The Ten Commandments


Note: The division points between the commandments vary between Jewish and non-Jewish observance. The Jewish divisions of the text-Exodus 20:2-1 7are used here.)

1. I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

2. Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me; and showing mercy unto the thou-sandth generation of them that love Me and keep My commandments.

3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.

4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath unto the Lord thy God, in it thou shalt not do any manner of work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day, wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.

5. Honor thy father and mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

6. Thou shalt not kill.

7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

8. Thou shalt not steal.

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.

10.Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house; thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor's.


Traditional view of the development of Judaism

The Hebrew Bible is largely an account of the Israelites' relationship with God as reflected in their earliest history until the building of the Second Temple (c. 350 BCE). This relationship is often portrayed as contentious, as Hebrews struggle between their faith in God and their attraction for other gods, and as some Hebrews, such as Abraham; (most notably and directly), Jacob, the father of all Israelites — later known as Israel; and Moses struggle with God.

According to Orthodox Judaism and most religious Jews, the Biblical patriarch Abraham was the first Hebrew. Rabbinic literature records that he was the first since the generation of Noah to publicly reject idolatry and preach monotheism. As a result, God promised he would have children: "Look now toward heaven and count the stars/So shall be your progeny." (Genesis 15:5) Abraham's first child was Ishmael and his second son was Isaac, whom God said would continue Abraham's work and inherit the Land of Israel (then called Canaan), after having been exiled and redeemed. God sent the patriarch Jacob and his children to Egypt, where after many generations they became enslaved. Then God sent Moses to redeem the Israelites from slavery, and after the Exodus from Egypt, God led the Israelites to Mount Sinai in 1313BCE (Jewish Year 2448) and gave them the Torah, eventually bringing them to the land of Israel.

God designated the descendants of Aaron, Moses' brother, to be a priestly class within the Israelite community. They first officiated in the tabernacle (a portable house of worship), and later their descendants were in charge of worship in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Once the Israelites had settled in the land of Israel, the tabernacle was planted in the city of Shiloh for over 300 years during which time God provided great men, and occasionally women, to rally the nation against attacking enemies, some of which were sent by God as a punishment for the sins of the people. This is described in the Book of Joshua and the Book of Judges. As time went on, the spiritual level of the nation declined to the point that God allowed the Philistines to capture the tabernacle in Shiloh.

The people of Israel then told Samuel the prophet that they had reached the point where they needed to be governed by a permanent king, as were other nations, as described in the Books of Samuel. Samuel grudgingly acceded to this request and appointed Saul, a great but very humble man, to be their King. When the people pressured Saul into going against a command conveyed to him by Samuel, God told Samuel to appoint David in his stead.

Once King David was established, he told the prophet Nathan that he would like to build a permanent temple, and as a reward for his actions, God promised David that he would allow his son to build the temple and the throne would never depart from his children (David himself was not allowed to build the temple because he had been involved in many wars, making it inappropriate for him to build a temple representing peace). As a result, it was David's son Solomon who built the first permanent temple according to God's will, in Jerusalem, as described in the Books of Kings.
The Western Wall in Jerusalem is a remnant of the Second Temple. The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism.
The Western Wall in Jerusalem is a remnant of the Second Temple. The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism.

After Solomon's death, his Kingdom was split into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. After several hundred years, because of rampant idolatry, God allowed Assyria to conquer Israel and exile its people. The southern Kingdom of Judah, whose capital was Jerusalem, home of the Temple, remained under the rule of the House of David, however, as in the north, idolatry increased to the point that God allowed Babylonia to conquer the Kingdom, destroy the Temple which had stood for 410 years, and exile its people to Babylonia, with the promise that they would be redeemed after seventy years. These events are recorded in the Book of Isaiah and the Book of Jeremiah.

