When people speak of the Judeo-Christian tradition and the development of ethical values and mores, they frequently cite the Ten Commandments as an example of commonality between Judaism and Christian. In fact, the proponents of such an argument contend that the Ten Commandments represent one of the first attempts at codification of the law. As such, the argument continues, it is valid for those commandments to govern the behavior of people, whether they are Jews, Christians, or another religion. Such an argument fails to acknowledge that there is a significant difference in how the Ten Commandments are viewed by people in the two religions. To Christians, the Ten Commandments are a simple list of things to do or to avoid. Compliance with the Ten Commandments is necessary and sufficient to keep one within the grace of God. In contrast, to Jews, the Ten Commandments are categories, which, when combined, cover all of the various commandments within the Jewish religion.
One of the most remarkable aspects about the Jewish approach to the Ten Commandments is that those laws are given no precedence over the seemingly minor laws in the Torah. In fact, Jewish tradition tells that God gave the Jewish people 613 commandments, or mitzvoth. Each mitzvoth is a rule or law that Jews have to follow in order to fulfill their obligations to God. In contrast, Jewish tradition believes that gentiles only have to follow the seven Noahic commandments in order to avoid committing a sin against God. There is some overlap between the groups, but the mitzvoth are extremely detailed. They are the rules that non-Jews associate with Jews keeping Kosher. The remarkable thing about Judaism is that each mitzvoth is given equal importance in the religion. The reasoning behind this equality is very interesting; to Jews, it is presumptuous to believe that they can know the priority that God would place upon His rules. Therefore, any rule given to the Jews by God is treated equally by Jews. The result of this equality of mitzvoth is that Jews do not consider the Ten Commandments to be more important than other rules or commandments given to them by God.
However, the Ten Commandments do hold a special significance for Jews. While the Ten Commandments are not considered more important than any other commandment, they are considered to be broad categories into which all of the other mitzvoth fall. These categories are referred to as the Aseret ha-Dibrot, or the Ten Commandments. For example, while a specific mitzvoth may designate how one should observe the Sabbath; the broader commandment simply says to observe the Sabbath.
In addition, according to Jewish tradition, the Ten Commandments are divided into two groups of five. The first group is man's obligations to God. The second group consists of man's obligations to his fellow man. One of the more interesting things about the Jewish approach to religion and the separation between God and man is that the commandment to honor one's parents is considered one of man's obligations to God. The reasoning behind this approach appears to be that God has created the parents, who have created the man. Therefore, one who dishonors his parents is dishonoring his creator.
Another interesting facet to the Jewish approach to the Ten Commandments and the other mitzvah is the priority that Jews are to give to the rules that govern their lives. One would imagine that man's obligations to God would be given precedence over man's obligation to his fellow men. However, the Jewish tradition contradicts this thought. Instead, according to Jewish tradition and law, when one is faced with a conflict between one's obligation to God and one's obligation to his fellow man, one must fulfill his obligation to his fellow man. The reasoning behind this approach is that God does not depend upon the obligations of man, while mankind does.
Another aspect of the Jewish approach to the Ten Commandments is the lack of emphasis that Jews believe should be placed on the Ten Commandments. It is not that Jews believe the Ten Commandments should be ignored. On the contrary, Jews believe that all mitzvoth should be observed. However, both historically and presently, Jewish leaders worry that an over-emphasis on the Ten Commandments will create the impression that they are more important than other mitzvoth and lead Jews to ignore their other obligations to God.
In order to truly understand the importance of a mitzvoth, it is important to understand the nature of the Jewish relationship with God. On the one hand, the Jewish relationship with God is spiritual. However, the Jewish relationship with God is also very much based on law. Continuing the relationship with God depends upon faithful compliance with those laws. In fact, the first of the Noahic Commandments, which Jews believe bind all people because of their common descent through Noah, was to establish courts and a system of justice. Therefore, the idea of law is inseparable from the practice of the Judaism.
The first five commandments are those that speak of man's obligation to God. The first of those commandments is that man believe in God. The second commandment prohibits the worship of other gods. The third commandment prohibits taking the lord's name in vain. The fourth commandment is to observe the Sabbath. The final commandment speaking to man's obligation to God is to honor thy parents.
Turning first to the first commandment, it tells Jews that they must believe in God. At first blush, this commandment appears self-evident. If one did not believe in God, one would not be a Jew and would not be obligation to follow any of the mitzvoth, including the Ten Commandments. However, this commandment is more complex than simply professing a belief in God. The category also encompasses all of the mitzvoth that speak to a Jew's obligation to have a continuing belief in God. For example, one's belief in God should not be conditioned upon having favorable things happen, nor destroyed in the face of adversity. Any mitzvoth addressing man's belief in God and the fact that there should be no conditions placed upon those beliefs would fall under this first category.
The second commandment prohibits the worship of other Gods. This has been construed by Jews to also prohibit the worship of idols. Any mitzvoth that speaks about the proper way to worship God or the improper way to worship God fall under this category. In the day-to-day life of a modern Jew, this commandment might be violated in a number of ways. There are many modern holidays and celebrations that are derived from the celebration of other gods. While they have lost their religious significance, observance of some of these holidays may violate the mitzvoth that fall underneath this category. In addition, this commandment prohibits the worship of a man instead of God. In this way, Jews that consider themselves Christian, also known as "Jews for Jesus" may be violating the second commandment. According to the second commandment, Jews are to worship no other God and are to have no symbolic representations of their God. Therefore, one who adheres to Jewish law must be careful about which holidays they observe and what customs from other cultures they incorporate into their daily lives. If there is a religious significance to those customs, even one that has long fallen into disuse, observation of the holiday or custom may violate Jewish law.
The third commandment prohibits taking the Lord's name in vain. What is interesting is what is considered vain. To Jews, it is considered vain to refer to God by the name he calls himself. In fact, some Jews would consider it a violation of the third commandment for this paper to include the word "God." However, the prohibition against taking the Lord's name in vain is not limited to merely speaking the name of the Lord. Instead, this prohibition refers to oaths given in the Lord's name. For example, one swearing to tell the truth in a court of law, "so help me God," would be violating the commandment if he then lied on the stand.
The fourth commandment is to observe the Sabbath. There are two components of the commandment to observe the Sabbath, and the mitzvoth falling under this category fall into one of the sub-categories. The first component is that one is to perform no work on the Sabbath. The second component is that one is to rest on the Sabbath. This commandment, while seemingly easy to follow, can have some significant effects. For example, many modern appliance makers offer models that have a Sabbath function. This is because punching the buttons on an appliance can be considered a violation of this commandment. The appliances function in a way such that they can be programmed in advance, which permits their use on the Sabbath without violating the commandment.
In addition to observing a weekly Sabbath, the fourth commandment also requires Jews to observe Jewish…