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If you were asked to identify the one section of the Jewish Bible that is most universally
known, the 10 Commandments would stand at the top of the list. However, there is perhaps
no section of the Jewish Bible that is more misunderstood than the 10 Commandments.
Time and time again, the 10 Commandments make front-page news, where you have
people who are devoted to the sanctity of the 10 Commandments, taking stands to display
and honor them. However, what makes these debates a bit absurd is that quite often the
defenders of the 10 Commandments may know very little about what they really stand for.
Our goal now is to bring some clarity to the subject.
Before we begin, it is necessary to provide some background on the laws of the Torah
itself. First of all, we hold that there are 613 Commandments in the Torah, not just 10.
These laws encompass all areas of Jewish life from civil and criminal law, to family life, to
laws pertaining to the observance of Jewish holidays and worship. And if you look
throughout the Tanakh (Old Testament), you would see that the number one theme, repeated
time and time again by the prophets of Israel, is the imperative nature of the Jews keeping
the laws of the Torah. Even something as sublime as believing in G-d is counted among the
laws of the Torah.
The Torah’s laws reveal to us the nature of G-d himself. And, by studying the laws, we see
what G-d is like, by seeing what G-d requires. When G-d commands us to pursue
righteousness and mercy, we get tremendous insight into the righteousness and mercy of G-
d himself. Furthermore, having been commanded to keep these laws, we likewise get
insight into our own nature, both good and bad. We need to see the laws of the Torah as
impressive more than expressive. By that I mean the real purpose of the laws is not so
much to be an expression of our religiosity. But the real purpose of keeping these laws is
that they should impact our thoughts, speech and action elevating them and us to a higher
How the laws impact us is not always readily apparent. The laws do not always seem
logical, and may in fact impact us in ways that we may not have realized. A metaphor that I
like to use involves army boots. All soldiers are required to meticulously shine their boots.
Since the ultimate purpose of the soldier is to kill the enemy, shining one's boots may seem
like a total waste of time. One could say that a soldier should spend his whole day learning
how to kill. On the other hand, one could argue that the soldiers who care most about
shining their boots in fact make the best soldiers.
For example, such a soldier has learned to take orders and there will be situations where
following orders may have life or death consequences. A soldier who shines his boots, is a
soldier who most likely cares about himself, and such a person is more likely to care about
others as well. In the battlefield, soldiers will need to take care of their buddies. A soldier
who only learned how to kill, has only developed himself in a one-dimensional way, and has
not developed his character. There will come a time when every war will end, and the
soldier who only learned how to kill, will find it much more difficult to make his way back into
society. The point that I wish to make is that a seemingly unrelated activity may in fact
impact and transform someone in a way that is not readily apparent. Acupuncture is another
metaphor where the way to cure a headache may involve putting a needle into one's foot. If
you do not understand the network of nerves, such a procedure may seem quite illogical.
But if you know how the system works, it will all make sense.
Therefore, studying and performing the Torah's laws gives us greater insight into G-d and
ourselves, elevates us and helps to draw us closer to G-d as well.
We believe that this world is like a lobby to a great banquet hall, where we prepare
ourselves in the lobby of this world, before entering the banquet hall of eternity. We believe
that through the performance of the Commandments we earn merit from G-d, impacting the
quality of existence we will experience in the world to come. The eternity that one is building
up for oneself is compared to principal, like a savings account, remaining in store for him.
We believe that through the merit of certain Commandments, will a person be able to
actually enjoy the interest in this world from the principal one has built up for eternity.
The system of Torah law has enabled the Jews to survive because of the structure and
continuity that it brings to our existence. The focus that a life based on Torah brings a
person, a community and a nation keeps them focused on their goals and enables them to
not only survive, but thrive in all types of situations.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
Well, I will now turn my attention to the 10 Commandments. If you were to ask most people
how they would characterize the importance of the 10 Commandments, they would most
probably say that they represent G-d’s Universal laws for all of mankind to live by. This is a
mistaken perception. Even secularists that feel that the 10 Commandments are not of
divine origin, but are actually the results of human logic, and that they are logical, rational
laws that apply to all of mankind are also mistaken in their perspective.
The Jewish perspective of the 10 Commandments is that they are really something quite
different than most people commonly consider them to be.
First of all, realize that the expression "10 Commandments" is a misnomer. As I stated
before, there are 613 Commandments in the Torah. Jews refer to the 10 Commandments
as the Aseres Hadibros: which is more accurately translated as the "Ten Statements."
Within these 10 statements are actually 14 Commandments. Considering this fact, it is
often quite amusing to see how people mistakenly list the 10 Commandments, since there
are really 14 Commandments to organize.
The 10 statements according to the Jews are as follows: One of the great examples of unity that exists among the Jewish people, is the fact that
1. I am the Lord your G-d, who have brought you out of the land of Egypt , out of the
house of slavery.
2. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for you any engraved
image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth
beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; You shall not bow down yourself to
them, nor serve them; for I the Lord your G-d am a jealous G-d, visiting the iniquity of
the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
And showing mercy to thousands of those who love me, and keep my commandments.
3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your G-d in vain; for the Lord will not hold
him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shall you labor, and do all
your work; But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your G-d; in it you shall not
do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your
maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates; For in six days
the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the
seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day, and made it holy.
5. Honor your father and your mother; that your days may be long upon the land which
the Lord your G-d gives you.
6. You shall not murder.
7. You shall not commit adultery.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife,
nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is
you could travel throughout the world to any Synagogue, from the most liberal to the most
Orthodox. In all of them, wherever you see a representation of the 10 Commandments, they
will all say the same thing. This level of conformity is universal due to our oral tradition. The
Christian world which is without this tradition, and represents a world view that began 1300
years after the giving of the 10 Commandments, is filled with tremendous confusion over this
very basic part of the Bible.
