Friday, June 24, 2005

Booknote - Taryag

One of the many books that I stole off the good Rabbi is called "Taryag" by Rabbi A.H. Rabinowitz (which is going for $70 on Amazon!. Who says crime doesn't pay? Though I see Aronson have put out a slightly less extortionately priced version.)

The concept "Taryag" is the numerical equivalent of the magic number 613. R' Simlai stated in the Talmud that 613 mitzvot were revealed to Moses at sinai, 365 positive ones to match the days of the solar year, and 248 negative ones to correspond with the limbs in the body. Many of the medieval Rabbis compiled varying lists enumerating these 613, Maimonides himself being the most famous of them, and he also formulated the rules for calculating them.

I used to believe, like Shechter and others, that the Taryag dictum was merely for educational purposes, rabbinic hyperbole, midrashic flights of fancy. Rabinowitz claims that this concept was known during Tannaitic times and during the Amoraic era it was accepted Rabbinic tradition.

The author brings various hypotheses concerning the list of 613, including the conjecture that there was in existence a complete list during temple times that was taught to and memorized by schoolchildren. He does seem to argue convincingly that some sort of tradition or list(s) existed pre-Geonic times.

The Rabbis viewed Taryag as important in clarifying the essence of the mitzvot, as opposed to the details surrounding them. It also serves a purpose in understanding the analysis of Halachah, and classification thereof.

Is there a difference between a Taryag Mitzvah and others? A long standing historical debate has been waged concerning the Maimonidean view of the laws derived by the hermeneutical rules and the meaning of Divrey Sofrim, which I shan't go into here (Ein Kan Makom Lehaarich). According to Maimonides, a rule derived by the rules can be repealed by a later Bet Din Hagadol, and there are other Halachic ramifications (Zaken Mamre, Par Heelam Davar and others). There is also a major distinction as to the punishment meted out to those laws which are Taryag and those which aren't.

The author has a long and interesting discussion about the Azharot, the poetic formulations of the Taryag, as well as a close technical examination of the Maimonidean formulation for the enumeration of the Mitzvot.

To sum up, an interesting work that has certainly opened my eyes and broadened my horizons concerning this interesting and under-understood concept.

More to come in the booknote series. Stay tuned.



At 6/24/2005 5:51 AM, Blogger Olah Chadasha said...

Sounds like a really interesting book. I would love to read it. But, $70...Ouch! I'm gonna see if I can find a cheaper one. Are you really planning on starting a book series, b/c I would love to know about it and get involved. Let me know. Shabbat Shalom.

At 6/24/2005 9:10 AM, Blogger LTF said...

Nice post. Check this out: The Encyclopedia of the Taryag Mitzvoth, Volume 1 (Judaica Press).
(url is too long to post). Go to: and search for "Taryag."

At 6/24/2005 10:30 AM, Blogger Chai18 said...

sounds interesting

At 6/24/2005 3:18 PM, Blogger ClooJew said...

Was I the only one who noticed that, lulei demistafina, Shavuos fell out on 6/13

At 6/26/2005 5:34 AM, Blogger Oleh Yahshan said...

Probably... You do know it goes by the Hebrew date, right?

At 6/26/2005 5:55 AM, Blogger Litvshe said...

I'm interested to hear where the author has Tannaitic sources for the Taryag. It is a strictly Ammoraic issue. As a matter of fact, I think there is only one place where there is any mention of the number of mitzvas in the Tannaim and according to the exact kisvei yad, that number is 300. Which is Tannaitic short hand for - lots and lots.

At 6/26/2005 7:49 AM, Blogger The Rabbi's Kid said...


I wouldn't necessarily recommend purchasing the book, it's just an academic treatise on a little-known subject, and there are others.


He argues: 1) It is already accepted tradition during Aromaic times.
2)The Mechilta uses the number 613, as does the Sifri and the Medrash Hagadol, all from the school of R' Akiva.
He quotes your source of the 300, says it could be merely the Tannaim's way of saying "lots and lots", or it could be an alternative method of counting.

Hope that helps


At 12/29/2006 11:34 AM, Anonymous rubin said...

I am delighted that my late cousin's book Taryag is still being read(stolen or otherwise)The book does not reflect Avram-Hirsch's wonderful personality.He like his father was a superb individual.


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