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Decalogue, the, in Jewish Theology

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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The Ten Words are designated by Philo as κεφαλαῖα νόμων ="the heads of the law," the title of the chapter "De Decem Oraculis." The second table Philo, contrary to the usual order, begins with the commandment against adultery, describing adultery as the greatest of all violations of the Law, since it corrupts three houses—that of the adulterer, that of the wronged husband, and that of the adulterer's wife. The fourth commandment refers to all festivals, and, according to Philo, embraces all the laws conducive to the spread of kindness and gentleness and fellowship and the feeling of equality among men (with reference to Sabbatical year and the jubilee). Under the fifth commandment he ranges all laws in regard to family life, the honor due to old people, the duties of the old to the young, the ruler to his subjects, the benefactor to the needy; the master to his servants, etc.

Philo's exposition of the preeminence and original character of the Decalogue, both in its general tenor and in many of its particular details, reflects the teachings of the Mishnaic period, as indeed it also anticipates some of the positions of later Rabbis. The fact that the recital of the Ten Words constituted a salient feature of the daily liturgy in the morning service (Tamid 5:1; Ber. 3c) indicates that they were regarded as the essential parts of divine revelation. This practise was discontinued as a protest against the unwarranted inference drawn therefrom by sectaries that the Decalogue alone had been revealed by God on Sinai (Ber. 11A). The Shema' ("Hear, O Israel," Deuteronomy 6:4) and the selections from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-22; Numbers 15:37 et seq., which follow the Shema' in the order of the liturgy, and form as it were a part thereof, were believed to contain in essence the Decalogue.

The new Pesiḳta (Bet Ham. 6:41; comp. Bacher, "Die Agada der Palästin. Amoräer," 2:183) holds the reading of the Shema' every morning as tantamount to the keeping of the Ten Commandments, because they, too, had been proclaimed "in the morning" (Exodus 19:16). Again, Sifre to Deuteronomy 1:3 controverts the assumption that the Decalogue alone had been revealed through Moses. Like the Shema', Numbers 19, looked upon by R. Ḥiyya as fundamental, is construed by R. Levi as a cryptogram of the Decalogue (see see DIDACHE).

According to Hananiah, the son of Joshua's brother, the Decalogue contains all the laws of the Torah (Yer. Sheḳ. 46d, bottom; Soṭah 22d; Cant. Rabbah to 5:14), his words, "parashiyyoteha wediḳduḳeha shel Torah," recalling Philo's view that the Decalogue contains the capital, the rest of the Pentateuch the special, laws. Berechiah is credited with a similar opinion (Bacher, c. 3:356). The Decalogue is compared with a rare jewel of ten pearls (Exod. R.; Tan. [Ki] Tissa, end). The Patriarchs had been loyal to the principles of the Decalogue long before they had been revealed to Moses. (Attention is called to Yalḳ. Shim'oni, 1:276, end.) The universality of the Decalogue is accentuated by the fact of its being offered in turn to all the nations (Deuteronomy 33:2,3; Habakkuk 3:3; Ta'an. 25a; 'Ab. Zarah 2a) in the desert territory ("hefḳer") which belonged to none exclusively (Mek., Yitro, 1). and of its proclamation in all the (seventy) languages of the world (Shab. 88b).

The Seventh Commandment.

The first and second commandments are rated as preeminent (Sifre to Numbers 15:31), both on account of their doctrine and also because they alone, as is indicated by the use of the first person singular, were spoken to the people by God Himself (Macc. 24a; Sanh. 99a; Hor. 8a; compare Geiger, "Jüd. Zeit." 4:113 et seq.). On the other hand, the tenth commandment is also held fundamentally to include the others; at least its violation amounted to transgressing the seven "nots" () of the Decalogue (Pesiḳ. R. 22). As the tenth forbids the coveting of a neighbor's wife, the foregoing statement of its scope agrees with the similar valuation placed upon the seventh (against adultery: Tan., Naso). Adultery is a violation of the first commandment, according to Jeremiah 5:7,8,12; of the second, according to Numbers 5:14 ( = Exodus 20:5); of the third, because adultery is denied, as is generally the case, with an oath; of the fifth, inasmuch as the child of such a union can not honor its parents; of the sixth, because adulterers are always prepared to kill if caught in the act; of the seventh, which directly forbids adultery; of the eighth, as the adulterer is virtually a thief (see Proverbs 9:17); of the ninth, because the adulteress gives false testimony against her husband; of the tenth, in that the adulterer makes his sonanother man's heir. In regard to the fourth (concerning the Sabbath), the eventuality is assumed that the issue of an adulterous intimacy between a non-priest and a woman of the priestly caste might become a priest. The arrangement of the two tables whereby one is opposite six indicates that murder includes the denial of God (Mek. to Exodus 20:17). The last six commandments are also regarded as the basis of all morality (Tosef., Shebu. 3:6).

