Introduction

 

What to expect from this project:

          Every Mitzvah in God’s Torah – take at least a little look at each and every one.

          Ta’amei Hamitzvot – “reasons” for the mitzvot, from a rationalist point of view.

          Intellectual skills and familiarity with the genres of halachic literature that will prepare you to go on to further, deeper study.

          A master pedagogue; explore how the author understands what techniques are going to get his son and friends “hooked” on the study of Torah.

          A new understanding of how our author sees the ideal relationship between people and God.

 

 

Please note this is not a class in practical halachah.  Lots has happened in the development of Jewish practice since our text was written.  For decisions on what to do, or what not to do, consult with your own personal trusted authority.

         

 

 Books
      You will need a copy of the book.  There are several ways to get one.
    If you prefer to do your reading in Hebrew, there are several editions available, each for about $20 - $25.  Try the web sites below, or the local Jewish bookstores.
 
    If you prefer to do your reading in English, you will need the translation put out by Feldheim Publishers.  It is a five-volume set, called the “Student Edition,” that sells for about $110.  The set has been out of print for some years, but is now back in print. You should be able to get it directly from Feldheim, through their web site, or from other vendors. 

 

    A web site called EnglishTorahTapes.com has a series of files in which someone reads and translates Sefer haHinnuch.  Look for a list of shiurim at the bottom of their home page, and click on Sefer HaChinuch.  You can also purchase a CD of the entire reading for $3. 
 
     The early Manuscripts of Sefer haHinnuch do not match the printed editions we have now.  (The Feldheim translator’s introduction explains what manuscripts he worked from the how he chose between conflicting texts.)  In the original, the mitzvot in each parshah were arranged with all the positive mitzvot grouped first, followed by all the negative mitzvot.  In the printed editions, the mitzvot appear in the order of their source verses.  You will occasionally find that the author refers back to a mitzvah that has not yet appeared in the text we are reading.
    The author originally marked each mitzvah that remains in force in his day, and each mitzvah that has no pre-condition.  Those marks do not appear in the printed editions.
    The titles for each mitzvah in the Feldheim edition are provided by the translator.  They are occasionally a little skew to the content of the mitzvah essay.
    Watch out for the footnotes in the Feldheim edition.  The content is often helpful, but the footnotes don’t always end up on the same page as the text they are commenting on.
    The text begins with three introductions.  We will cover two of them early on, and cover the third one later.  Between those are a complete list of the mitzvot, in order.  This is a handy reference.
 
 
My Role in this Study
    I am here as a facilitator.  I will do my best to provide enough context and background to help make our text intelligible.  Mostly, I want to help make it possible for all of us to hear the voice of our anonymous author, to learn what he has to teach and to discover the sensibilities that help him see how the various parts of Judaism fit together.
    This class is almost impossible to prepare for.  Each class covers a diversity of topics, and then, the next week, we go on to more new topics.  I will do what I can to keep up, but there will be lots of occasions when I do not know the answers to questions.  I will do what I can to get answers, but I won’t always be able to do that either.  Please try to be patient.
    Personally, I am interested in realia.  I do historic re-enactment as a hobby.  So I often try to visualize how various ancient practices worked in real life.  I am also interested in looking at things within an appropriate social context.  In order to understand a statement as its author meant it, you have to figure out what the author meant, which might be different from what it seems to mean to folks in a different place and time.  For example, consider this sentence:  “This is Sally; she is friendly and gay.”  That sentence means something very different in a text written in the year 1900 than it would in a text written in the year 2000.
 
Upcoming schedule of assignments:
 
    The author gets off to a bit of a slow start.  This book is a curriculum, and we will see the author’s agenda change and grow.  It takes a while for the author to hit his stride, so we need to be a little patient with him.  His writing will improve with practice.
 
    There are a number of background topics we will need to cover in the opening several weeks, and I will work them in as we go along.

         The notion that there are “613” identifiable, countable mitzvot.

         The implications of trying to assign a root/reason for each mitzvah (the idea of “ta’amei hamitzvot.”)

                      A brief history of halachah and halachic literature.
 
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