Book Review: The Concise Sefer Hachinuch
By: Rabbi Asher Wasserman
Distributed by Feldheim / 432 pp.
Reviewed by Rabbi Ari Enkin
Exciting news for those seeking a deeper understanding of the mitzvot in the weekly Parsha! The Sefer Hachinuch is now available in a new abridged English translation complete with inspiring and practical summaries in a single volume thanks to Rabbi Asher Wasserman of Bnei Brak.
For those unfamiliar with the Sefer Hachinuch, it is a classic and authoritative work that discusses each of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah in the order they are listed in the Rambam’s Sefer Hamitzvot. The mitzvot are presented in the order they appear in the Torah, parsha by parsha. In addition to the mitzva itself, the Sefer Hachinuch discusses the legal (halachic), moral, and philosophical implications of each mitzva. There are a number of commentaries and companions that have been written on the Sefer Hachinuch, most notably, the “Minchat Chinuch”.
Although we are not completely sure who authored the Sefer Hachinuch, as the author merely tells us that he is “a Jewish man from the House of Levi who lived in Barcelona”, a number of theories have evolved throughout the ages. Some scholars believe that the Sefer Hachincuh was written by Rabbi Aharon of Barcelona (d. 1290) which seems to be the predominant view. Others say that the author was Rabbi Pinchas of Barcelona. Some say that Rabbi Aharon and Rabbi Pinchas were brothers, while others say they were unrelated.
Rabbi Asher Wasserman has done an impressive job in translating this classic and making it accessible to the English speaking public. Just like the original Sefer Hachinuch, Rabbi Wasserman follows the weekly parsha, making this work a great one for the Shabbat table, reviewing the parsha’s mitzvot with the children. Each mitzva is clearly presented in a grey box along with the verse, in both English and Hebrew, which the mitzva is based upon. Readers and then given an “Explanation” and “Key Concepts” of the mitzva. At the side of each of these grey boxes, in the margin, is that mitzvah’s number among the 613. Under the number is a notation informing the reader whether or not that mitzva applies today, and whether it applies only in Eretz Yisrael.
As the work is “Concise,” the author strategically, and, in my opinion, correctly, chooses the most pertinent and meaningful portions of the Sefer Hachinuch text to translate. The translation is generally smooth and well rendered making the information readable and comprehensible, though it is occasionally a little too loyal to the original. Information is not repeated, but rather, where one mitzva is similar to another, the text refers the reader to that mitzva for further study. Contemporary halachic sources are also occasionally cited. One thing I quickly noticed is how clearly the mitzvot relating to korbanot, are presented. This allows readers to better understand the mysterious world of korbanot, and which korbanot are to be brought for which transgressions. Indeed, many of the complicated matters relating to kodshim and taharot are nicely presented.
As one who had a weekly chavruta study in Sefer Hachinuch for several years (yasher ko’ach Davidi Wellins of Ramat Beit Shemesh!), I am thrilled that the Sefer Hachinuch is now more accessible to the wider public. It’s not the original or entire work, but it will certainly satisfy those seeking a taste of the taryag mitzvot, while the advanced reader can pick up the original Sefer Hachinuch, along with the Minchat Chinuch, for further study. It is a beautiful volume that is a welcome addition to any bookshelf.
Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of “The Dalet Amot Halacha Series” (5 Vol.) and the General Editor and Halacha columnist at Torahmusings.com. He welcomes books of a halachic nature for review on the Torah Musings website. [email protected]
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