As a statue is seen by a thousand, and its eye covers them all, so, R. Levi says, every single person heard the words as though personally addressed (Pesiḳ. 110a; Tan., ed. Buber, to Yitro 17; compare Pesiḳ. , where Jochanan is credited with this simile, while Levi points to one sound heard by many). The fact that the versions of Ex. and Deut. present textual discrepancies was explained by the theory that both were divinely given , in one act of divine speech (Sheb. 20b; R. H. 27a; Mek. 20:8; Sifre, Deuteronomy 22:11), which "would be impossible for men," and "which the human ear could not hear"; but, according to Psalms 62:12, the one speech of God was apprehended as two by men. In fact, the Ten Words were all proclaimed at once ("bedibbur eḥad," Mek. 20:1). The first set of tables did not contain, in the fifth, the words "that it may be well with thee," because they were predestined to be broken (B. Ḳ. 55a). Interesting is the report that R. Ḥiyya was ignorant of this difference between Deut. and Ex. (B. Ḳ. 54b).

The Decalogue often appears as a subject of controversy with non-Jews, a circumstance which goes far to demonstrate the fundamental value attached to it (see Pesiḳ. R. ). One such controversy is with Hadrian (Pesiḳ. R. ). The subjects discussed are such as why is circumcision not in the Decalogue? (Pesiḳ. R.; Tan. to Lek Leka, Agad. Bereshit ); or why does not the Torah begin with the Decalogue? (Mek. to 20:2). The "Ten Words" are even a "pleader" for Israel (Pesiḳ. R.; Midr. Teh. to Psalms 17:4).

How the Ten Words were distributed between the tables is also a subject of rabbinical inquiry. The prevailing opinion is that there were five on each; but it has also been maintained that each had the whole ten (DECALOGUE; Yer. Sheḳ. 49d; Yer. Soṭah 22d; Cant. Rabbah 5:14; Mek. 20:27); even twice—once on each side (Yer. Sheḳ. 6:1). Simai argues that the Ten Words were inscribed on each table four times (τετράρωνον; ib.).

Tables of the Law.

The dimensions of the tables furnish a fruitful subject for exegetical ingenuity. The objection that they were too heavy for one man to carry (raised even by modern Bible critics) is met by ascribing to the letters engraved thereon miraculous powers. They virtually carried the tables; only when they began to fly away did Moses feel the weight of the stones (Yer. Ta'an.; Tan., Ki Teẓe et al.). The first set given with pomp attracted the "evil eye," and hence were broken (Tan., Ki Teẓe). According to some, Moses was ordered by God to break the tables, and received God's thanks for the act (Ab. R. N. : see note of Schechter on the passage; Yalḳ. 363, 640). According to another version, when Moses noticed that the script began to fly off, he became alarmed and threw the tables down, whereupon he was struck dumb (Yalḳ., Ki Teẓe). By the use of "anoki" ("I am," an Egyptian word; Pesiḳ. R. ), which God had employed in His conversations with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Genesis 15:1, 26:24, 31:13), He convinced the people that it was the God of their fathers who spoke to them (Tan., ed. Buber, to Yitro 16).

