The 613 commandments

In “John Kerry channels George McGovern” we discussed John Kerry’s speech to the Anti-Defamation League and Kerry’s reference to the commandment to “love thy neighbor.” We followed our radio hero Hugh Hewitt in pointing out that it is not one of the Ten Commandments, although it is at the core of Christian teaching.
I should have known at the time that we would be prodded by our readers for a more complete accounting of the issue. Reader Andy Foth wrote to point out that the injunction to love thy neighbor derives from Leviticus (twice in chapter 19), and reader Eric West wrote to ask whether it is one of the 613 commandments that comprise the body of Jewish law compiled by the great Jewish sage Maimonides.
Mr. Foth is of course right regarding the injunction to love thy neighbor in Leviticus, echoed by Jesus in the gospels. Click here for quotations and citations to the Jewish and Christian texts. The injunction to love thy neighbor does not seem to appear in the exhaustive list of 613 commandments compiled by Maimonides in the twelfth century. Click here for a look at the list. From the 613 commandments Maimonides also deduced the 13 articles of Jewish faith. Click here for a look.
UPDATE: Reader Edward Himmelfarb adds an important point:

Uh, not to prolong this debate about “love your neighbor” — well, maybe, precisely to prolong it — if you look at Maimonides’s list of the 613 commandments, provided by, there are 3 commandments based on Lev. 19:18: #20 (not to take revenge), #21 (not to bear a grudge) — both of which appear in the first half of the verse — and #13 (to love Jews). This last one is an interpretation, not a translation, of the Hebrew text. It takes the word “ray-ah-KHA” (transliterated phonetically), which literally means neighbor, fellow, etc., and interprets it to mean fellow Jews. I don’t know whether this is Maimonides’s interpretation, or aish’s, and in the context of biblical society, it might actually be the correct interpretation. But it is an interpretation, distinct from the universalist interpretation of the verse that you are probably more familiar with, and it explains why you missed it in the listing.

As Mr. Himmelfarb notes, Maimonides’ version of the Biblical injunction is an interpretation (I think it’s Maimonides’ interpretation and not the linked site’s). I failed to note that fact because I venerate Maimonides and consider his interpretation, if in fact it is his, to be authoritative.


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