Friday, January 15, 2016


The question is this: If you could add one more commandment to the Decalogue, what would it be? 

The Decalogue/Ten Commandments are considered as the foundational text of Judaism. They are also viewed as one of the most important ethical documents of the Western civilization. They were recited daily at the Temple of Jerusalem (M Tamid 5:1). However, when some “sectarians”- we don’t know their identity, but perhaps, early Christians- maintained that they were the only texts revealed by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai, the Rabbis decided to eliminate them from the liturgy (BT B’rahot 12a). According to them, all the laws in the Torah, from the one that urges the removal of the mother-bird before taking the fledglings (Deut. 22: 6-7) to all the minutiae of the temple sacrifices, were given by God to Moses, and they are as important as the lofty message of the Decalogue. 

We now read/chant the Ten Commandments in the synagogue only when they occur in the regular cycle of Torah readings, both in Yitro (Exod. 18:1-20:23) and in Vaethanan (Deut. 3:23-7:11) as well as during the festival of Shavuot that celebrates the summer harvest and the revelation of the Torah. 

One of the greatest Jewish thinkers of the past generation, Emil Fackenheim (1916-2003) argued that it is time to add a new commandment, the 11th,  to the list that reads, “Do not give Hitler a posthumous victory.” By this he meant that after the Holocaust, we, Jews, have an obligation to preserve Judaism for future generations, and we dare not give Hitler the satisfaction of completing the final solution by our inaction and lack of commitment. Similarly, Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan (1881-1983), the founder of the Reconstructionist Judaism, maintained that the biggest challenge facing the contemporary Jewish community is the “open” society in which we live that gives Jews various options, including to bow out of it.  

I am convinced that in our days, the greatest danger to the Western world comes from political and religious extremism. When fanatics try to impose their views on all of us, we are all in danger. When bombastic loudmouths come up with unwarranted generalizations, we are all in danger. When obscurantists in our midst attempt to eliminate the open and civil dialogue, we are all in danger. No religious group or political party is immune to this curse. We, Jews, too, have our own close-minded individuals who deny the legitimacy of many well established and respected religious and political ideologies around the Jewish world. Perhaps, this can be remedied through education, open and respectful dialogue, and, on rare occasions, even through self-defense. So, my 12th commandment reads: ‘Do not allow the fanatics to rule the day.”

What do you think?

Rabbi Rifat Sonsino, Ph.D. 
Jan. 2016