Skip to main content

Commandments, Reasons for


COMMANDMENTS, REASONS FOR (Heb. טַעֲמֵי הַמִּצְווֹת, Ta'amei ha-Mitzvot). The search for "reasons" for the commandments of the Torah springs from a tendency to transcend mere obedience to them by investing them with some intrinsic meaning. The Pentateuch itself offers reasons for some commandments (e.g., Ex. 22:26; 23:9; Deut. 11:19; 17:16–17; 23:4–5) and emphasizes the "wisdom" of the Law (Deut. 4:6–8). It also differentiates between mishpatim ("ordinances") and ḥukkim ("statutes") without, however, offering any clear principle of division. Classical rabbinic literature contains a more formal discussion of the problem. The mishpatim are said to represent laws that would have been valid even without having been "written" in the Torah, such as the prohibitions against robbery, idolatry, incest, and murder, while the ḥukkim, such as the prohibition of swine's flesh and the wearing of garments made of both wool and flax are "decrees" of God. It is to the latter class that "the evil inclination" and the gentiles object (Sifra, Lev. 18:4, par. 140). From the second century onward Christian attacks on "the Law" provoked many Jewish replies stressing the importance of the mitzvot: the commandments were given for the sole purpose of purifying man (Gen. R. 41:1 – for parallels see Theodor Albeck, ed. (1965), 424–5); they strengthen man's holiness (Mekh. 89a); they enable Israel to acquire merit (Mak. 3:16). R. Simeon b. Yoḥai is known to have favored the exposition of the reasons of Scripture (doresh ta'amei di-kera), but he did not go beyond offering exegetical observations (Kid. 68b, et al.). The ta'amei ha-Torah ("reasons of the commandments") are not revealed and should not be revealed (Pes. 119a; cf. Sanh. 21b); the "yoke of the commandments" is to be cherished without probing its reasons. No detailed rationalization of the commandments is to be found in the rabbinic sources.

[Alexander Altmann]

Although the rabbis do not present a systematic exposition of the "reasons for the commandments," and notwithstanding their presumed aversion to such "reasons," they frequently suggest the religious significance or ethical justification for the commands and their details. Thus, the "four species" held on the Sukkot festival are understood as symbolizing God or, alternatively, as different components of the Jewish people which, when held together, form an organic unity (Lev. R. 30, 9; 30, 12). Such explanations need not be symbolic: a married couple is commanded to keep apart during the woman's menstrual period so that "she returns to him as fresh as a bride on her wedding day" (Nid. 31b). This explanation – and many others – is introduced with the phrase, "Why did the Torah command?," a phrase betraying no discomfort with the enterprise of finding reasons for the commands. Frequently, it is the details of commandments that are subject to didactic moralizing: the ear of the Hebrew slave – and no other organ – is bored so as to signify the extension of his servitude (Ex. 21:6) because his ear "heard at Sinai 'the children of Israel are My servants,' yet he went and threw off the yoke of Heaven and took a human master for himself " (Tosef. bk 7, 5), a comment with an an obvious political moral as well.

[Gerald Y. Blidstein (2nd ed.)]

Hellenistic Literature

The need for a rational explanation of the Mosaic law was expressed for the first time in the Hellenistic period; it was motivated by a desire to present the Jewish religion to the pagan world as a legal system designed to produce a people of the highest virtue. The Letter of Aristeas describes the dietary laws and other commandments, e.g., those concerning sacrifices, wearing of ẓiẓit, the mezuzah, and tefillin, as divinely ordained means for awakening holy thoughts and forming character (cf. 142–4, 147, 150ff., 169). In iv Maccabees (5:23–24) divine law is identified with reason and held to be the chief aid to a virtuous life (cf. 1:15–17, 30ff.; 5:7, 25–26).