Therefore when you see sets of 10 Commandments, such as the ones that were recently
on display in the courthouse building in Alabama, you see a listing that is a bit confused and
inaccurate. If you research this particular topic further, you will see that there are numerous
different representations of the 10 Commandments by different people. Martin Luther
created a set of 10 Commandments that was actually quite different from those carved in
stone at the Alabama courthouse.
The confusion quite often begins with what Jews consider the first of the statements.
According to Judaism the first of the 10 statements, is "I am the Lord your God, who brought
you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." Often times this is not even
included in certain lists as the first Commandment. The reason for this is that it does not
sound really sound like a command at all. To the Jews, this is in fact a positive statement,
an affirmation of a belief in G-d. Without this one, one could actually be an atheist and still
believe in other sets of 10 Commandments. An atheist would have no problem with merely
saying he has no other gods, he would say he has no gods at all. So these other lists of 10
Commandments could also be embraced by an atheist. The Jewish form of the 10
Commandments could not.
The confusion usually continues with the second and tenth Statements, because they
contain multiple Commandments, and people don’t know where to draw the line. Let us
look at some examples.
The following 2 examples, eliminate our #1 - then split our #2 into their #'s 1 & 2.
Below is a picture of the Alabama 10 Commandments.
Count them - there are 11. Is our #1 a preamble, or is it to be counted as a
||Three Jewish sets.
See how they match.
Obviously a lot of confusion reigns concerning the 10 Commandments when you
don’t have our oral tradition. Also, don’t forget, we were there at Sinai with Moses to
explain it to us.
The question we will look at now is, are the 10 Commandments G-d’s universal laws
for all of mankind to live by or are they something else?
The best way to get insight into this is to follow the storyline of the Tanakh from the
moment that the 10 Commandments were given until Solomon places the tablets of
stone that Moses brought down into his newly constructed Temple. Let us see how the
Tanakh refers to these tablets, and we will get some insight from this as to what they
My contention is that the 10 Commandments serve as a testimony to the covenant
that God made with the Jewish people at Sinai.
We will now look at a series of verses to show how this perspective is supported.
As a background, we will begin with
Deuteronomy 5:32. “The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb
Exodus 24:12. “And the Lord said to Moses, Come up to me into the mount, and
be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the Torah, and commandments
which I have written; that you may teach them.”
Exodus 25:16. “And you shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give
Exodus 31:18. “And he gave to Moses, when he finished talking with him upon
Mount Sinai , two tablets of Testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of
Exodus 32:15. “And Moses turned, and went down from the mount, and the two
tablets of the Testimony were in his hand; the tablets were written on both their
sides; on the one side and on the other were they written.”
Exodus 32:19. “And it came to pass, as soon as he came near to the camp,
that he saw the calf, and the dancing; and Moses’ anger burned hot, and he
threw the tablets from his hands, and broke them beneath the mount.”
Exodus 34:1. “And the Lord said to Moses, Cut two tablets of stone like the first;
and I will write upon these tablets the words that were in the first tablets, which
Exodus 34:27-29. “And the Lord said to Moses, Write these words; for
according to these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel . And
he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread,
nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten
statements. And it came to pass, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai
with the two tablets of Testimony in Moses’ hand....”
Exodus 40:20-21. “And he took and put the Testimony into the ark, and set the
poles on the ark, and put the covering above the ark; And he brought the ark
into the tabernacle, and set up the veil of the covering, and covered the ark of the
Testimony; as the Lord commanded Moses.”
1 Kings 8:9,21. 9. “There was nothing in the ark save the two tablets of stone,
which Moses put there at Horeb, when the Lord made a covenant with the
people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt....21. And I have set
there a place for the ark, where the covenant of the Lord is, which he made with
our fathers, when he brought them out of the land of Egypt .”
If in fact the 10 Commandments are really a written testimony to the covenant that G-
d formed with the Jewish people at Mount Sinai , then what does represent G-d’s
universal set of laws for all of mankind to live by? This very thing that Bible believers
throughout the world try to project onto the 10 Commandments are really dealt with
elsewhere in the Torah.
We believe that all the nations of the world are considered to be Bnai Noach or
Children of Noah. To the children of Noach, G-d commanded Seven Universal Laws,
and these laws are found in the book of Genesis. Though there was no great open
revelation as at Mount Sinai, we nevertheless hold that G-d did in fact command these
to all of mankind. These seven universal laws form the foundation of the true universal
religion that the nations of the world should live by.
They are as follows:
1. No idolatry
2. No blasphemy of God's name
3. No murder
4. No adultery
5. No theft
6. A commandment to set up courts of law
7. A prohibition from eating the limb of a living animal. This last one involves
issues of cruelty to animals, together with a prohibition against consuming
Though these represent mankind's basic obligations, in addition to these, Gentiles
can take upon themselves to fulfill many other acts of righteousness, as they grow in
developing their own personal relationship with their Creator.
This discussion is really not meant to be an in-depth look at the Noachide laws, but
merely to introduce them and encourage all non-Jews to research the subject in
In conclusion, with all of the fervor that currently surrounds the Ten Commandments,
I believe that this represents a wakeup call to the Jews. In a sense, the nations of the
world are moved by G-d’s contract with the Jewish people, calling for us to uphold this
covenant and to assume our position of spiritual leadership in the world. By doing so,
we Jews will prepare the world for the coming of the Messiah.