Sunday, June 08, 2008

Standing Up for the Ten Commandments

There is a customary practice for people to stand up when the Ten Commandments are read in the Torah. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik points out the following difficulty with this practice.

There is a Rambam which says we should not do that. As a proof he quotes a Gemarah which says that the reading of the Ten Commandments was originally established to be recited daily along with the recitation of the Shema. But the sages voided this practice because of the religious beliefs of gentiles that say that the Ten Commandments are more significant than the rest of Torah law.

The Rambam goes on to say that anyone who stands for the reading of the Ten Commandments is worthy of rebuke because of this gentile belief. Doing so the Rambam says shows a lack in our own belief since one may come to think that Ten Commandments are more important than the rest of Torah law.

In order to answer this contradiction to our normal practice we need to look at another custom.

When the Torah is read, it is done with a certain set of musical notes called Trop. The most commonly used Trop is called Taam Tachton. This is what one normally hears in the synagogue when any Torah portion is read. When the Ten Commandments are read, however, a different Trop is used. It is called Taam Elyon.

The difference between them is the following. Taam Tachton divides the Torah into Pesukim – sentences as structured in the Torah. Taam Elyon is used when the Ten Commandments are read. Sentences are ignored and are connected so that they are all read as one long Pasuk. It is instead divided into Ten Commandments.

The reason for this is the following Halacha: ‘Kol Pesuka D’ Lo Paskiah Moshe, Anan Lo Paskinan’ - we are not permitted to divide Pesukim when reading the Torah - which is a fulfillment of the Mitzvah of learning Torah - differently than the way Moshe did. Sentences read for that purpose must be read whole. The Taam Tachton accomplishes this. Reading the Ten Commandments, however, is more than just a fulfillment of the public learning of Torah. It is a remembrance of receiving the Ten Commandments at Sinai. So we read it with the Taam Elyon to signify that.

There is a Machlokes - a Halachic dispute – as to whether to read them this way when done as the weekly Torah Portion and not on Shavuos. (Ber Heitiv 494:2) The Mishnah Berurah actually holds that during the course of the year when that portion containing it comes up - whether in Yisro or Eschanan - one should read the Ten Commandments with the Taam Tachton. Only on Shavuos is it read with the Taam Elyon. The reason is because on Shavuos it is read as a remembrance of the receiving of the Torah at Sinai. Thus the reading is done in a fashion that signifies that. During the regular weekly reading it is read with the Taam Tachton as is the rest of the Torah.

This reasoning can used to explain to standing up for the Ten Commandments. That too is done to signify receiving the Torah from Sinai.

Thus, Rav Solveitchik says standing up is not a contradiction to the Rambam. The Rambam states his law when the Ten Commandments is read during the course of the year. Perhaps in the Rambam’s locale, the Ten Commandments were read with the Taam Tachton and standing for that might then be a considered heretical - as if we give it greater significance than the rest of Torah law– as do the gentiles. But when it is read with the Taam Elyon to signify the reception of he Torah at Sinai - it is not at all done to show the greater significance of the Ten Commandments.

Taken from Harirei Kedem - Volume 2: 117