First David Harzony, a Jewish philosophy scholar, publishes a book on the significance of the Ten Commandments in 21st century life, then Moment Magazine uses the Decalogue for it’s January/February 2011 issue (full disclosure—I helped to fact check this publication,) and now, on Thursday night, local Jewish thinkers sit down to discuss their thoughts as part of DCJCC’s Authors Out Loud series.
Among the diverse tribes-people who first discussed and debated their points before taking questions from the audience were Harzony, Nadine Epstein, editor of Moment; Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard; and Rabbi Gil Steinlauf of Adas Israel. William Daroff, Director of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Washington office, officiated.
The setting was academically intimate, a rug laid out on the floor, plush chairs for the panelists and a table with water. Some of the points that were brought up included how important are The Ten Commandments in Torah? What would we feel about them if we read them without the prejudice of what they’ve come to represent over the course of history? Are American Jews distancing ourselves from a basic tenant of our faith due to the influence of the Christian Right? What are the differences between Jewish and Christian interpretations of The Ten Commandments, and are they important? When 90% of Americans have strong opinions on the Commandments, yet only 40% can name all ten, what does that say about our discourse? Should in depth study of the Commandments be encouraged, even by secular Jews, in public schools, rather than just seeing the Decalogue as a political symbol? Are The Ten Commandments meant for everyone or are they meant just for Jews?
I’ve listed these questions, and left out plenty more, mostly to prove that this is an issue without clear answers, which personally, if I were to write an eleventh commandment, might be it. 😛 I really appreciate the chance to look at The Ten Commandments as more than just a rallying point in the church vs state argument. To study them in a religious setting and to take them seriously as a part of my heritage might lead me to a different place regarding the public sphere. Can one believe in a text about moral absolutism while honoring the “relativist” theory that “my truth” may not be “your truth”? Or maybe I could look at something like Hinduism’s Ten Commitments (mentioned in a Moment interview) as another “translation” of “the greater good.” Already I can tell that this philosophizing will require a lot of quotation marks. 😛 But if this panel was all about addressing The Ten Commandments as a relevant document in the 21st century, I think we nailed it.