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The Gemara in Makkos 23b states:

דרש רבי שמלאי שש מאות ושלש עשרה מצות נאמרו לו למשה שלש מאות וששים וחמש לאוין כמנין ימות החמה ומאתים וארבעים ושמונה עשה כנגד איבריו של אדם

R. Simlai when preaching said: Six hundred and thirteen precepts were communicated to Moses three hundred and sixty-five negative precepts corresponding to the number of solar days [in the year] and two hundred and forty-eight positive precepts, corresponding to the number of the members of man's body. (Soncino translation)

However, R. Moshe ben Avraham of Przemyśl (died 1606) in the introduction to Mateh Moshe reverses this and states that there are 365 positive precepts and 248 negative precepts.

כי ברא אותו מחובר ברמ"ח אברים ושס"ה גידין וכנגדן צוה צורינו שס"ה עשין ורמ"ח לאוין להורות כי לא נברא האדם רק לשמור ולעשות ולקיים את כל הדברים האלה

I would think that this is simply a mistake; however it is a particularly egregious mistake for a renowned rabbinic figure to make. Most tinokos shel beis rabban know that there are 365 negative precepts and 248 positive precepts.

Additionally, a mere few pages later R. Moshe quotes the Gemara in Makkos, but he leaves out the part which specifies that 365 refers to the negative precepts and 248 refers to the positive precepts.

חש בכל גופו אמר זה על דרך דאיתא במסכת מכות דרש רבי שמלאי תרי"ג מצות נאמרו לו למשה בסיני שס"ה כמנין ימות החמה רמ"ח כמנין אבריו של אדם

Is it purely coincidental that he left out the very part of the citation that he reversed earlier?

On the other hand R. Moshe also wrote a book of the 613 mitzvos (Sefer Shel Taryag Mitzvos), and he does not seem to have an entirely different count (as would be necessary to reverse the numbers of positive and negative commandments).

Is there any possible way to interpret R. Moshe's first statement without simply rejecting it as a mistake? Or are there at least any subsequent rabbinic figures that noted this glaring mistake?

Of course, it is certainly possible that it is just a typo. However, all five editions that I checked (Cracow 1591; Frankfurt 1720; Warsaw 1876; London 1958; Jerusalem 2011) have the same error (which doesn't necessarily mean anything, as they might have just copied from each other) and none of them note this incorrect wording (including the newest edition that has extensive footnotes). Moreover, this would not help explain why the later citation of Makkos left out the part that 365 is for the negative precepts and 248 is for the positive precepts, nor would it explain the fact that the error is not noted in subsequent rabbinic literature.

  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. – רבות מחשבות Jan 14 '18 at 21:47
  • My personal approach is to address contradicting statements seriously only if they deal with the contradiction. As R' Moshe knew the standard (Rambam et all) count iincludes 365 negatives and 248 positives he needed to somehow explain his opposite view. If he doesn't, I only see it as a typo. Probably very old one. – Al Berko Feb 3 at 18:59
  • @AlBerko Note the answer, though, which argues that the author made a mistake. – Alex Feb 3 at 19:01
  • @AlBerko The Chat basically consisted of רבות מחשבות arguing that it's obviously a typo, and recommending to write to the publisher about it. – Alex Feb 3 at 19:08
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    @AlBerko You might appreciate this answer then. – Alex Feb 3 at 19:42
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A partial answer is that his quotation of the Makkot is probably exact, as Ms. Jerusalem Yad HaRav Herzog 1 has:

נאמרו לו למשה בסיני שס'ה כמנין ימות החמה רמ'ח כנגד איבריו שלאדם אמ' רב המנונא

Venice print (1520) does not have the words לאוין or עשין either. Furthermore, R. Yeroham Fischel Perlow notes (introduction to commentary to Sefer HaMitsvot of Rassag ch. 4) that most Rishonim did not have texts identifying the negatives as 365 and the positives as 248.

It seems unlikely that his citation just happens to match a very common version of the Talmud. Rather, it seems likely that this was his version of the Talmud.

I don't think that it is so inconceivable that the Matteh Moshe could (at least momentarily) forget which was which, especially if his edition of the Talmud didn't specify. Importantly, at least two other works makes the exact same mistake: (Hadashim Lak'toret of R. Aharon Tenenbaum) here, and K'hillat Sh'lmo of R. Sh'lomo Zalman Londan (here). (Although these too can be dismissed as a printers errors, that doesn't seem as likely in the first case given that he didn't even mention negative commandments in that sentence which could have gotten switched.)

It should be noted that even the greatest of rabbis have misremembered things. For example, Prof. Marc Shapiro notes many examples of mistaken citations of verses by Rambam in his Studies in Maimonides and His Interpreters (pp. 17-47). Although with enough hand-waving it is always possible to explain away any mistake, these cases seem to indicate mistakes on his part (as Shapiro demonstrates there. See also his broader discussion there about rabbinic mistakes).

Although we probably can't know exactly why the Matteh Moshe wrote this, and you have already noted the relevant editions of Matteh Moshe, it seems like the best we can do is note that other passages of the Talmud omit this, matching his version of the citation, that the mistake is apparently not unique to him, and that there are other cases of flawed rabbinic memory.

  • I did not find any later writers who commented on this line in the Matteh Moshe, searching through the HebrewBooks database. I will note that it seems that rabbinic introduction are often understudied. For example, I noticed that various sources weren't quoting relevant information from Rambam's introduction to the MT and was told by a very knowledgeable talmid hakhamim that it was frequently not studied or overlooked. – mevaqesh Jan 15 '18 at 5:10
  • I am familiar with Shapiro's writings and I have no problem accepting that great rabbinic figures sometimes misremembered things. And the fact that this same error was made in at least two other works does perhaps point more in the direction of a mistake than a typo. But it is especially interesting that the second work you cited is by R. Shlomo Zalman London, as he was the one who printed the 1720 edition of Mateh Moshe. Perhaps he even derived the mistake from the Mateh Moshe. – Alex Jan 15 '18 at 5:30
  • @Alex Fascinating! – mevaqesh Jan 15 '18 at 5:34
  • Also, good point about the unpopularity of hakdamos, which I think I alluded to in one of my comments on the question. It is interesting that in two out of the three works with the mistake the mistake is in the hakdama, which could be a cause for subsequent scholars to not notice it. (And also the latter two works are much more obscure than the Mateh Moshe which is a relatively classic work of halacha, which would make it even more unlikely for the mistake to get noticed.) – Alex Jan 15 '18 at 5:43
  • @Alex Another excellent point. – mevaqesh Jan 15 '18 at 5:47

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