In post-Talmudic literature and liturgy the Decalogue is also expounded and expanded as the fountainhead whence all other laws flow. Shebu'ot being the day of the revelation (Shab. 86a), this idea was prominently utilized in the piyyuṭim and see AZHAROT for the holiday. Saadia adopts the numeration of the letters of the Decalogue given in Num. Rabbah as 613, a number likewise fixed by Naḥshon Gaon ('Aruk, under ). Eliezer ben Nathan has the same number in the "Ma'arib" for Pentecost, Eleazar b. Judah the same in the "Sefer ha-Ḥayyim." In reality, the Decalogue contains 620 letters, the mnemotechnic word for which is ("crown"; "the CROWN of the Law"), which number, according to its expounders, corresponds to the 613 Commandments, one for each letter, the seven others, auxiliary vowel-consonants, indicating the seven Noachian commandments (see beginning of "Bet" in the "Sha'ar ha-Otiyyot").

The Decalogue Fundamental.

Many "poetic" elaborations of the Decalogue are in existence, but the plan was also carried out by writers on legal matters (Zunz, "Literaturgesch." p. 95; Steinschneider, "Hebr. Bibl." 6:125). The philosophical writers of the tenth to thirteenth centuries occasionally emphasized the fundamental nature of the Decalogue. Judah ha-Levi, in his "Cuzari" (2:28), remarks: "The root of knowledge was placed in the Ark, which is like the innermost chamber of the heart, and this [root] was the Ten Words and their derivatives; that is, the Torah." BaḤya Ben Joseph, in his "Ḥobot ha-Lebabot," gate , urges the importance of the Decalogue, and connecting therewith the Shema', construes the latter as laying down ten main principles corresponding to the Ten Words. Albo, in his "'Iḳḳarim" (3:26), develops in extenso the idea of the Decalogue's fundamentality, calling attention to the difference between the "words" on the first table as theological, and those on the second as ethical, both together covering the whole field of religion. Of Bible commentators following on the same line may be mentioned Rashi to Exodus 24:12: "The first word of the Decalogue is the fountainhead of all."

Naḥmanides makes the first one of the mandatory commands ("miẓwot 'aseh"). The whole people heard all ten, but understood only commandments one and two as perfectly and thoroughly as Moses. From three on, however, they did not comprehend, and therefore Moses was forced to explain them. Maimonides, desirous of removing all anthropomorphic conceptions, reiterates Philo's idea, that it was not God's voice that was heard, but an impersonal voice created especially for the enunciation of the Decalogue ("Moreh," 1:65; compare Saadia, "Emunot we-De'ot," 2:8; "Cuzari," 1:89). The writing on the tables was also a "creation" ("Moreh," 1:66). The Karaites entertain the same view (see Japhet Abu-Alion Exodus 20; Munk, "Guide," 1:290, note 2; Aaron ben Elia, "Eẓ. Ḥayyim," ch. 55, 98). On the effect of the second Commandment Art.

The third commandment, interpreted to prohibit swearing, led, in unconscious appreciation of its original meaning—a caution against pronouncing divine names or imparting them to persons other than the properly initiated—to a reverent avoidance of the mention of the Shem ha-Meforash (Soṭah 38a; Sifre to Numbers 6:27, and elsewhere), and to extreme caution even in writing not to expose "the Name" to disrespect or thoughtless disregard.

Many of the modern catechisms have summarized both the doctrines and the duties of Judaism to correspond with the ten ideas of the Decalogue:

  1. The unity and personality of God.
  2. His incorporeality.
  3. Against profanation of the Name.
  4. Sabbath and festivals; cruelty to animals; slavery.
  5. Family relations.
  6. Rights and duties of life.
  7. Marriage and chastity.
  8. Rights and duties of property; interest and usury; begging.
  9. Duties to the state.
  10. Covetousness; other personal virtues and vices. For modern expansions of the Decalogue see Gerson Lasch ("Die Göttlichen Gesetze," 1857). In Dr. Samuel Hirsch's "Catechismus" the third commandment is made the basis of the discussion of prayer, inasmuch as prayers expressive of wishes and hopes no longer entertained violate the commandment. Isaac M. Wise, among modern Reform rabbis, declared the Decalogue to be "the Torah," which alone was divinely revealed. According to him, Reform Judaism has in the Decalogue its legal basis, and finds in it its limitations (see "Hebrew Review." , Cincinnati, 1880; Isaac M. Wise, "The Law").
E. G. H.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Decalogue, the, in Jewish Theology'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​d/decalogue-the-in-jewish-theology.html. 1901.
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