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Why Some Jews Stand for the Ten Commandments and Others Sit

On the first day of the holiday of Shavuot, which begins Tuesday evening, the passage in the book of Exodus that includes the Decalogue will be read in synagogues. While in many communities it is customary for the congregation to stand when the Ten Commandments are declaimed, ancient and modern rabbis have objected to this practice. Gil Student explains why:

At one point, some Jews had a custom of reciting the Ten Commandments as part of their daily prayers. Sectarians claimed this indicated a preference for this particular passage and a rejection of others as originating from a human rather than a divine author. In Israel [and Babylonia] during the 3rd century . . . this practice was rejected [by the talmudic sages] because of their concern over this sectarian argument against the sanctity of the [entire] Torah. . . . .

Who were the sectarians who believed that the Ten Commandments came from God but not the rest of the Torah? The great historian [of ancient Judaism] Geza Vermes suggests that they were Jewish Gnostics. Another scholar suggested to me that they were Marcionites, an early Christian sect who rejected the Hebrew Bible. Even in later centuries, after the Jewish Gnostics and the Marcionites were merely a footnote in history, the prohibition [against standing] remained in effect.

The same rationale was applied by later rabbinic authorities to discourage the practice of standing for the reading of the Decalogue. Arguing that it is worthwhile to follow this ruling even after its polemical purpose has become moot, Student notes that it is not only a reaction to heresy but a way of underscoring the fundamental dictum that all the Torah’s verses are equally holy, even—to use the Talmud’s example—the obscure genealogies found in the book of Genesis.

Read more at Torah Musings

More about: Halakhah, Heresy, Religion & Holidays, Shavuot, Ten Commandments

Toward an Iran Policy That Looks at the Big Picture

On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech outlining a new U.S. approach to the Islamic Republic. Ray Takeyh and Mark Dubowitz explain why it constitutes an important and much-needed rejection of past errors:

For too long, a peculiar consensus has suggested that it is possible to isolate the nuclear issue from all other areas of contention and resolve it in a satisfactory manner. The subsidiary [assumption] embedded in this logic is that despite the bluster of Iran’s rulers, it is governed by cautious men, who if offered sufficient incentives and soothing language would respond with pragmatism. No one embraced this notion more ardently than the former secretary of state, John Kerry, who crafted an accord whose deficiencies are apparent to all but the most hardened partisans. . . .

A regime as dangerous as the Iranian one requires no less than a comprehensive strategy to counter it. This means exploiting all of its vulnerabilities, increasing the costs of its foreign adventures, draining its economy, and aiding our allies. Most importantly, the United States must find a way of connecting itself to domestic opposition that continuously haunts the mullahs.

Washington should no longer settle for an arms-control agreement that paves Iran’s path to a bomb but rather a restrictive accord that ends its nuclear aspirations. The United States should not implore its allies to share the Middle East with Iran, as Barack Obama did, but partner with them in defeating the clerical imperialists. And most importantly, the United States should never forget that its most indispensable ally is the Iranian people.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Iran nuclear program, Mike Pompeo, U.S. Foreign policy