Mosaic Law: Definition & Commandments

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore Mosaic Law, as given down by the Jewish and Christian god to Moses. Though once just the Ten Commandments, today it encompasses over 600 laws, codes, and directions.

Laws to Live By

Everywhere you go during your day, you see and observe laws: instead of jaywalking, you cross a busy street at a crosswalk; you abstain from cutting through the overgrown yard with the ominous 'NO TRESPASSING' sign outside; you don't randomly smack strangers in the head as you walk by. Though all of these are examples of laws, they are all put up by different authorities. The municipality tells you where you are allowed to cross busy streets, your creepy neighbor is allowed to keep others off his property, and the federal government has told you that you are not allowed to frivolously assault passersby.

While these are all laws which affect us every day, they are all based on secular authority. Many of humankind's oldest law codes were given to us by religious traditions and, hence, by those religions' gods. One of the oldest, predating both Christianity and Islam, and the basis for many of the tenets of the Jewish and Christian faiths, is Mosaic Law.

What Is Mosaic Law?

According to the Book of Exodus, Mosaic Law was given to Moses and the Israelites as part of the Mosaic Covenant. The Covenant was an agreement between the Israelite people and their God. The Israelites promised to follow God's law, and in return, God would look kindly upon the Israelites as his chosen people in an increasingly evil world. As a result, Moses went up to Mt. Sinai to speak with God and receive his law. There, God passed down the Ten Commandments to Moses, forming the basis of Mosaic Law.

Mosaic Law today is often conflated with Jewish Law, which is made up of 613 laws which dictate how Jewish people of today are supposed to live their lives. These include laws governing the butchering of animals so that the meat is considered kosher, laws forbidding the eating of shellfish, and directions such as how good Jewish people should sleep. Many of these laws are contained in the supplementary halakha.

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