Sites on The Ten Commandments

The Jewish Internet with Mark Mietkiewicz, The Dayton Jewish Observer

Sorry, Dave, you were a bunch of centuries late. THIS is the original Top Ten List.

On Sunday, May 24, Aseret Hadibrot, the Ten Commandments, will be read from the Torah to mark the first day of Shavuot.

Aside from being fundamental to Judaism, those commandments have influenced civilization and worked themselves into all aspects of Western culture.

This month, here are 10 (or so) sites for the Ten Commandments.

1. The original text(s)
You can read the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1 (

Actually, the Ten Commandments appear twice in the Torah, the second time with some variations, in Deuteronomy 5:5 (

2. Counting the Commandments
In the Torah, the Commandments aren’t actually numbered. According to Yitzchak Etshalom, that has been a source of controversy in Judaism. “Where does #1 end, where does #2 end, etc.?”

Etshalom presents three different numbering schemes. Part of the confusion rests in the fact that depending on the count, there are 13, 14 or 15 separate mitzvot (commandments) contained within the Ten Commandments (

3. Their special significance
If the Ten Commandments are raised to a unique status, what does that say about the status of the rest of the Torah? The essay Special Treatment for the Ten Commandments? examines this question and related debates over whether it is proper for the congregation to stand while the Ten Commandments are recited, and even whether the tablets should be displayed inside the synagogue (

4. The Tablets
Speaking of which, Rabbi Anchelle Perl is happy to burst a misconception. We are all familiar with those iconic tablets, square on the bottom, rounded on the top. Check out this amazing gallery of classic art from Rembrandt to Chagall, at

Well, not quite, says Perl. He quotes the Talmud to argue that the tablets were also square on top. He says Judaism has a responsibility to depict accurately one of its most important symbols (

5. In song
Actually, in chant. You can listen to the Aseret Hadibrot thanks to Cantor David Goldstein of North Shore Congregation Israel of Glencoe, Ill. at

6. The night before
One popular Shavuot tradition is the Tikkun Leyl Shavuot, to stay up and learn throughout the first night of the holiday in anticipation of the giving of the Torah, which is commemorated in the morning.

The Union for Reform Judaism has created a detailed booklet for the Tikkun Leyl Shavuot evening titled, Aseret Hadibrot: Illuminating the Ten Commandments (

7. For kids
The Jewish Theological Seminary site has a large poster celebrating the giving of the Torah that kids can print out and color (

TorahTots has a comprehensive look at the preparation the Israelites went through in order receive the Torah (

8. In the courts
The Ten Commandments are a common adornment to many synagogues. But when displayed in public schools, government buildings and courthouses, controversy has been common because of the separation of church and state (

9. The movie
There have been several screen adaptations but when you talk about THE movie, you must be referring to Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic with Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner. Although some of the dialogue from that film has its basis in the Torah, I should clear up one fallacy. There is no biblical proof that Princess Nefertiri (Anne Baxter) ever uttered the immortal words: “Oh Moses, Moses, you stubborn, splendid, adorable fool (”

Thanks to YouTube, you can watch 10 highlights from the classic 1956 version (

And while we’re in movie mode, don’t miss the only other performer who gave Charlton Heston a run for his money as Moses, the great Mel Brooks. And his classic take on why we don’t observe the Fifteen Commandments (

10. In popular culture
The Ten Commandments have not only become central to Judaism; they’ve woven themselves into popular culture.

Many sites have lists of “new” commandments, some sensible, some sublime, some ridiculous, including the Ten Commandments:

• Of breast-feeding: “You shall not wean your children for the sake of convenience (”

• Of termination: “Thou shalt allow the employee to leave with dignity (”

• Of square dancing: “Thou shalt take care that the words of thy mouth are not scented with garlic or beer (”

• Of sane living: “Strike a balance between work and play… Nobody ever said on their deathbed, ‘I wish I had spent more time in the office (’”

• Of Twitter: “Thou shalt not retweet thine own awesomeness (”

Mark Mietkiewicz writes about resources for Jewish life to be found on the Internet. Contact him at

To read the complete May 2015 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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