The Ten Commandments

The division and structure has been open to interpretation throughout history.

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Yet another division is used in the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches. This follows the written text ofTorah scrolls and combines verses 2 through 6 into one commandment; that is, it includes the prohibitions ofidolatry in the first commandment. And further, it divides the last phrase (verse 14 in Jewish, verse 17 in Christian versions) into two parts:

Ninth Commandment: "You shall not covet your neighbor's house…"

Tenth Commandment: "You shall notcovet your neighbor's wife…"

The Structure of the Ten Commandments

A dual structure can be seen in the Ten Commandments. Commandments one through four deal with human relationships to God. Commandments six through 10 deal with humanity's relation to humanity. The fifth command, that of honoring one's parents, forms a sort of bridge between the two.

While the Bible itself provides no indication of how the "words" of the commandments were distributed on the actual stone tablets, it is generally assumed that they stood five on one tablet and five on the other. Some commentators (Mekhilta, Yitro 8) have seen a correlationbetween the five commandments opposite each other on each of the two tablets. So, for example, murder is an injury to God whose image man is, apostasy is equivalent to marital infidelity, stealing will lead to a false oath, the Sabbath violator attests falsely that God did not create the world in six days and rest on the seventh, and the person who covets his fellow person's wife will end by fathering a child who rejects his true parent and honors another.

Some commentators speculate that the commandments range in a descending order from Divine matters to human matters, and within each group from higher to lower values. In this scenario, duties to God come first, the obligation to worship God alone precedes that of treating His name with reverence, and both precede the symbolic piety of Sabbath rest. Respect for parental authority naturally follows respect for God. The purely ethical commandments are arranged in a hierarchal form: life, the family, right of possession, reliability of public statements. The last commandment, the ban in desires arising from jealousy, deals with what is most ethically sensitive, and protects against the infringing of the other ethical commandments.

The philosopher Abraham ben Chiyya, after placing the first commandment apart as comprising all the others, divided the other nine according to the commands of thought, speech, and action, and according to relations between human and God, human and his family, and human and human, reaching the following classification:

Relations between:

Man & God

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Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs

Rabbi Ronald H. Isaacs is the spiritual leader of Temple Sholom in Bridgewater, New Jersey. He has served as the publications committee chairperson of the Rabbinical Assembly.

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