The 10th Commandment Adapts!

Ten Commandments

As we all know, every word in the Torah means something.

The Ten Commandments appear both in Exodus and Deuteronomy.  However, the last commandment has changed in Deuteronomy.

In Exodus 20:17, the wording is as follows: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his man servant or maid servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

By using the semicolon, we infer that house means all property owned by your neighbor, including his wife.

Now, in Deuteronomy 5:17, the tenth commandment reads as follows:  “Neither shalt thy covet thy neighbor’s wife;  neither shalt thou desire your neighbor’s house, his field, his man- servant, or his maid-servant, his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s .”

It appears that the Torah has made a change.  In Deuteronomy, “your neighbor’s wife” is separate, no longer part of your neighbor’s property.

Deuteronomy means second law. So even during the time of the Oral Law, adaptation took place in the 6th century BC.  This increased with the written law.

A broad consensus of scholars have accepted that Deuteronomy was composed in Jerusalem in the 7th century BC in the context of reforms advanced by King Josiah (reigned 641-609 BC).  When the contents of oral law was committed to writing, following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, Rabbis began to debate every word of the Torah.  This has continued from then to now.  Various meanings are debated and respected. So is Halacha debated today amongst Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist Judaism.  All views should be respected, even if we disagree.

However, as we compare Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:17, we see adaptation, composed, – in my humble opinion, – by the first “Conservative” Jews.

Respectfully submitted,
Natalie Baff


image: “Statue of Moses and the Ten Commandments – Lodz Park – \u0141\xf3d\u017a, Poland” by David Berkowitz is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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