Thursday, October 16, 2008

Three Categories of Religious Commandments

According to Jewish thought,

G-d's commandments, the 613 injunctions known as mitzvot, are divided into three distinct categories:

Mishpatim are those laws governing the civil and moral fabric of life; they are logical, readily understood, and widely appreciated as pivotal to the foundation and maintenance of a healthy society. Examples are the proscription against murder, theft, and adultery.

Eidut are those rituals and rites best described as testimonials. This category includes the many religious acts that remind Jews of historic moments in their history and serve as testament to cardinal beliefs of the Jewish faith, such as the observance of the Sabbath, the celebration of Passover, and the affixing of a mezuzah on the doorpost.

The third category, chukkim, are supra-rational principles; they are Divine decrees about which the human mind can form no judgment. Chukkim completely defy human intellect and understanding. From time immemorial they have been a source of amusement, a target of scorn, and an uncomfortable and shameful presence to the detractors of Jewish observance. For the observant Jew, they personify a mitzvah[1] at its best; a pure, unadulterated avenue of connection with G-d. These mitzvot[1] are recognized as the greatest, the ones capable of affecting the soul on the deepest level. Unimpeded by the limitations of the human mind, these statutes are practiced for one reason only: the fulfillment of G-d's word. Examples are the laws of Kashrut, the prohibition against wearing shatnez (clothes containing a combination of wool and linen), and the laws of ritual purity and mikvah[1].

1. immersion[s], "baptisms[s]"

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