Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How do the Ten Commandments sum up all the rest of the moral Torah?

NOTE: This is one in a series of posts from my moral theology assignments. They are intended to be brief responses. In many cases, the topics could be extensively explored, but that was not the intent of the assignment.

The Torah is the center of the Tanakh (Jewish scripture), and it tells about the establishment of the covenant between God and the Hebrew people. Roland Murphy notes that these five books are foundational for the Jewish people and central to their identity. What is central to the Torah are the “ten sayings” (Aseret haDibrot) given to Moses as the basis for the Covenant, so the Ten Commandments are the center of the center. In the Ten Commandments, we have essentially two categories: those commandments pertaining to love of God (commandments one through three) and those pertaining to love of neighbor (commandments four through ten), as Jesus notes in Matthew 22:37–40. Jesus’ response to the Pharisees actually follows in a long line of tradition, first in alluding to the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4–9), then to Leviticus 18:18 (CCC 2055). The great Jewish rabbi Hillel also responded in similar fashion and added, “All the rest is commentary.” While the Ten Commandments give us the basics, the rest of the Torah goes into detail on the practical aspects in some 613 mitzvot addressing the Mosaic moral, ritual, and judicial law, but all these laws can be subsumed under one of the Ten Commandments.

Benedict Ashley notes that each group of laws—moral, judicial, and ritual—all serve to help the People of God conform themselves in virtue to God’s service, but that they also point forward to fulfillment in Jesus. In addition, throughout the historical, wisdom, and prophetic books, we can see how these laws are presented in context. In 2 Samuel 12, Nathan condemns the adulterous actions of David at God’s prompting. In Tobit 4, Tobit exhorts Tobias to charity and justice using precepts directly from Leviticus and Deuteronomy (for example, Lev. 19:13 and Deut. 15:11). Finally, in the synoptic gospels, Jesus clarifies the teachings of the Decalogue, explaining the extent to which each law goes: that looking at a woman with lust is adultery (Matthew 5:28); that calling your brother a fool is held as liable as if he committed murder (Matthew 5:22). So in a very real sense, all of scripture interprets the Torah, and the Torah instruction is itself an elaboration and explanation of the Decalogue.

i. Roland Murphy, 101 Questions & Answers on the Biblical Torah. (New York: Paulist Press, 1996), 9.
ii. “Aseret haDibrot,” 2008, Temple Emanu-El, 7 February 2010,
iii. “Hillel,” Judaism, 7 February 2010,
iv. Tracey R. Rich, “A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments),” 2007, Judaism 101, 7 February 2010,
V. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 2A—Lesson Three,” International Catholic University, 6 February 2010,
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