After seventy years the Judahites were allowed back into Judaea under the leadership of Ezra, and the Temple was rebuilt, as recorded in the Book of Ezra and the Book of Nehemiah. The Second Temple stood for 420 years, after which it was destroyed by the Roman general (later emperor) Titus. The Israelite temple is to remain in ruins until a descendant of David arises to restore the glory of Israel and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Torah, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; given on Mount Sinai was summarized in the five books of Moses. Together with the books of the prophets it is called the Written Torah.

The details and interpretation of the law, which are called the Oral Torah or oral law, were originally an unwritten tradition based upon what God told Moses on Mount Sinai that was not the written aspect of the law but all the codes of the Mishna as well as other holy books.

However, as the persecutions of the Jews increased and the details were in danger of being forgotten, rabbinic tradition holds that these oral laws were recorded by Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi (Rabbi Judah the Prince) and recorded in the Mishnah. The Talmud was a compilation of both the Mishna & the Gemara (Aramaic for the word Tradition). The Babylonian Talmud is a recording of the inquiry of how to apply the Mishna legally, recorded from discussions in the houses of study by the scholars Ravina I, Ravina II, and Rav Ashi over an era.

Common editions of the Talmud today have the Mishna followed by its associated Gemara commentary. Then, the next Mishna, often only a few lines or short paragraph, followed by the commentary relevant to that Mishna which may be pages long, and so on until that particular tractate of Mishna is completed. There may be many chapters of Mishna in any given tractate (Ma'sechta in Hebrew).

In pre-Constantinian late antiquity and even after, Judaism was extremely attractive to a substantial percentage of the Greco-Roman world. However, the numbers of Gentiles who actually undertook circumcision and the obligations of Sabbath observance were actually many fewer than those who found Judaism otherwise attractive. Without formal conversion, these Gentiles remained outside of Judaism.

Judaism is the religion of the Jewish people. According to their sacred literature, especially the Tanakh and Talmud, the religion of ancient Israel and their descendants, the Jews, is based on a covenant between God and Abraham (ca. 2000 BCE) and the renewal of the covenant with Moses (ca. 1200 BCE). It is one of the first recorded monotheistic faiths, and it is one of the oldest religious traditions still practiced today. The values and history of the Jewish people are a major part of the foundation of other Abrahamic religions such as Christianity, Islam, as well as Samaritanism and the Bahá'í Faith.

Judaism has seldom, if ever, been monolithic in practice (although it has always been monotheistic in theology), and differs from many religions in that its central authority is not vested in any person or group but rather in its writings and traditions. Despite this, Judaism in all its variations has remained tightly bound to a number of religious principles, the most important of which is the belief that there is a single, omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, transcendent God, who created the universe and continues to be involved in its governance. According to traditional Jewish belief, the God who created the world established a covenant with the Jewish people, and revealed his laws and commandments to them in the form of the Torah. The practice of Judaism is devoted to the study and observance of these laws and commandments, as written in the Torah, as well as those found in the Talmud. As of 2006, adherents of Judaism numbered around 14 million followers, making it the world's eleventh-largest organized religion.


In The Beginning

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, " Let there be light," and there was light. And God saw the light , that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, " Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. And God said, "Let the waters under the heaven be gathered unto one place,and let the dry land appear": and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called the Seas; and God saw that it was good. And God said, " Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth": and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

-----Genesis I:1-12


The Heart of the Torah

Heed not unreal Gods:

You shall be holy, for I your God am holy. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges for your field nor gather the gleanings of you harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, nor gather the fallen gapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien. You hall be holy, for I your God am holy. You shall not steal, cheat, or lie to one another. You must not take a false oath in my name. You shall be holy, for I your God am holy. You shall not defraud nor rob; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until the morning. You shall be holy, for I your God am holy. You must not curse a deaf person, nor put obstacles in the way of a blind person.

