Avot and Mitzvot – Was Avraham the First Jew/2/en
In discussing to what extent the Patriarchs kept the Torah's commandments, commentators offer a full range of possibilities, from full observance to no observance at all. Some sources portray the founding fathers as voluntary pioneers of performance and not just faith, with some even going so far as to claim that they kept even rabbinic ordinances. Others attempt to demonstrate that the Torah is eternal, and that the mitzvot were given already to Adam.
As these earlier positions encounter difficulties in explaining the Patriarch's apparent violations of some Biblical prohibitions, other commentators take the opposite tack, suggesting that the vast majority of the Torah's commandments began only at Sinai. Additionally, a few different variations of a compromise approach suggest that there was partial observance by the Avot. This has the advantage of being able to explain away most transgressions, while simultaneously maintaining a portrait of some early ritual observance.
All of the mitzvot existed and were observed before their transmission at Sinai. This position subdivides over whether there was a pre-Sinai Divine obligation to keep the mitzvot or whether it was man's voluntary initiative.
- Torah observance was still optional and not yet obligatory – This appears to be the approach adopted by Bavli Pesachim, and is explicitly taken by Daat Zekeinim.
- The details of the implementation of these laws were affected by Noachide status – See Bavli Yevamot that there is no paternal lineage or familial relationships for Noachides. This principle is applied by Bavli Sanhedrin and R. Yosef Bekhor Shor and Ramban to dispose of the apparent Patriarchal violations.29
The Patriarchs fulfilled only what they were explicitly commanded in Sefer Bereshit, and these did not include mitzvot other than circumcision.
The Patriarchs only partially observed the commandments. The multiple variations of this approach maintain that distinctions existed between different Patriarchs, types of commandments, and locations.
Only Selected Commandments
- Rashbam suggests that only rational mitzvot which relate to a moral ethic were observed.39
- According to the Maharal, since the mitzvot had not yet been commanded, there was a constructive purpose in keeping only the positive, but not the negative, commandments.