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Berachos 12


QUESTION: The Gemara relates that there were attempts to incorporate the reading of the Ten Commandments into the daily prayers. These attempts were blocked because of "the heretical claims of the non-believers" who would say that we grant special status to the Ten commandments because only this part of the Torah was given to us by G-d (Rashi DH Mip'nei Tar'umos ha'Minin).

The RAMBAM (Teshuvos ha'Rambam #46, Jerusalem edition) writes that for this reason we should take care not to attribute any special status to the reading of the Ten Commandments. This includes standing for the reading of the Ten Commandments when that portion of the Torah is read in the synagogues on Shabbos. The Rambam writes that the custom found in some communities to stand during this part of the Torah reading should be discontinued.

Why, then, is it our practice to stand during the reading of the Ten Commandments? We publicly read the account of the giving of the Ten Commandments three times a year: on the Shabbosos of Parashas Yisro and Parashas Va'eschanan, and on Shavuos. On each one of these occasions, the congregation stands while the reader recounts these basic tenets (for various reasons for this custom, see Parasha Page, Yitro 5757).


(a) The BEIS YAKOV (Teshuvos, #125) answers that the manner in which we read the Ten Commandments on *Shavuos* cannot possibly be used to support the perverted arguments of non-believers. If we would give unique status to the Ten Commandments any other day of the year, perhaps it would show that we consider that section of the Torah to be more important than any other. But what we do while reading them on Shavuos, the very day that the Torah was given to us, cannot be mistaken for anything but a commemorative act.

This argument, however, cannot be used to defend the custom of standing during the reading of the Ten Commandments on the Shabbos of Parshas Yisro and Parshas Va'eschanan.

(b) RAV DOVID FEINSTEIN shlit'a (quoted in Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:22) points out that it has become customary to stand for other Torah readings also (such as the the Az Yashir reading) and not just for the reading of the Ten Commandments. One can no longer claim that standing for the Ten Commandments gives them a unique status.

Following a similar line of reasoning, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt'l (ibid.) and Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlit'a (Teshuvos ve'Hanhagos 1:144) suggest that in order to avoid a clash with the Rambam's ruling not to stand for the Ten Commandments, one should rise *before* the reader reaches that portion. In this manner, he will both stand for the reading of the Ten Commandments, yet not afford it a different status than the rest of the reading.

(c) Another approach to this issue (MATEH YEHUDAH 1:6; CHIDA ibid.; RAV MOSHE FEINSTEIN ibid.) is that we cannot compare reading the Ten Commandments when other portions are not read *at all* (such as during the morning prayers, which the Gemara prohibited), to reading it in a *different manner* than other Torah portions (such as standing during their reading, which is permitted). The latter will not be enough to feed the arguments of those who reject the Torah.

(d) RAV YOSEF DOV SOLOVEITCHIK zt'l (the late Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva University) suggested a brilliant approach to this matter, exonerating both our custom and the Rambam's ruling.

In most Hebrew printings of the Chumash, a note appears before the Ten Commandments advising us to read it in public using the "upper set of cantillations". The Mesorah provided us with two different ways of cantillating the Ten Commandments. Instead of setting each verse apart from the following one, as the lower set of cantillations do, the upper set of cantillations set each of the Ten Commandments apart from each other. In doing so, they either group a string of verses into one long pseudo-verse (in the case of the commandment to observe the Shabbos), or they divide a verse into many tiny pseudo-verses (in the case of the verse beginning with Lo Tirtzach).

The custom of reading the Ten Commandments with the upper set of cantillations is quite ancient and is mentioned in the early Torah commentaries. However, there is disagreement as to exactly *when* the upper set is to be used. The Magen Avraham (494:0) cites the disagreement: CHIZKUNI (Shemos 20:14) and MAS'AS BINYAMIN (#6) assert that they are only to be used on Shavuos; the lower set of cantillations are to be used for the Shabbos readings of Yisro and Va'eschanan. On the other hand, OHR TORAH and HAKOSEV (Ein Yakov, Yerushalmi Shekalim, ch.7) tell us to read even the Shabbos readings using the upper set of cantillations and to use the lower set only when reading the Torah in private. Present day practice (in most synagogues) is in accordance with the latter opinion.

When the Ten Commandments are read with the upper set of cantillations, Rav Soloveitchik explained, it is clear from the very *manner in which the verses are read* (i.e. as Ten Commandments, not as individual verses) that we are commemorating an event rather than simply reading a portion of the Torah. It is thus justifiable to stand during this Torah reading since standing is a commemorative act which cannot be mistaken as a show of preferential treatment for one part of the Torah.

Where the Rambam lived, however, the Ten Commandments were apparently read using the lower set of cantillations (or perhaps the Rambam was only discussing the Shabbos Torah readings of Yisro and Va'eschanan, which he read using the lower set of cantillations). When read in such a manner, it is not clear that we are commemorating an event. Standing indeed attributes a unique status to the Ten Commandments which could lead to heretical claims.


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