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Friday, August 22, 2014

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10 (or so) Sites for the Ten Commandments

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Mark Mietkiewicz

Sorry, Dave, you were a few centuries late.

On Thursday, June 5, the orginal Top Ten List, the Ten Commandments, will be read from the Torah to mark the first day of Shavuot. Aside from being fundamental to Judaism, those commandments have influenced civilization and worked themselves into all aspects of Western culture. Today, ten (or so) sites for the Ten Commandments.

 

I. THE ORIGINAL TEXT(S)

You can read the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1. Actually, the Ten Commandments appear twice in the Torah, the second time, with some variations, in Deuteronomy 5:5.

 

II. COUNTING THE COMMANDMENTS

In the Torah, the Commandments aren’t actually numbered. According to Yitzchak Etshalom, that has been a source of controversy in Judaism. “Where does #1 end, where does #2 end etc.?” Rabbi Etshalom presents three different numbering schemes. Part of the confusion rests in the fact that depending on the count, there are actually13, 14 or 15 separate mitzvot contained within the “Ten” Commandments.

 

III. THEIR SPECIAL SIGNIFICANCE

If the Ten Commandments are raised to a unique status in Judaism, what does that say about the status of the rest of the Torah? The essay “Special Treatment for the Ten Commandments?” examines this question and related debates over whether it is proper for the congregation to stand while the Ten Commandments are recited, and even whether the tablets should be displayed inside the synagogue.

 

IV. THOSE TABLETS

Speaking of which, Rabbi Anchelle Perl is happy to burst a misconception. We’re all familiar with those iconic tablets, square on the bottom, rounded on the top. Well, not quite, says Rabbi Perl. He quotes the Talmud to argue that the tablets were also square on top. He says Judaism has a responsibility to depict accurately one of its most iconic symbols. (Check out this amazing gallery of classic Moses-and-his-tablets art from Michelangelo to Rembrandt to Chagall.)

 

V. IN SONG

Actually, in chant. You can listen to a lovely recitation by Cantor David Goldstein of North Shore Congregation Israel of Glencoe, Ill. It’s actually presented quite nicely in that you can read the Hebrew simultaneously in case you want to learn the cantillation yourself.

 

VI. THE NIGHT BEFORE

One popular Shavuot tradition is to stay up and learn throughout the first night of the holiday in anticipation of the giving of the Torah, which is commemorated in the morning. The Union of American Hebrew Congregations has created a detailed booklet for the Tikkun Leyl Shavuot evening titled, “Aseret Hadibrot: Illuminating the Ten Commandments.”

 

VII. FOR KIDS

The Jewish Theological Seminary site has a large poster celebrating the giving of the Torah that kids can print out and colour. TorahTots has a comprehensive look at the preparation the Israelites went through in order to receive the Torah.

 

VIII. IN THE COURTS

The Ten Commandments are a common adornment to many synagogues. But when displayed in U.S. schools, government buildings and courthouses, controversy has been common because of the separation of church and state. Right now an east Texas woman is embroiled in a fight because the Texas Department of Transportation told her to take down a large sign she put up on her property that had the Ten Commandments listed.

 

IX. THE MOVIE

There have been several screen adaptations but when you talk about the movie, you must be referring to Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. Although some of the dialogue from that film has its basis in the Torah, I should clear up one fallacy. There is no biblical proof that Princess Nefertiri (Anne Baxter) ever uttered these immortal words: “Oh Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool!

Thanks to YouTube, you can watch 10 highlights from that classic film including “Let my people go!”; Moses turns the water into blood, and the parting of the Sea.

And while we’re in movie mode, don’t miss the only other performer who gave Charlton Heston a run for his money as Moses, the great Mel Brooks, and his classic take on why we don’t observe the Fifteen Commandments. Oopsie Moses!

 

X. IN POPULAR CULTURE

The Ten Commandments have not only become central to Judaism. They’ve have woven themselves into popular culture. Many sites even have lists of “new” commandments, some sensible, some sublime, some ridiculous, including the Ten Commandments…

of Breastfeeding: “You shall not wean your children for the sake of convenience.”

of Termination: “Thou shalt allow the employee to leave with dignity.”

of Square Dancing: “Thou shalt take care that the words of thy mouth are not scented with garlic or beer.”

of Sane Living: “Strike a balance between work and play… Nobody ever said on their death bed, ‘I wish I had spent more time in the office.’”

of Twitter: “Thou shalt not retweet thine own awesomeness.”

Have a very happy holiday.

highway@rogers.com

 

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