What is the Mosaic Law?

Laura M. Sands

Mosaic law, also referred to as the Law of Moses, is used to describe Jewish law as set forth in the Torah. According to Jewish tradition, these laws were handwritten by the Hebrew God and given to Moses to pass on to the Israelites. A total of 613 laws are included in the Mosaic law including the 10 laws, or 10 commandments, taught in Christian theology.

Morning prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Morning prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Religiously observant Jews are required by the tenets of their faith to abide by the Mosaic law. These laws include observing the Jewish seventh day Sabbath, keeping precise holy days and abstaining from eating pork and other forbidden foods, such as shellfish and other foods coming from animals deemed to be unclean. It is from Mosaic law that kosher dietary guidelines are derived.

The Torah sets for Mosaic law.
The Torah sets for Mosaic law.

Traditionally, most Christians do not adhere to all 613 Mosaic laws. Of these laws, however, 10 are considered standard for adherence by Christians. A few of these include honoring one’s parents, refraining from adultery, not murdering another individual and not bearing false witness, or telling lies, against another.

To many, Mosaic law is known simply as Jewish law. Not only is this due to the history of these laws, but also because most of the religious traditions and observances practiced within various sects of Judaism are based on Mosaic law. The laws are all contained within the first five books of the Bible’s Old Testament, which is what Jews refer to as the Torah.

The Tanakh is also fundamentally based on Mosaic law. Comprised of the Torah, as well as the teachings of the Jewish prophets and the Writings, the Tanakh contains all of the Jewish scriptures. For Christians, the Tanakh is referred to as the Old Testament, or the time before the writings dedicated to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

The embodiment of all of the Mosaic law, as well as all of the Jewish rabbinical laws is contained within halakha. Also contained in halakha are all of the customs and traditions assigned to the Jewish people. This collection of laws, traditions and customs is intended to provide direction to the daily lives of religiously observant Jews from the moment an individual awakens in the morning, throughout her or his waking hours, and even provides instructions on where and how an individual is allowed to sleep, as well as with whom a person is allowed to sleep with.

The Mosaic law is contained with in the first five books of the Old Testament, also called the Torah.
The Mosaic law is contained with in the first five books of the Old Testament, also called the Torah.

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Discussion Comments


I can understand why the Hebrews wanted to have a set of Mosaic laws to live by instead of living in confusion and chaos. We Americans did the same thing when our founders created the US Constitution. We needed to know where the boundaries were, and what punishment we could expect if we violated those important laws.

However, I think the Mosaic law crumbled under its own weight, even before the arrival of Jesus Christ. Creating laws that protect society in general is a noble goal, but pretty soon it starts turning into disputes over minutiae. Mosaic law started getting weighted down with specific laws that only addressed very minor issues. Very few authority figures could even interpret all of the intentions behind every one of the laws, let alone enforce them.


I've always seen the Ten Commandments as the fewest number of "rules" necessary to hold the Hebrew nation together during the time of Moses. If people were left to their own devices, especially people who had been oppressed all of their lives, they might want to do some things contrary to God's will. The thought of killing their former oppressors comes to mind, for instance. Having a direct Commandment that says "Thou Shalt Not Kill" would let people know revenge killings would not be condoned by God.

Being a Christian, I was taught to believe that Jesus' sacrifice on Calvary freed us all from Mosaic law. We now live under a state of grace, not under the law. But we still respect the 10 Commandments, even if we Christians don't feel the need to live under the Mosaic law anymore.

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