Philo offered the first systematic exposition of the reasons for the commandments in several of his works. He presented the law of Moses as the ideal law envisaged by the philosophers, that is, the law that leads men to live according to virtue (H.A. Wolfson, Philo, 2 (1947), 200ff.). The laws of Moses are divided into positive and negative laws and into those relating to man and those relating to God, and they are all subsumed under the *Decalogue. Aside from these classifications, the laws of Moses also fall into the following four categories: (1) beliefs; (2) virtuous emotions; (3) actions symbolizing beliefs; and (4) actions symbolizing virtues. However, under the influence of Judaism this fourfold classification of philosophic virtues is expanded to include such religious virtues as faith, piety, prayer, and repentance. Unlike the natural law, the Mosaic law is revealed by God; nevertheless, it is in accord with human nature. Every law in it has a rational purpose (ibid., 305–6). In the explanation of some laws, particularly those involving the sacrifices and festivals, Philo used the allegorical method. Elsewhere he tried to present the Mosaic legislation as a form of government that combines the best features of the three types of rule described as good by Plato and Aristotle, namely, monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy (382ff.).

Medieval Philosophy

saadiah gaon

*Saadiah Gaon was the first Jewish thinker to divide the commandments into those obligatory because they are required by reason (Ar. ʿaqliyyāt, Heb. sikhliyyot) and those given through revelation (Ar. samʿiyyāt, Heb. shimiyyot). In making this distinction he followed the parallel teachings of the Mu'tazilite *Kalām but also added a Platonic account. According to the Mu'tazilite exposition, the rational laws are divided into three kinds: gratitude, reverence, and social conduct; and from these three categories he derived many special laws. In his Platonic exposition he showed the rational character of certain laws by pointing out the damaging effects of the acts prohibited: theft and robbery, for example, undermine the economic basis of society, and untruthfulness destroys the harmony of the soul. Discussing the revelational laws, Saadiah holds that while they are primarily an expression of God's will, they have some rational aspects or "usefulness," although he repeatedly reminds himself that God's wisdom is superior to man's. For example, the holy seasons enable man to pursue spiritual matters and human fellowship; the priesthood guides and helps people in time of stress; and dietary laws combat animal worship (Book of Beliefs and Opinions, 3:5, 1–3).


While the Rabbanites eventually went on to formulate other "reasons of the commandments," the Mu'tazilite approach, exemplified by Saadiah, remained in force among the *Karaites throughout the medieval period. Joseph al-*Baṣīr and *Jeshua b. Judah emphasized the validity of the moral law prior to revelation. *Aaron b. Elijah differentiated between mitzvot sikhliyyot ("rational laws") and mitzvot toriyyot ("Toraitic laws"; Eẓ Ḥayyīm, ed. F. Delitzsch (1841) chap. 102). Elijah *Bashyazi (b. c. 1420) spoke of the rational ordinances as those precepts "established and planted in man's heart" and known prior to revelation (see L. Nemoy, Karaite Anthology (1952), 241ff.).

bahya ibn paquda

Baḥya combined Saadiah's division of the commandments with another classification also derived from Mu'tazalite sources, that of "duties of the members [of the body]" (Ar. farāʾiḍ al-jawāriḥ, Heb. ḥovot ha-evarim) and "duties of the hearts" (Ar. farāʾiḍ al-qulūb, Heb. ḥovot ha-levavot). The "duties of the members" are of two kinds: duties obligatory by virtue of reason and duties neither enjoined nor rejected by reason, e.g., the prohibition of eating milk and meat together. The "duties of the hearts," on the other hand, are of an intellectual and attitudinal kind, such as belief in God, trust in Him, and fear and love of Him (Ḥovot ha-Levavot, Introduction). Baḥya emphasized "duties of the hearts" (3:3) and asserted that it is only on account of the weakness of the intellect that the revelational commandments are necessary. Unlike Saadiah, however, he does not try to explain the revelational laws in terms of usefulness for specific ends; they are simply expressions of piety and, thereby, effective aids to the attainment of the perfect life of attachment to God.

joseph ibn Ẓaddik

Joseph ibn *Ẓaddik stressed gratitude as the most fundamental duty to God, who out of love created the world and gave it His commandments. Accepting the distinction between rational and revelational commandments, Ibn Ẓaddik held that even the latter have a "subtle meaning" (sod dak, inyan dak). The observance of the Sabbath, for example, teaches the createdness of the world and points to the bliss of the world-to-come (Sefer ha-Olam ha-Katan, S. Horovitz, ed. (1903), 59–64).

