What Does “Thou Shalt Not Covet” Mean? And How Can the Torah Prohibit Wanting Something?

In most translations, the tenth commandment of the Decalogue reads, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, or his male or female slave, or his ox or his donkey, or anything that is thy neighbor’s.” This passage has long troubled Jewish commentators reluctant to accept a prohibition that seems to apply to a feeling rather than action; most have suggested that the commandment is not violated until covetousness is acted upon. Analyzing other uses in the Hebrew Bible of the root, ḥ-m-d, normally rendered as covet, Leonard Greenspoon finds evidence for this reading:

The root ḥ-m-d . . . is often paired with an active verb, such as “taking.” [Consider, for instance], Deuteronomy 7:25: “You shall consign the images of their gods to the fire; you shall not covet the silver and gold on them and keep it for yourselves.” . . . Similarly, the pilgrimage law in Exodus states: “I will drive out nations from your path and enlarge your territory; no one will covet your land when you go up to appear before the Lord your God three times a year.” The point is that traveling to appear before God leaves the land vulnerable, giving an outsider the opportunity to covet and take the land while the owner is away. Thus, God promises that the land will be safe during the owner’s pilgrimage.

A particularly telling source is the passage in the book of Micah that describes how those who covet other people’s property go about robbing them of it: “Ah, those who contemplate iniquity and design evil on their beds; when morning dawns, they do it, for they have the power. They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away. They defraud men of their homes, and people of their land.” Here contemplating evil and implementing evil stratagems go together the same way that coveting and theft do. It seems likely, therefore, that [there is] an assumption in the biblical text that coveting entails acting on this emotion. In this reading, biblical coveting does not refer to a person just desiring something in the abstract, but to planning or taking concrete steps with which to acquire that object.

This shade of meaning, writes Greenspoon, is lost in the Septuagint—the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that has informed Gentile readers for centuries:

The Septuagint translators employ the verb epithumeo [for “covet”], which the Greek-English Lexicon of the Septuagint translates as “to set one’s heart upon, to long for, to desire.” The Greek verb epithumeo is different from the English verb “covet” since it can be used for positive as well as negative desires. . . . For this reason, readers interpreting the Greek Bible (as opposed to the Hebrew version) were likely to miss the specific connection between ḥ-m-d and “taking.”

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More about: Hebrew Bible, Septuagint, Ten Commandments, Translation

No, Israel Hasn’t Used Disproportionate Force against Hamas

Aug. 15 2018

Last week, Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza launched nearly 200 rockets and mortars into Israel, in addition to the ongoing makeshift incendiary devices and sporadic sniper fire. Israel responded with an intensive round of airstrikes, which stopped the rockets. Typically, condemnations of the Jewish state’s use of “disproportionate force” followed; and typically, as Peter Lerner, a former IDF spokesman, explains, these were wholly inaccurate:

The IDF conducted, by its own admission, approximately 180 precision strikes. In the aftermath of those strikes the Hamas Ministry of Health announced that three people had been killed. One of the dead was [identified] as a Hamas terrorist. The two others were reported as civilians: Inas Abu Khmash, a twenty-three-year-old pregnant woman, and her eighteen-month daughter, Bayan. While their deaths are tragic, they are not an indication of a disproportionate response to Hamas’s bombardment of Israel’s southern communities. With . . . 28 Israelis who required medical assistance [and] 30 Iron Dome interceptions, I would argue the heart-rending Palestinian deaths indicate the exact opposite.

The precision strikes on Hamas’s assets with so few deaths show how deep and thorough is the planning process the IDF has put in place. . . . Proportionality in warfare, [however], is not a numbers game, as so many of the journalists I’ve worked with maintain. . . . Proportionality weighs the necessity of a military action against the anguish that the action might cause to civilians in the vicinity. . . . In the case of the last few days, it appears that even intended combatant deaths were [deemed] undesirable, due to their potential to increase the chances of war. . . .

The question that should be repeated is why indiscriminate rocket fire against Israeli civilians from behind Gazan civilians is accepted, underreported, and not condemned.

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, IDF, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict