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SINAITIC COMMANDMENTS:

Halakot designated in the Mishnah and the Talmudim as "halakot le-Mosheh mi-Sinai," i.e., as having been transmitted from Moses on Mt. Sinai. There are, however, many halakot so designated which did not originate with Moses and which do not even refer to ancient traditions. With regard to several of these the Talmud itself often makes it clear that the phrase "from Moses on Mt. Sinai" is not to be taken literally. R. Akiba once recited a sentence to his pupils, saying it was a "halakah le-Mosheh mi-Sinai." The Talmud, however, adds immediately that Akiba said this only to sharpen the intellect of his pupils (Niddah 45a). In like manner R. Dimi quotes a saying which he designates as "halakah le-Mosheh mi-Sinai"; and here the Talmud adds that in Palestine no one acts according to the rule given in this saying (Pes. 110b). R. Eliezer quotes in the Mishnah (Yad. iv. 3) a saying which had been transmitted to him by Johanan ben Zakkai, who, in turn, had heard it from his own teacher, the last-named having designated it as originating with Moses on Mt. Sinai. Doubts as to the genuineness of this alleged Sinaitic saying are, however, expressed (comp. the mishnaic commentaries on Yad. ad loc.).

Also elsewhere in the Talmud may be found sentences which, though designated as "halakot le-Mosheh mi-Sinai," are, nevertheless, made the subjects of disputations—a procedure in contradiction with the ideas of tradition. It is said of many decisions designated as Sinaitic that in earlier times they had been disputed and invalidated (comp. Jair Ḥayyim Bacharach, "Ḥawwot Yair," No. 192). It may therefore be safely assumed that the designation "halakah le-Mosheh mi-Sinai" was never interpreted literally. Many old halakot of unknown origin were designated in good faith as Sinaitic; but in the cases of many other halakot, according to Asher b. Jehiel, the phrase "halakah le-Mosheh mi-Sinai" was used merely to emphasize the fact that "these regulations are as clear and lucid as if they had been made known to Moses on Mt. Sinai." Every criterion is, however, lacking which might make it possible to distinguish those decisions which really rest on reliable traditions from those which are merely so-called "Sinaitic" laws (see Oral Law; Taḳḳanah).

Bibliography:
  • Isaac Lampronti, Paḥad Yiẓḥaḳ, s.v. Halakah le-Mosheh mi-Sinai;
  • Isaac Samuel Reggio, Beḥinat ha-Ḳabbalah, pp. 107-127, Göritz, 1852.
J. J. Z. L.
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