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Has any major commentator ever attempted to rank the 613 commandments by order of importance? There are hints in the Sources about relative importance: The Ten Commandments, the Noahide Laws, the Big Three of pikuach nefesh, Hillel's Golden Rule, the chukkim, tzedakah [Bava Batra 9a, Ketubot 68a], and many others.

Yet the Mishna tells us not to do it: Be as scrupulous in observing a minor commandment as a major commandment, because you do not know the value of each commandment. [Avot 2:1]

Nevertheless, has anybody attempted a ranking?

  • I think you need to better define "importance" of this question. It's too vague a term, here. I think the Mishnah that you cited has perhaps been reason alone not to rank any of them. However, we know that there are clearly some that are more "important" than others and the criteria is probably based on the punishment for its violation. E.g. - observing Shabbat is prob. more "important" than giving tzedaka.based on that criterion. – DanF Jan 30 at 14:41
  • I ask if this was ever attempted under ANY definition of "importance". – Maurice Mizrahi Jan 30 at 14:58
  • I think "reward" is probably a more accurate translation of "מַתַּן שְׂכָרָן" than "value" - which is to say, one could still rank "importance" based on other frameworks, such as which trumps which in a conflict; severity of punishment; requirements for atonement... (Re the last one, see e.g. Maimonides Laws of Repentance where he presents a general classification based.) – Loewian Jan 30 at 15:49
  • The prophets did something like this. (1) תלמוד בבלי מסכת מכות דף כד/א בא מיכה והעמידן על שלש דכתיב הגיד לך אדם מה טוב ומה ה' דורש ממך כי אם עשות משפט ואהבת חסד והצנע לכת עם (ה') אלהיך וכו' בא חבקוק והעמידן על אחת שנאמר וצדיק באמונתו יח. Accordingly, the most "important" mitzvah is emunah. This is easy to understand, because without emunah, there are no mitzvos. – shmu Jan 30 at 19:08
  • @shmu Interestingly, this didn't make its way to Geonim and Rambam. That's why I didn't include it in my answer. It seems that they didn't have the 613 clear cut Mitzvos as we do, they just followed the prophets. – Al Berko Jan 30 at 20:42
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While there's no accepted hierarchy of all the Mitzvos, here are Some ways of classifying Mitzvos by "importance":

1. By the severity of punishment:

  • Missing a Positive Mitzvah (not sitting in Succah)
  • Doing Teshuva (e.g. Ona'ah less than 1/6)
  • Paying back + Teshuva (e.g. Gezel)
  • Lashes/corporal punishment (eating pork)
  • 4 types of capital punishment (Arayos or Shabbos)
  • Kares (eating on Yom Kippur)

2. By Rabbinical preferences examples:

  • "Talmud Torah against them all..."
  • 3 Mitzvos of "To die and not transgress" - murder, idolatry, adultery
  • Pikuach Nefesh (not actually a Mitzvah) overrides all others
  • Wasting seed / Marrying a Shiktze
  • [Not] Performing circumcision (Bris with G-d)
  • the 10 commandments, esp. the first 5

etc.

  • -"Nevertheless, has anybody attempted a ranking?" This doesn't answer the question. -1 – רבות מחשבות Jan 30 at 19:54
  • @רבותמחשבות This was my first sentence - there's no accepted system of ranking. I brought the existing attempts. take your -1 back. – Al Berko Jan 30 at 20:27
  • @רבותמחשבות Well, Al did mention "Talmud Torah against them all...", which is a Mishnah in Pe'ah, I believe. So someone did at least rank Talmud Torah as the highest or more important than th erest of the group mentioned there. And the rest of the list does have an "importance". I have to think about the rest of the answer, myself. But I think Al does at least answer the question. – DanF Jan 30 at 23:16
  • @DanF that's not an attempted ranking of the 613 mitzvos - that's an aggadah emphasizing the importance of a single mitzvah! The OP already did that in the question! – רבות מחשבות Jan 30 at 23:28
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    @DanF Well, that was the question: "Has any major commentator ever attempted to rank the 613 commandments by order of importance?" The answer is no, unless you find one of the monei hamitzvos who explained that that is their rationale in counting them. – רבות מחשבות Jan 31 at 16:08

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