judah halevi

Judah Halevi's classifications of the commandments were under three headings: (1) rational laws (sikhliyyot), also termed psychic laws (nafshiyyot), such as those having to do with belief in God, justice, and gratitude (Kuzari, 2:48; 3:11); (2) governmental laws (minhagiyyot), which are concerned with the functioning and well-being of society (ibid.); and (3) revelational laws (shimiyyot), or divine laws (elohiyyot) whose main function is to elevate the Jew to communion with God and whose highest manifestation is prophecy. God alone is capable of determining the revelational laws, which in themselves are neither demanded nor rejected by reason (1:98; 2:23; 3:53). For Halevi the revelational laws are supreme and the rational and governmental laws are only a "preamble" (2:48).

abraham ibn ezra

Abraham *Ibn Ezra dealt with the subject of the commandments in his commentaries on the Torah and in his small treatise Yesod Mora. He distinguished between laws which are implanted in the human heart prior to revelation (pikkudim) and laws which prescribe symbolic acts reminding us of such matters as creation, e.g., observance of the Sabbath, and the exodus from Egypt, e.g., the observance of Passover (Yesod Mora, ch. 5; Commentary to Gen. 26:5; Short Commentary to Ex. 15:26). In addition he speaks of "obscure commandments" (mitzvot ne'elamot), which have no clear-cut reason. Certain of these commandments he tried to explain as prohibitions of acts contrary to nature, e.g., seething a kid in its mother's milk, and others, as serving utilitarian purposes, e.g., the separation of the leper as a sanitary measure (Lev. 13:45–46) and the dietary laws in order to prevent injurious influences to body and soul (Comm. to Lev. 19:23; 11:43). Astrological motifs are employed in the interpretation of the sanctuary and its parts, the garments of the high priest, and the sacrifices.

abraham ibn daud

Abraham *Ibn Daud, who initiated the Aristotelian trend in medieval Jewish philosophy, abandoned the Kalām terms "rational" and "revelational" and replaced them with "generally known" (Ar. mashhūrāt, a translation of the Greek endoxa; Heb. mefursamot) and "traditional" (Ar. maqbūlāt, Heb. mekubbalot). This change of terminology reflects the Aristotelian view that good and evil are not a matter of demonstrative knowledge but of opinion (Topics, 1:1; cf. Maimonides, Millot ha-Higgayon, ch. 8; Guide 1:2). Ibn Daud assumed that the "generally known" laws, i.e., the laws of social conduct, are identical in all religions and, therefore, that the formation of states composed of different religious communities is possible, no matter how opposed their religions may be (Sefer ha-Emunah ha-Ramah, ed. S. Weil (1852), 5:2, 75).


Maimonides, like Ibn Daud, discarded as illegitimate the distinction between "rational" and "revelational" laws. In his view, all laws set forth in the Torah have a "cause" (Ar. ʿilla, Heb. illah), that is, a "useful purpose" (Ar. ghāya mufida, Heb. takhlit mo'ilah), and follow from God's wisdom, not from an arbitrary act of His will. In some cases, such as the prohibitions against killing and stealing, their utility is clear, while in others, such as the prohibitions against sowing with diverse seeds, it is not. Maimonides identified the former commandments with the laws known as mishpatim ("ordinances") and the latter, with those known as ḥukkim ("statutes"). Although general laws, e.g., the institution of sacrifices, have a reason, particular laws, e.g., the number of animals for a particular sacrifice, do not (Guide, 3:26, 31). There are two overall purposes of the Torah: the welfare of the soul, in which man finds his ultimate perfection in this world and the next, and the welfare of the body, which is a means to the welfare of the soul. For the welfare of the soul the law promotes correct opinions, and for the welfare of the body it sets down norms for the guidance of society and the individual. To promote opinions, the law fosters two kinds of beliefs: absolutely true beliefs, such as the existence and unity of God, and beliefs necessary for the well-being of the state, such as God's anger in punishing evildoers (Guide, 3:27–28, 31–32).

Introducing a new method of interpretation of Jewish law, Maimonides regarded many ḥukkim of the Torah as directed toward the abolition of the idolatrous practices of the ancient pagans, as described in a tenth-century book by Ibn Waḥshiyya, known as the Nabatean Agriculture. He even maintained that it is the first intention of the law to put an end to idolatry (Guide, 3:29). Another method that Maimonides used to explain certain laws is described by the term "gracious ruse" (Ar. talaṭṭuf; Heb. ormah), which is borrowed from the Greek philosopher *Alexander of Aphrodisias (c. 200; see S. Pines' introduction to his translation of the Guide, lxxiiff.). Thus, for example, God graciously tolerated the customary mode of worship through animal sacrifice, but transferred it from idols to His own name and through this "ruse" effaced idolatry (3:32). However, in marked contrast to the utilitarian treatments of the commandments in Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed is the deeply religious approach of his Mishneh Torah. The ḥukkim, including the sacrifices, appear in the latter work as important vehicles of the spiritual life (cf. Yad, Me'ilah, end; Temurah, end; Mikva'ot, end).

*Levi b. Gershom also set forth explanations of the commandments in terms of their utility; his commentary on the Torah largely follows Maimonides' Guide in this respect.

hasdai crescas and joseph albo

The approach of Ḥasdai *Crescas is of an entirely different nature. Crescas rejected the notion, implicit in the views of his predecessors, e.g., Maimonides, that the Torah had to adapt itself to the low level of religion prevalent at the time of its revelation, an assumption which tended to render part of the commandments obsolete. He was also the first to introduce theological instead of moral or metaphysical concepts for the interpretation of the commandments. In this context it is important to recall that Crescas was concerned with refuting Christian theological notions and the charge of the apostate *Abner of Burgos that Judaism had succumbed to philosophy. In his polemic with Christianity Crescas accepted the notion of original sin (Or Adonai, 2:2, 6), but argued that all mitzvot are means of redemption from the "poison" injected into Eve by the serpent. Unlike the Aristotelians who saw intellectual perfection as the final goal of the Torah, Crescas maintained that its ultimate purpose is to instill the love of God in man (ibid., 2:6, 2).

Crescas' pupil Joseph *Albo continued his master's polemics against Christian attacks on the Mosaic law, arguing that it is more perfect than any other law and that the Gospels are really no law at all. Distinguishing three kinds of laws, Albo held that natural law (ha-dat ha-tivit) contains those rules that are indispensable for the merest association of men; that conventional law (ha-dat ha-nimusit) promotes virtues according to human opinion, or the "generally known" (ha-mefursam); and that divine law (ha-dat ha-Elohit) guides man to true happiness, which is the bliss of the soul and eternal life (Sefer ha-Ikkarim 1:7, and passim; see I. Husik, in huca, 2 (1925), 381ff.; R. Lerner, in Ancients and Moderns, ed. J. Cropsey, 1964).

A similar treatment is found in the work of Albo's predecessor, Simon b. Zemaḥ *Duran, Keshet u-Magen (12b). On the other hand, Shem Tov *Ibn Shem Tov in his work Kevod Elohim (1556) completely discarded the philosophical approach. He considered it wrong even to investigate reasons for the commandments, since the divine in principle cannot be explained by natural reasons (21b ff.). Only in a secondary sense can the commandments be called "rational"; primarily they are "decrees" based on the will of God, who must be presumed to have a purpose, but whose purpose we cannot know. This attitude became increasingly popular in the last phase of medieval Jewish philosophy and persisted until the dawn of the modern age.

Modern Jewish Thought

Modern Jewish thought, marked by a deep crisis of traditional beliefs and halakhic authority, has dealt with the subject of reasons for divine commandments on various levels.

moses mendelssohn

Moses *Mendelssohn distinguished three layers within the body of Jewish teachings: (1) religion par excellence, consisting of eternal truths that all enlightened men hold in common; (2) historical truths concerning the origin of the Jewish nation, which faith accepts on authority; and (3) laws, precepts, commandments, and rules of life revealed by God through words and Scripture as well as oral tradition (Jerusalem (1783), 113–5). Revealed legislation prescribes only actions, not faith nor the acceptance of eternal truths. The actions prescribed by the revealed law are the "ceremonies," and the specific element of Judaism, therefore, is the ceremonial laws.