You shall be holy, for I your God am holy. You shall not be guilty of any injustice,neither partiality to the poor, nor deferring to the powerful, but judging fairly. You shall be holy, for I your God am holy. You shall not play the part of a talebbearer against your people. You shall not avenge yourself not bear a grudge, but you must love your neighbor as you love yourself. I am the Eternal. ------Leviticus 19


Jewish principles of faith

Historically, Judaism has considered belief in the divine revelation and acceptance of the Written and Oral Torah as its fundamental core belief. This gave rise to many different formulations as to the specific theological beliefs inherent in the Torah and Talmud. While individual rabbis have at times agreed upon a firm formulation, generally other rabbis have disagreed, many criticizing any such attempt as minimizing acceptance of the entire Torah (Rabbi S. of Montpelier, Yad Rama, Y. Alfacher, Rosh Amanah). Along these lines, the ancient historian Josephus emphasized practices and observances rather than religious beliefs, associating apostasy with a failure to observe Jewish law, and suggesting the requirements for conversion to Judaism included circumcision and adherence to traditional customs. Notably, in the Talmud some principles of faith (e.g., the Divine origin of the Torah) are considered important enough that rejection of them can put one in the category of "apikoros" (heretic).[2]

Over the centuries, a number of clear formulations of Jewish principles of faith have appeared, and though they differ with respect to certain details, they demonstrate a commonality of core ideology. Of these, the one most widely considered authoritative is Maimonides' thirteen principles of faith. These principles were controversial when first proposed, evoking criticism by Crescas and Joseph Albo. The thirteen principles were ignored by much of the Jewish community for the next few centuries. (Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought, Menachem Kellner). Over time two poetic restatements of these principles (Ani Ma'amin and Yigdal) became canonized in the Jewish prayerbook, and eventually became widely held. Today most of Orthodox Judaism holds these beliefs to be obligatory, and that anyone who does not fully accept each one of them as potentially heretical:

1. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, is the Creator and Guide of everything that has been created; He alone has made, does make, and will make all things.
2. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, is One, and that there is no unity in any manner like His, and that He alone is our God, who was, and is, and will be.
3. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, is not a body, and that He is free from all the properties of matter, and that there can be no (physical) comparison to Him whatsoever.
4. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, is the first and the last.
5. I believe with perfect faith that to the Creator, blessed be His Name, and to Him alone, it is right to pray, and that it is not right to pray to any being besides Him.
6. I believe with perfect faith that all the works of the prophets are true.
7. I believe with perfect faith that the prophecy of Moses, our teacher, peace be upon him, was true, and that he was the chief of the prophets, both of those who preceded him and of those who followed him.
8. I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that is now in our possession is the same that was given to Moses, our teacher, peace be upon him.
9. I believe with perfect faith that this Torah will not be changed, and that there will never be any other Law from the Creator, blessed be His name.
10. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, knows all the deeds of human beings, and all their thoughts, as it is said: “[He] that fashioned the hearts of them all, [He] that comprehends all their actions.”
11. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His Name, rewards those that keep His commandments and punishes those that transgress them.
12. I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah; and even though he may tarry, with all this I wait every day for his coming.
13. I believe with perfect faith that there will be a revival of the dead at the time when it shall please the Creator, blessed be His name, and exalted be His Name forever and ever.

Some, such as Rabbi Joseph Albo and the Raavad, criticized Maimonides' list as containing too many items that, while true, were not fundamentals of the faith, and thus placed too many Jews in the category of "heretic", rather than those who were simply in error. Many others criticized any such formulation as minimizing acceptance of the entire Torah (see above). As noted however, neither Maimonides nor his contemporaries viewed these principles as encompassing all of Jewish belief, but rather as the core theological underpinnings of the acceptance of Judaism.


Jewish Holidays

Rosh Hashanah celebrates both the religious New Year and the creation of the earth as described in the early chapters of the book of Genesis. Some branches celebrate both days of this holiday; others (i.e., the majority of Reform congregations) only the first day. Work is not performed.

