Oz Torah: Keeping all 613 Commandments – Ask the Rabbi


Q.  Does anyone keep all the 613 commandments?

The Talmud tells us (Tractate Makkot 23b) that there are 613 commandments ( mitzvot) in the Torah. credit. Chabad.

A.  There are two answers, the practical and the theoretical:

1. The practical answer: many commandments only apply to certain groups (kings, farmers, judges, women, kohanim, etc.) or certain places and times (the land of Israel, the time of the monarchy, etc).

Some generally apply only once in a lifetime (marriage, etc.) and hopefully some never (divorce, etc.). Those that affect all of us all the time may be only about 100.

2. The theoretical answer: Rabbi Mendel of Kotz says that if God had expected perfect observance of the commandments He would have given the Torah to the angels.

God understands that no human being is perfect – but we are all perfectible and we can constantly improve.


Q.  I am a married woman with children. My parents are still alive but are elderly and unwell. I also have an unmarried brother who has health problems. Where does my duty lie?

“Poverty” by chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher.

A.  The Torah insists that we be responsive to and supportive of those who are in need – especially the widow, orphan and stranger.

The prophet Isaiah (58:7) spells out the duty one has towards them: to feed the hungry, provide a home for the homeless, supply clothing for those who need it, etc.

Maimonides’ famous Eight Rungs of Charity say that the greatest thing one can do for others is to provide them with opportunity and hope (the Chinese say that better than a fish is a fishing rod).

Where does all this begin?

Isaiah says, “Do not hide yourself from your own flesh” (58:7), which establishes the rule, according to the sages, that your first duty is towards your family, who are “your own flesh” (Ketubot 52b, 86a).

You know this, or else you would not have told me so much about your family situation.

Within the family there are always tensions and competing claims; maybe this is what is causing you distress.

It is the wisdom and diplomacy of the woman on which more or less everything tends to depend: “Every wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her own hands” (Prov. 14:1).

What the Codes of Jewish Law (e.g. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 251) add is that there is an order of priorities: one’s spouse (whose well-being is at all times a married person’s first responsibility), parents (both father and mother), then children, siblings, and other family members – followed by your immediate neighbours, your fellow citizens in general, and the needy of other places.

The old saying, “Charity begins at home”, is the Jewish principle… but we would extend the saying in these terms, “Charity begins at home – but it doesn’t end there”.

Isaiah 57:19 says, “Peace, peace, to him that is far off and to him that is near”.

It’s not enough to limit your support to those who are near – or even those who are further off.


The historical fasts of Tammuz and Av have been faithfully observed by Jews for countless centuries.

They commemorate the destruction of the two Temples at this time of year – first by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and then by the Romans in 70 in CE.

It is said that the only remnant of the sanctuary is the Western Wall, but there is another sense in which the Jewish people themselves are the historical remnant of the time of the Temple.

Long before the emergence of Islam, for whom today’s Jews are interlopers who have more or less invented a narrative that endows them and their Temple with historic veracity, Jews and Jewish worship were enshrined in the holy site.  Centuries of Christian pilgrims confirm that fact.

In 1842, George Fisk, an Anglican minister, wrote,

“It is heart-rending to see these people, deprived of all rights in their ancestral homeland, looking on with longing eyes at a distance, at this holy place to which the Jewish heart always yearns”.

It had not always been thus; for centuries there was not only a Jewish indigenous presence in the Holy Land, but Jews were actually visiting the Temple site, as Rabbi Menachem Me’iri reported.

Jews who fast and pray on 17 Tammuz and 9 Av attest to the unbroken Jewish connection with the Temple and its Jerusalem location.


Rabbi Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Jewish religious issues. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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