In opposition to *Spinoza, who considered the Mosaic legislation a state law designed only to promote the temporal happiness of the Jewish nation, Mendelssohn contended that Mosaic law transcends state law, because of its twofold goal: actions leading to temporal happiness and meditation on eternal and historical truths leading to eternal happiness (ibid., 116). Every ceremony has a specific meaning and a precise relation to the speculative aspect of religion and morality (ibid., 95). Since the Mosaic law is more than a state law, those of its parts which apply to the individual remain valid even after the destruction of the Jewish state and should be steadfastly observed (ibid., 127–9). Moreover, it retains its important function as a bond between Jews everywhere, which is essential as long as polytheism, anthropomorphism, and religious usurpation continue to rule the earth (letter to Herz Homberg, in Gesammelte Schriften, 5 (1844), 669). Mendelssohn's polemics against Spinoza were taken up again in the late 19th–early 20th century by Hermann *Cohen (cf. his Juedische Schriften, ed. B. Strauss, 3 (1924), 290–372).

nineteenth-century philosophers

Isaac Noah *Mannheimer and Michael *Sachs wrote against the alarming neglect of observance of the ceremonial law in the period of Emancipation. They reemphasized the significance of ceremonial law in terms borrowed partly from Mendelssohn and partly from Kant's vindication of the cultus as a means of furthering morality. Of great moment was Leopold *Zunz's forthright stand on behalf of the rite of circumcision, which occasioned his study of the ceremonial law as a whole (Gutachten ueber die Beschneidung, in Zunz, Schr, 2 (1876), 190–203). Abraham *Geiger recognized only the validity of those ceremonies which proved capable of promoting religious and moral feelings (Nachgelassene Schriften, ed. L. Geiger, 1 (1875), 254ff., 324–5, 486–8). Under the influence of the German philologist Friedrich Cruezer and *Hegel, theologians began to view the rituals prescribed in the Torah, especially the sacrificial cult, as merely symbolic expressions of ideas (see for example, D. Einhorn, Das Prinzip des Mosaismus, 1854). Defending an orthodox position, Samson Raphael *Hirsch evolved a system of symbolism based chiefly on ethical values in order to give fresh meaning to the totality of halakhah (Nineteen Letters, sections Edoth and Horeb; see Horeb, trans. by I. Grunfeld, 1 (1962), 108).

twentieth-century philosophers

In the 20th century Leo *Baeck spoke of two fundamental religious experiences, that of mystery (Geheimnis) and that of commandment (Gebot), which in Judaism are intertwined in a perfect unity (Essays, trans. by W. Kaufmann (1958), 171, 173). For Franz *Rosenzweig there is a difference between commandment and law. God is not a lawgiver – He commands, and each act of mitzvah accomplishes the task of "unifying" Him, an assertion that Rosenzweig formulated in terms of kabbalistic doctrine (Der Stern der Erloesung, 3rd ed. (1954), 2:114ff.; 3:187–94).

[Alexander Altmann]

In Kabbalah

In Kabbalah the reasons for the commandments are integrated in the general system in relation to two basic principles: a symbolic view according to which everything in this world and all human acts, especially religious acts, are a reflection of divine processes and particularly those of the divine emanation; and the notion of reciprocal influence between the upper and lower worlds, which are not separated from each other but affect each other in all matters. Thus it appears that the commandments both reflect a mystical reality and the relations between heavenly forces, and also themselves influence this heavenly reality. On the one hand, a person who fulfills a commandment integrates himself into the divine system and into the harmony of the divine processes and thus confirms the order of the true universe as it should be. On the other hand, the actual performance of a commandment radiates backwards, strengthening the supernal system. Therefore there is a natural connection between the symbolic and the magical significance of every act; i.e., a direct connection between all planes of existence and the action of each plane on the others. While the symbolic evaluation gave rise to no particular doubts or vacillations and was also in tune with other religious and philosophical views in Judaism, the magical perception of reciprocal influence was bound to create problems. A major difficulty was how to define that divine world upon which the fulfilling of commandments acts. Because the kabbalists saw that world as the world of divine emanation (Aẓilut) which is divine, unique, and united by the ten Sefirot and by the other manifestations of the divine creative power, the question arose as to how anyone could presume to speak of the influence of human action on the divine world itself. The kabbalists found themselves in a dilemma on this issue: they believed in the existence of such a magical-theosophical link between God and man – a link which is the soul of religious activity – yet they shrank from an explicit and unequivocal formulation of this relationship, justifying it by weak explanations designed to soften the magical interpretation and make it seem as if it were only allegorical.

