Menachem Mendel

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Reading the Ten Commandments in Synagogue

Lion of Zion has posted about the cantillation used in the reading of the Ten Commandments in synagogue. I have previously posted on this topic, but I wanted to draw the attention of those who are interested in Ta’amei ha-Mikrah to this article by Miles Cohen and David Freedman on the topic. On the basis of this article, the Etz Hayyim Humash, published by the Conservative Movement, has changed the cantillation marks for the Ten Commandments to reflect these findings. Also, there was an interesting question posted to H-Judaic recently, “What is the earliest source to use the term Aseret ha-Dibrot/Ten Commandments/Ten Statements, etc.?” One of the answers was by Robert Kraft,

A quick TLG search shows Philo coming very close in Rewards/Punishments 2, where the individual items are called ENTOLAI (commandments) which are DEKA (ten) in number. Clement of Alexandria (who knew at least some
of Philo’s writings) reflects a similar outlook when he speaks of the
first ENTOLH (commandment) of the DEKALOG (Strom But
Origen, who also knew some Philo and perhaps Clement as well, says it
clearly — DEKA ENTWLWN (ten of commandments) — in his (fragmentary)
commentary on Ephesians 31.34. By the time of (ps-)Athanasius, the
terminology is even more straightforward — “the ten commandments (DEKA
ENTOLAS) in tablets” (Synopsis of Sacred Scriptures 28.297.46).
Similarly Didymus the Blind (frag. 1294 in Psalms: “each of the ten
commandments”) and Epiphanius (“there are ten law-commandments” NOMIKAI
ENTOLAI (Apophthegmata 65.165.29). I didn’t look further.

Here are some answers regarding the English term “Ten Commandments.”

4 Responses to “Reading the Ten Commandments in Synagogue”

  1. 1

    The term Asseret Ha-dibrot appears in Yerushalmi Berakhot (CH. 1).

  2. 2

    Surely you jest! עשרת הדברים is mentioned in the תורה itself!

    דברים ד’ ×™×’

    וַיַּגֵּד לָכֶם אֶת-בְּרִיתוֹ, אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה אֶתְכֶם לַעֲשׂוֹת–עֲשֶׂרֶת, הַדְּבָרִים; וַיִּכְתְּבֵם, עַל-שְׁנֵי לֻחוֹת אֲבָנִים.

    ושם ×™’ ד

    וַיִּכְתֹּב עַל-הַלֻּחֹת כַּמִּכְתָּב הָרִאשׁוֹן, אֵת עֲשֶׂרֶת הַדְּבָרִים.

  3. 3
    Menachem Mendel:

    The question was about the phrase “Ten Commandments”, so my mention of “statements” was incorrect.

  4. 4

    You said that the question was about the “Aseret ha-Dibrot” which suprised me. I went back to the original site and I saw that this was the original question, which is legitimate:

    “When did the expression “Ten Commandments” (specifying commandments) first
    come into use as opposed to Decalogue or its Hebrew equivalent (aseret




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Michael Pitkowsky


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