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.

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

To Israel’s Leading Strategist, Strength, Not Concessions, Has Brought a Measure of Calm

Aug. 14 2018

Following a long and distinguished career in the IDF, Yaakov Amidror served as Israel’s national-security adviser from 2011 to 2013. He speaks with Armin Rosen about the threats from Gaza, Hizballah, and Iran:

For Israel’s entire existence, would-be peacemakers have argued that the key to regional harmony is the reduction of the Jewish state’s hard power through territorial withdrawals and/or the legitimization of the country’s non-state enemies. In Amidror’s view, reality has thoroughly debunked this line of reasoning.

Amidror believes peace—or calm, at least—came as a result of Israeli muscle. Israel proved to its former enemies in the Sunni Arab world that it’s powerful enough to fill the vacuum left by America’s exit from the region and to stand up to Iran on the rest of the Middle East’s behalf. “The stronger Israel is, the more the ability of Arab countries to cooperate [with it] grows,” Amidror explained. On the whole, Amidror said he’s “very optimistic. I remember the threat that we faced when we were young. We fought the Six-Day War and I remember the Yom Kippur War, and I see what we are facing today. We have only one-and-a-half problems. One problem is Iran, and the half-problem is Hizballah.” . . .

In all likelihood the next Israeli-Iranian confrontation will be a clash with Amidror’s half-threat: the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hizballah, Iran’s most effective proxy in the Middle East and perhaps the best armed non-state military force on earth. . . . “We should neutralize the military capability of Hizballah,” [in the event of war], he said. “We should not destroy the organization as a political tool. If the Shiites want these people to represent them, it’s their problem.” . . .

“It will be a very nasty war,” Amidror said. “A very, very nasty war.” Hizballah will fire “thousands and thousands” of long-range missiles of improved precision, speed, and range at Israeli population centers, a bombardment larger than Israel’s various layers of missile defense will be able to neutralize in full. . . . This will, [however], be a blow Israel can withstand. “Israelis will be killed, no question,” Amidror said. “But it’s not going to be catastrophic.”

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Lebanon