתֶּם וְאֶת-מִשְׁפָּטַי לֹא עֲשִׂיתֶם וּכְמִשְׁפְּטֵי הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר סְבִיבוֹתֵיכֶם לֹא עֲשִׂיתֶם׃

The word, ordinances conjures up in my head council regulatoins. The word decrees conjures up thoughts of special one off documents stamped by kings, and the word, law, conjures up in my mind, the Torah. How do Jews understand this word in this context.


For reference, I am interested in the Jewish understanding. Christian commentaries interpret it as a reference to Leviticius 26. i.e. From the Word Biblical Commentary:

The mention of Yahweh’s “standards” (משׁפטים) and “rules” (חקות) corresponds to the regular phraseology in the Priestly source of the Pentateuch, as the list of OT comparative usage in M. Weinfeld’s Deuteronomy and the Deuteronomic School (Oxford: Clarendon, 1972) 337 shows. More specifically, the clause “they have rejected my standards” seems to be an allusion to Lev 26:3, 15, which speak of the Israelites, in the second plural, as rejecting, rather than walking in, God’s rules. The abrupt change to a plural verb reflects lack of adjustment of the literary reference (cf Reventlow, Wächter 7–9; Greenberg 111; Rooker, Transition 62; see the Excursus following 6:1–14). The implicit understanding of Jerusalem in terms of its citizens underlies the survival of the plural form.

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    Why wouldn't it be "law", and referring to the Torah? – Ploni Aug 24 '17 at 1:04
  • So you are suggesting that משׁפטים and חקות are just plain references to 'law' in the sense that its all of the rules outlined in the Torah itself? Why are both words needed? Whats the difference between משׁפטים and חקות then? – Jacob Aug 25 '17 at 0:39
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    They refer to the different types of laws found in the Torah. חקות generally refers to laws which have no reason known to mankind (e.g. kosher). משׁפטים generally refers to laws which are logical (e.g. not to murder, steal, etc.). There's actually another type, עדות, which are laws which commemorate something (e.g. shabbos). – Ploni Aug 25 '17 at 2:31
  • @Ploni Thats really interesting, I am glad I asked. I wonder where I can read more about this? – Jacob Aug 26 '17 at 2:51
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    I don't know. That is what I was taught in school. (That's why it's in a comment. If I had a source I would post an answer). – Ploni Aug 27 '17 at 3:28

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