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.”

Read more at theTorah.com

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

Why Hizballah Is Threatening Cyprus

In a speech last Wednesday, Hizballah’s secretary general Hassan Nasrallah not only declared that “nowhere will be safe” in Israel in the event of an all-out war, but also that his forces would attack the island nation of Cyprus. Hanin Ghaddar, Farzin Nadimi, and David Schenker observe that this is no idle threat, but one the Iran-backed terrorist group has “a range of options” for carrying out. They explain: 

Nasrallah’s threat to Cyprus was not random—the republic has long maintained close ties with Israel, much to Hizballah’s irritation. In recent years, the island has hosted multiple joint air-defense drills and annual special-forces exercises with Israel focused on potential threats from Hizballah and Iran.

Nasrallah’s threat should also be viewed in the context of wartime statements by Iran and its proxies about disrupting vital shipping lanes to Israel through the East Mediterranean.

This scenario should be particularly troubling to Washington given the large allied military presence in Cyprus, which includes a few thousand British troops, more than a hundred U.S. Air Force personnel, and a detachment of U-2 surveillance aircraft from the 1st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron.

Yoni Ben Menachem suggests there is an additional aspect to Nasrallah’s designs on Cyprus, involving a plan

to neutralize the Israeli air force through two primary actions: a surprise attack with precision missiles and UAVs on Israeli air-force bases and against radar and air-defense facilities, including paralyzing Ben-Gurion Airport.

Nasrallah’s goal is to ground Israeli aircraft to prevent them from conducting missions in Lebanon against mid- and long-range missile launchers. Nasrallah fears that Israel might preempt his planned attack by deploying its air force to Cypriot bases, a scenario the Israeli air force practiced with Cyprus during military exercises over the past year.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Cyprus, Hizballah, U.S. Security