At first only a few commandments were kabbalistically interpreted in terms of the activity of certain sefirot. Thus the Sefer ha-*Bahir interprets the commandments involving acts (mitzvot ma'asiyyot) such as tefillin, ẓiẓit, the lulav of Sukkot and terumah ("tithe-offering") as indications of the last Sefirah and its relations with the other Sefirot, especially of Binah and Tiferet (here called Emet) and the Yesod. The early kabbalists in Spain also interpreted according to these principles only those commandments that have no rational explanations (ḥukkim, or, according to theological terminology, mitzvot shimiyyot), e.g., sacrifices and worship in the Temple in general, and the major prayers. Moral and rational commandments were not yet included. *Ezra b. Solomon of Gerona, in his commentary on the Song of Songs, was the first to explain the reasons for these commandments in a kabbalistic framework. He was succeeded by his colleagues, Jacob b. Sheshet *Gerondi and *Naḥmanides. From the late 13th century on, the reasons for the commandments became more widely discussed in the Kabbalah. Even those commandments whose principles seem manifest to reason, such as love of God, fear of God, and yiḥud ("the unity of God"), were interpreted in terms of man's relation to the world of the divine Sefirot. The reasons behind the commandments on the Sabbath, festivals, sacrifices, prayers, and many others are discussed in the main part of the *Zohar, according to the general rule that spiritual awakening on earth causes a divine awakening. The author of the Zohar saw in many commandments the act which symbolizes the union of the Sefirah of Malkhut with the Sefirah of Yesod or Tiferet. The details of the commandments were explained as reflecting the processes of the supernal emanation, and a man who fulfills the commandment integrates within the process of shefa ("emanation"), strengthening the divine life which pulsates in every creature.

Fulfilling the commandments also strengthens divine harmony in the universe; the yiḥud is not merely a declaration of faith in the One God but also an increase in the oneness of the living God through man's acts in the world and man's intention (kavvanah) during the performance of such activity. The disunited world becomes reunited by the performance of commandments. *Moses ben Shem Tov de Leon's Sefer ha-Rimmon (written in 1287), which deals solely with the reasons for the commandments, included interpretations of over 100 positive and negative commandments. In the same era two anonymous kabbalists also composed comprehensive and detailed works (one of which was attributed to Isaac ibn Farḥi of Salonika 250 years later), on the reasons behind the commandments; these have survived in manuscript. Around 1300 the Ra'aya Meheimna, a later layer of the Zohar which was highly influential, offered a lengthy exposition according to which all 613 commandments may be interpreted mystically. Two classic works on this subject were written in the 14th century: Menahem *Recanati's Ta'amei ha-Mitzvot (Constantinople, 1544, complete ed. London, 1963), and Sefer ha-*Kanah (Cracow, 1894) by an anonymous Spanish kabbalist who interpreted most of the commandments in detail and argued radically that the only correct interpretation of the statutes of the Oral Law, and not only those of the Torah (Written Law), is through Kabbalah. In Safed in 1556 *David b. Solomon ibn Abi Zimra wrote Meẓudat David (Zolkiew, 1862) summarizing previous literature.

With the development of Lurianic Kabbalah the commandments were interpreted according to its special theses; i.e., the doctrine of tikkun ("restitution") and the divine parẓufim ("countenances"). Many comprehensive works were devoted to this subject, beginning with Ḥayyim *Vital'sSha'ar ha-Mitzvot (Jerusalem, 1872). Noteworthy are Mekor Ḥayyim, Tur Bareket, and Tur Piteda (Amsterdam, Leghorn, 1654–55) on the reasons for the laws in the Shulḥan Arukh by Ḥayyim ha-Kohen of Aleppo, Vital's disciple; Eẓ Ḥayyim by Judah ibn Ḥanin of Morocco (late 17th century; published in part, Leg-horn, 1793); Devar ha-Melekh (Leghorn, 1805) by *Abraham b. Israel of Brody; and Yalkut Yiẓḥak (Warsaw, 1895–1900) by Isaac Zaler, an important anthology on the reasons for the commandments. Special works are devoted to the mitzvah of circumcision: e.g., Yesod Yiẓḥak (Zolkiew, 1810) by Jacob Isaac ha-Levi and Zekher David (Leghorn, 1837) by David Zacuto; and to the mitzvah of sheḥitah, Pirkei ha-Nezar (Lublin, 1880) by Eliezer Shoḥat of Zhitomir.

[Gershom Scholem]

Kabbalistic "reasons for the commandments" are integrated into the overall scholarly argument regarding the relationship of kabbalistic thought to its rabbinic forebear. As with other topics in the field, G. *Scholem finds the kabbalistic perspective at odds with the rabbinic view, which "cut ritual off from its mythic substratum … rejected all cosmic implications." But M. *Idel writes of rabbinic theurgy that "long before the emergence of Kabbalistic theosophy, Jews envisioned their ritual as a God-maintaining activity … as universe-maintaining as well."

[Gerald Y. Blidstein (2nd ed.)]


J. Heinemann, Ta'amei ha-Mitzvot be-Sifrut Yisrael, 2 vols. (1949–562); A. Marmorstein, Studies in Jewish Theology (1950), passim; W. Bacher, Die exegetische Terminologie der juedischen Traditionsliteratur, 1 (1899), 66–67, 113; 2 (1905), 69–73; C. Siegfried, Philo von Alexandria (1875), 20ff., 182ff., and passim; A. Altmann, in: Rav Sa'adyah Ga'on (1943), 658–73; idem, in: bjrl, 28, no. 2 (1944), 3–24; G. Golinski, Das Wesen des Religionsgesetzes in der Philosophie des Bachja (1935); D. Rosin, in: mgwj, 43 (1899), 125ff.; idem, Die Ethik des Maimonides (1876), 92ff.; C. Neuberger, Das Wesen des Gesetzes in der Philosophie des Maimonides (1933); Miklishanski, in: Ha-Rambam (1957), 83–97; S. Poznański, Perush al Yeḥezkel u-Terei Asar le-Rabbi Eli'ezer mi-Belganẓi (1913), 68, and passim; G. Vajda, Recherches sur la philosophie et la kabbale (1962), 161ff.; J. Wohlge muth, Das juedische Religionsgesetz in juedischer Beleuchtung, 2 vols. (1912–19); Guttman, Philosophies, index; A. Barth, The Mitzvoth, Their Aim and Purpose (1949). kabbalah: I. Tishby, Mishnat ha-Zohar, 2 (1961), 429–578; A. Altmann, in: ks, 40 (1964/65), 256–76, 405–12; Fr.J. Molitor, Philosophie der Geschichte, 3 (1839); G. Vajda, Le commentaire d'Ezra de Gérone sure le Cantique des Cantiques (1969), 381–424. add. bibliography: I. Heinemann, Ta'amei ha-Mizvot be-Sifrut Yisra'el, 2 vols. (1954–57); E.E. Urbach, Ḥazal: Pirkei Emunot ve-De'ot (1969); I. Tishby, The Wisdom of the Zohar, vol. 3 (1989), 1155–1328; G. Scholem, On the Kabbalah and Its Symbolism (1961), 118–58; M. Idel, Kabbalah: New Perspectives (1988), 156–99.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Commandments, Reasons for." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . 25 May. 2019 <>.

"Commandments, Reasons for." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . (May 25, 2019).

"Commandments, Reasons for." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved May 25, 2019 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.