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    Reading the Ten Commandments publicly

    Great attention is paid by most people to the Ten Commandments. The Talmudic rabbis, however, had their doubts about whether reading the Decalogue publicly was a good idea.

    They worried that “the sectarians” – the early Christians – were giving the wrong impression (Ber. 12b) in suggesting that only these commandments came from God whilst the rest of the 613 mitzvot were given through the angels as a punishment for Jewish sinfulness.

    Hence the daily reading of the Ten Commandments was suspended, though one could read them privately (which explains why some prayer books print them at the end of Shacharit, though they do not figure in the statutory liturgy).

    Saadya Ga’on and others suggested that all the 613 commandments were hinted at and enshrined in the Decalogue, which is thus a summary of the whole of halachah.

    We read the Decalogue three times in the synagogal year – in Parashat Yitro when the weekly Torah reading reaches this point, in Parashat Va’et’channan as part of the regular Torah reading (though this version is not quite identical with the first) – and on Shavuot, which marks the Revelation on Mount Sinai.

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