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    Standing for the Ten Commandments

    There are different customs about standing when the Ten Commandments are read.

    Some synagogues make it a dramatic moment when everyone stands up, others have some people sitting and others standing.

    Maimonides has the rule that if a person sits for the rest of the Torah reading they should remain seated for the Ten Commandments too (T’shuvot HaRambam 46). His reasoning is that all the 613 commandments are important, not just these ten.

    Those who choose to stand are re-enacting the experience of the people at Sinai, where they stood at the sound of the Divine Presence.

    Rabbinic sages as far back as the time of the Talmud (B’rachot 12a) were, however, careful to ensure that people did not place too much emphasis on the Decalogue. This was for historical reasons because the minim (sectarians – in this context early Christians) said that only the Ten Commandments came from God whilst the other mitzvot were conveyed through the angels as a penalty for Israel’s disobedience.

    In fact there are so many other grand commands elsewhere in the Torah that it is impossible to downgrade them, laws such as “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Lev. 19:18).

    Pir’kei Avot 2:1 warns us not to differentiate between one commandment and another, nor to pick and choose which commandments we will observe.

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