Law given to Moses at Sinai

A Law given to Moses at Sinai (Hebrew Halakhah le-Moshe mi-Sinai הלכה למשה מסיני) refers to a halakhic law for which there is no biblical reference or source, but rather was passed down orally as a teaching originating from Moses at Sinai. Such teachings have not been derived from any Talmudical hermeneutics, but known solely from the Jewish tradition.[1]


According to Rabbinic Judaism, God transmitted the Torah to Moses in two parts: the written Torah which comprises the Biblical books of Genesis through Deuteronomy, and the Oral Torah which was relayed orally, from Moses to his successors, to their successors, and finally to the rabbis.[2]

In rabbinic discourse, a "law given to Moses at Sinai" refers to a law which has no source in the written Torah, and thus must have been transmitted orally since the time of Moses.[3] These laws are nonetheless considered by the Talmud to have the force and gravity of Biblical law as if they are written explicitly in the Torah.[4]

In a few cases, however, later commentaries say that the law in question is "not literally" (לאו דווקא) from Sinai.[5] According to some, even a rabbinic law may be called "from Sinai" if it is "as clear as a law from Sinai".[6] R' Reuvein Margolies suggested that any law created by the Sanhedrin could be termed "from Sinai", since the institution of the Sanhedrin has its origins at Sinai.[7]

In those oral teachings delivered by Moses unto Israel at Sinai, the rabbis have said that their underlying motives cannot be properly divulged through study, nor is it permissible to raise an objection against them by way of one of the hermeneutical principles applied in study.[8]


Some of the examples of a law given to Moses at Sinai are as follows:

  • All women are required to fast on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.[9]
  • Women are exempt from the biblical command to dwell in a Sukkah (make-shift booth) on the seven days of the Sukkah-holiday, Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.[10]
  • They write a woman's bill of divorcement on anything which is disconnected [from the ground], Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.[11]
  • They cover the blood of [slaughtered] wild beasts and fowl with anything that is fit for growing vegetation, Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.[12]
  • They pierce the ear of a Hebrew bondman [who wishes to continue in bondage under his master], even with a [wooden] pick, even with a thorn, even with glass; Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.[13]
  • Crops produced on trees outside the Land of Israel, during their first three years, it is prohibited to eat them and to derive any benefit from them, Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.[14]
  • The leper who is cleansed from his leprosy requires being shaved of all body hair till he is as smooth as a pumpkin rind, only in such places where his hair is clustered together and is conspicuous; Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.[15]
  • When sewing together sheets of parchment belonging to a Torah scroll, one must not sew the sheets together at the upper and lower ends of the margins, but rather leave a space, Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.[16]
  • She who sees a drop of blood resembling a mustard [seed], she sits and keeps watch over herself on its account for a period of seven days, [which days are to be] free from any additional signs of her natural purgation [if she is to be permitted unto her husband again], Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.[17]
  • Tefillin (phylacteries) are to be made square and black, Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.[18]
  • He that sells a field, he is the one who signs the bill of sale. He that betroths unto himself a wife, he is the one who signs the bill of betrothal; Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.[19]
  • The upper knot tied to the [four] tassels (Tzitzit) of one's shawl, Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.[20]
  • The tying of the straps made into the shape of the Dalet on the head Tefillin (phylactery) and the shape of the Yod on the arm phylactery, Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.[22]
  • The letter "shin" embossed on the head Tefillin (phylactery), Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.[23]
  • The [folding] bridge of the phylacteries (Aramaic: thitura) and the place where the strap passes through on the phylacteries (Aramaic: maʻabarta), Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.[24]
  • The prescribed units of measure (e.g. 40 seahs, olive's bulk, size of a barleycorn, size of a lentil, et al.) practised by the Sages, and interposing objects that would disqualify an immersion in a mikveh (e.g. clay attached to the body or vessel, dough, gum resin, etc.), Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.[25]

Sometimes, the dictum denotes an established, ageless tradition not derived or derivable from the Written Law, but simply practised or observed by Israel since time immemorial, such as the following examples:

  • Nachum the scribe said: I have received a tradition from Rabbi Measha, who received it from his father, who received it from the zugot, who received it from the prophets, a law given to Moses at Sinai, that if one sows his field with two types of wheat and made them into one threshing-floor, he gives one peah; but if he makes two threshing-floors, he must grant two peahs.[27]
  • R. Yehoshua said: I have received as a tradition from Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, who heard it from his teachers, and his teacher from his teacher, as a law given to Moses at Sinai, that Elijah will not come (i.e. the harbinger of the Messiah) to declare unclean or clean, to remove afar or to bring nigh, but to remove afar those [families] that were brought nigh by violence, and to bring nigh those [families] that were removed afar by violence. (i.e. he will make no change in the Law, but only make an end of injustice)[28]

Maimonides, in the introduction to his commentary on the Mishna, provides a list of the laws given to Moses at Sinai.[30] They cover a wide variety of topics, including Tefillin manufacture, Shabbat prohibitions, shemitah, tithes, sexual prohibitions, and the structure of a Sukkah.

See also


  1. Encyclopedia Talmudit: Halacha LeMoshe MiSinai
  2. Mishna, Avot 1:1
  3. Jewish law: history, sources, principles: Volume 1 Menachem Elon - 1994 "... entire Oral Law is that its principles and explanations were given at Sinai, why are only certain laws, and not others as well, referred to as "law given to Moses at Sinai"? The halakhic authorities and scholars have dealt at length .."
  4. Jacob Neusner Judaism when Christianity began: a survey of belief and practice 2002 Page 115 " (5) What the great sages teach is encompassed by the Torah revealed to Moses at Sinai, so that "a law given to Moses at Sinai" may include a proposition in no way articulated by the written part of the Torah."
  5. Bartenura on Yadayim 4:3; Kesef Mishna on Hilchot Matnat Aniyim 6:5
  6. Rosh, Mikvaot 1
  7. Yesod HaMishna VeArichata, p.8
  8. Babylonian Talmud (Nazir 29a); Jerusalem Talmud (Nazir 7:4 [37b], s.v. Commentary Pnei Moshe on the Mishnah). See also Jerusalem Talmud (Megillah 12a), where a story is related about a certain scholar who heard the oral teaching from Moses which says, "when sewing together sheets of parchment belonging to a Torah scroll, one must not sew the sheets together at the upper and lower ends of the margins, but rather leave a space." When he endeavored to explain the reason for that practice by saying, "it is in order to prevent its tearing," he was rebuked and told that it was a Halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.
  9. Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 28a)
  10. Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 28a); cf. Leviticus 23:42
  11. Jerusalem Talmud (Kiddushin 11b); cf. Deuteronomy 24:1
  12. Jerusalem Talmud (Kiddushin 11b); cf. Leviticus 17:13
  13. Jerusalem Talmud (Kiddushin 11b); cf. Exodus 21:6
  14. Jerusalem Talmud (Orlah 20a); cf. Leviticus 19:23
  15. Jerusalem Talmud (Kiddushin 11b); cf. Leviticus 14:8
  16. Jerusalem Talmud (Megillah 12a); cf. Babylonian Talmud (Megillah 19b)
  17. Jerusalem Talmud (Berakhot 37a); cf. Leviticus 18:19
  18. Jerusalem Talmud (Megillah 32b); cf. Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 28b), which says: "Black [phylactery] straps is a teaching delivered to Moses at Sinai." In BT Megillah 35a, Rav Pappa said that the teaching concerning "square tefillin" refers to their being sewn in a square fashion, as well as refers to their diagonals being squared.
  19. Babylonian Talmud (Kiddushin 9a)
  20. Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin 89a); cf. Numbers 15:38
  21. Jerusalem Talmud (Megillah 12a)
  22. Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 62a); cf. Jerusalem Talmud (Megillah 12a). See Deuteronomy 6:8.
  23. Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 28b); cf. Deuteronomy 6:8
  24. Babylonian Talmud (Menachot 35a)
  25. Babylonian Talmud (Sukkah 5b); cf. Mishnah Mikva'ot 9:1-ff.
  26. Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 132a)
  27. Mishnah, Peah 2:6
  28. Mishnah, Eduyot 8:7
  29. Mishnah, Yadayim 4:3
  30. Introduction to Rambam's commentary on the Mishna, 8:25-41

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