10 Commandments: Why all the fuss?

Q: Dear Rabbi Simon,

We are told not to say the Aseret Hadibrot out loud since "kofrim (I think it is) will come to say that is all the Torah" yet in the UK for sure we have big shuls where they are prominently portrayed above the Ark which could and I think does cause the same effect, particularly in places where the congregants come 2 or 3 times a year.



A: Dear Binyamin

You make an interesting observation. It is true that the Talmud (Ber. 12a) says that the Aseret ha-Dibrot were at one time included in the daily prayers but were subsequently removed for the reason you state. The Sages decreed that they should not be recited in the prayers at all as a result. (I heard many years ago from the late Rabbi Joseph Freilich the observation that even in the Amidah for Shacharit on Shabbat we have a citation from Exodus 31:16 instead of the 10 Commandments—probably for exactly this reason.) Nevertheless, the significance of the Tablets of the Covenant as a compelling Biblical icon (if I can [excuse the pun] use the term) cannot be denied. Moreover, some do make a point of reciting Ex. 20:1-14 daily after the prayers, due to its importance. Also, Rashi (Ex. 24:12) famously cites Saadia Gaon’s Azharot regarding all 613 mitzvot of the Torah as subsumed under the 10 Commandments. So there is a balance to be struck between recognising the (unique) importance of the Ten without implicitly devaluing any of the other mitzvot.

Ultimately, kofrim (heretics) will always find a basis to spurn the Torah. And this may apply to some of the 2-3 times a year congregants in the UK (and elsewhere) to whom you refer, as well.

rabbi rashi simon