Book Review: The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments:  How Our Most Ancient Moral Text Can Renew Modern Life, by David Hazony

About the only thing I had an issue with in this book is the fact that my own view of the Talmud is far less than that of the author.  This is a book written by a conservative or Orthodox Jew for someone who at least has a belief that the Talmud has insight to give to contemporary readers.  I would have liked to have seen more biblical exegesis and fewer stories from the Talmud.  It is striking to see how the author views the Bible, including the Ten Commandments, through the filter of what centuries of uninspired rabbis thought about it.  That said, the author is fundamentally right that paying attention to the Ten Commandments would help to renew modern life.  I don’t think it very likely that this will happen, but to the extent that it is possible, it is something that should be encouraged and this book is one I can recommend to a reader who is at least willing to read stories about how it is that failing to stick up for a guest may have helped sabotage Jewish freedom in Rome and other such likely imaginative tales.

This book is about 250 pages long and opens with a discussion of the Ten Commandments and an introduction that asks the reader if he or she can name all ten.  After that the author discusses the relationship of the Ten Commandments with redemption (1) concerning the freedom from slavery and sin.  There is then a discussion about the relationship of morality and loneliness (2) as well as the way in which our lies destroy us (3) when when we take the names and reputations of God and others in vain.  After that the author discusses the Sabbath as an aspect of redemption (4) and also looks at honoring parents as an important matter of the wisdom of the heart (5).  The commandment against murder allows the author to reflect upon the meaning of life (6) and the commandment against adultery allows the author to contrast our penchant for sexual sins in the present evil age with the biblical commandment to enjoy sexuality within godly marriage (7).  There is a chapter on making room for others (8) as well as a look at the relationship of our communities and ourselves when it comes to integrity (9).  Finally, the book ends with a discussion about peace and the avoidance of envy and resentment (10) as well as the human element in society as well as acknowledgements, notes, and an index.

One of the more intriguing aspects of this book is that it reminded me that there are at least three different ways to view and count the Ten Commandments, and that this book has a different one than either the Protestant or Catholic ones that I am more familiar with (the Catholic one hides the anti-idolatry command in the first commandment and this one similarly conflates the first and second commandments to focus on the identity of God as the only God and having no other gods as being connected to avoiding making graven images.  Be that as it may, the author has a great deal of respect for the Bible and its applications and makes some very strong points about the implications of the Ten Commandments in our daily lives, some of which we may all do better than others.  If the author is not one whose every word I can endorse, he is someone who gives plenty of food for thought and reflection and that is something to appreciate even if it is occasionally a bit irritating and frustrating as well.  But sometimes a book is worth reading even when it comes from a very different perspective given it has an otherwise very similar worldview.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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