Yom Kippur

On this day, which takes place shortly after Rosh Hashanah on the 10th day of Tishrei, practicing Jews the world over observe the Day of Atonement. From the sundown that marks the beginning of Yom Kippur until the sundown of the following day, believers forego food and drink, do no work, and repent for misdeeds of the year just past.


The harvest celebration known as the Feast of Booths lasts for eight days and generally takes place late in the month of October (using the secular Gregorian calendar). It is common to perform no work at the beginning and end of the celebration, but the number of days observed in this manner vary.

Chanukah (Hanukkah)

The beneficiary, perhaps, of undue media attention because of its (coincidental) placement near the Christian observance of the birth of Christ, Chanukah is often presented as a "Jewish alternative" to Christ-mas. This is unfortunate, as the Festival of Lights deserves honor, attention, and recognition on its own terms and within its own tradition. The holiday known as the Festival of Lights celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians in the 2nd century B.C.E. It begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev (usually early- to mid-December). Work is permitted during Chanukah.

Hanukkah lamp, Vienna ,circa 1900


A festival celebration commencing on the 14th day of the Hebrew month Adar (usually late February or early March), Purim commemorates the deliverance of Persian Jews from destruction, as recounted in the book of Esther. This joyous festival is preceded by a day of fasting, and soon gives way to general merrymaking. Work is permitted on Purim.

Pesach (Passover)

This major holiday, which begins on the 15th day of the month of Nisan, honors the delivery of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. According to the book of Exodus, God issued a set of instructions for the Israelites: They were to prepare a special feast in great haste before the departure from Egypt. With no time for bread to rise, the bread at the meal would have to be unleavened. Exodus also reports that God arranged for the Angel of Death to destroy the first-born males of the Egyptians, and to "pass over" the marked houses of the Israelites, killing no one within. The Passover celebration, during which practicing Jews abstain from foods prepared with yeast or any other leavening agent, is observed (usually beginning in late March or early April) for seven days by Reform Jews and for eight by members of the other major branches. Many Jews (espe-cially those who follow the Orthodox tradition) perform no work on the first and last two days of the period, but observances vary.


This holiday celebrates both the spring harvest season and God's gift of the Torah. It takes place on the sixth and seventh days of the month of Sivan, which corresponds to May or June in the secular Gregorian calendar. As a general rule, Orthodox Jews do no work on these days; a number of Conservative and Reconstructionist practitioners follow the same practice, but Reform Jews celebrate Shavout for a single day.

Life Rituals

The baby boy is at the center of the brit milah (covenant of circumcision), the ritual removal of the foreskin enacted in accordance with Genesis 17:10. This ceremony takes place on the eighth day of the baby boy's life. A parallel naming ceremony for infant girls is known as the brit hayyim (covenant of life) or brit bat (covenant of the daughter). This, too, occurs on the eighth day of life.

At the age of 13, a Jewish male marks his entry into the community as an adult during his bar mitzvah (son of the commandment). The female counterpart is known as a bat mitzvah (daughter of the commandment), and can be held for females as young as 12. The bat mitrvah was first celebrated in the twentieth century.

The Jewish marriage ceremony is known as the kiddushin (sanctification). It takes place under a wedding canopy known as a huppah, and incorporates the ritual breaking of a glass underfoot, an act that commemorates a sad event in Jewish history, the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 G.E.

Funeral observances in the Jewish tradition follow distinct guidelines that may vary depending on the branch of Judaism in question. (Reform Jews, for instance, permit cremation, while Jews of most other traditions observe injunctions against the practice.)

Important Facts

Jewish customs, rituals, and dietary guidelines provided both social cohesion and rules for law abiding life among ancient Israelites, just as they do for practicing Jews today.

The moment-to-moment celebration of life itself, in all its diversity, underlies Jewish worship, observance, and ritual, although different branches of the faith take different approaches to the ideal forms of this celebration.

Major Jewish holidays include Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover.

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