The Ten Commandments

This resource explores the Ten Commandments, which constitute a moral foundation for the Jewish people and have inspired other nations, as well. It also deals with the importance of rules for society and the individual.

Resource Ages: 9-11, 12-14


And God spoke all these words:

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

You shall have no other gods before[ me.

 You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything […] You shall not bow down to them or worship them

You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain […] 

 Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work,  but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant […]

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

 You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

(Exodus 20, 1-14)

וַיְדַבֵּר אֱ-לֹהִים אֵת כָּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה לֵאמֹר:

אָנֹכִי ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים.

לֹא יִהְיֶה לְךָ אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים עַל פָּנָי. לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה לְךָ פֶסֶל וְכָל תְּמוּנָה. […] לֹא תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה לָהֶם וְלֹא תָעָבְדֵם […].

לֹא תִשָּׂא אֶת שֵׁם ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ לַשָּׁוְא […].

זָכוֹר אֶת יוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת לְקַדְּשׁוֹ. שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תַּעֲבֹד וְעָשִׂיתָ כָּל מְלַאכְתֶּךָ. וְיוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבָּת לה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ לֹא תַעֲשֶׂה כָל מְלָאכָה אַתָּה וּבִנְךָ וּבִתֶּךָ עַבְדְּךָ וַאֲמָתְךָ וּבְהֶמְתֶּךָ וְגֵרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ. […]

כַּבֵּד אֶת אָבִיךָ וְאֶת אִמֶּךָ לְמַעַן יַאֲרִכוּן יָמֶיךָ עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ.

לֹא תִרְצָח.

לֹא תִנְאָף.

לֹא תִגְנֹב.

לֹא תַעֲנֶה בְרֵעֲךָ עֵד שָׁקֶר.

לֹא תַחְמֹד בֵּית רֵעֶךָ, לֹא תַחְמֹד אֵשֶׁת רֵעֶךָ וְעַבְדּוֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ וְשׁוֹרוֹ וַחֲמֹרוֹ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְרֵעֶךָ.

Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
  • How is the Torah story my story?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • To what extent are the laws of the Torah connected to me? Why?
  • How is the giving of the Torah connected to me?
  • What is the place of rules in our lives?

Background for Teacher

In the Torah, Shavuot is an agricultural holiday – the festival of the harvest and the first fruits. It was Chazal  (the Sages) – who linked this holiday to the most formative event in the history of the Jewish nation – when the people...

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In the Torah, Shavuot is an agricultural holiday – the festival of the harvest and the first fruits. It was Chazal  (the Sages) – who linked this holiday to the most formative event in the history of the Jewish nation – when the people of Israel stood together at Mt. Sinai and, according to tradition, Moses received the luchot habrit – the  Tablets of the Covenant from God and passed them onto the nation. 

The Book of Exodus tells us that written upon the tablets were the ten commandments that God spoke to the nation as they stood there. Because of this,  the verses in the Torah describing the covenant at Mt. Sinai and the ten commandments are read out loud in synagogue every year on the morning of Shavuot,.  

The ten commandments became foundations stones of the social and legal system of the Jewish nation, and have also influenced other cultures.  The ten commandments appear twice in the Torah, with some slight but significant changes (the second version is found in the Book of Deuteronomy. The division of the commandments into ten is not marked in the text, and there are various suggestions regarding how they should be divided.
It is customary to divide the ten commandments into the laws that are between people and God, and laws that are between people.
Despite the ten  commandments’ special status because they were according to the tradition  given at Mt. Sinai, Jewish law stipulates that their status is not more special than any of the other commandments and laws in the Torah – and the obligation to keep them is the same as keeping all of the commandments listed throughout the five books of the Torah.

The laws of the Torah are reminiscent of the Code of Hammurabi, another set of moral laws from the ancient world at around the same time. By examining the differences between the Code of Hammurabi and the laws of the Torah, we can learn about the values that distinguished and differentiated Judaism from the prevailing world outlook at that time.

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
Further Study
  • The students should work in groups to create a set of rules for the class and include in it ten rules that ensure both the common good in the classroom and the good of the individual.
    Consider which rules are common to the various groups and which principles and worldviews underlie these rules.
    Also think about which of the rules are universal and relevant to all students in the world, and which are specific to the class and perhaps to other classes in the school? Which are related to interpersonal relationships? Which are related to the Jewish character of the school? And so forth.
  • What is the purpose of various rules? Show the students an illustration and discuss: How does the fence influence the game? How can rules sometimes  lead to freedom and liberation in specific circumstances? Give examples of such rules in your life. (You can give an example to illustrate: Anti-violence rules at school give students the freedom to walk around freely, feeling safe.)

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

  1. The Book of Exodus tells us that the ten commandments were given at Mt. Sinai. Why do you think the commandments were given in such an impressive event that is remembered by generations?
  2. We can learn from the ten commandments which values were important to the Jewish people at its founding. Discuss two or three of these values. Do you agree with their inclusion in the ten commandments? Explain. 
  3. Which of the ten commandments would you expect to also see in a society that is not connected to the Torah? 
  4. There are two types of laws in the ten commandments: laws relating to interactions between people ) (  בין אדם לחברו , and laws relating to interactions between a person and God. Consider which category is appropriate for each of the commandments. Are there any that you’re unsure about which category it belongs to?
  5. Which of the commandments do you think are most important for maintaining a proper society? Which do you think are less relevant in modern days? Explain. 
  6. Which of the commandments are meaningful for you personally? Why? 
  7. Why are rules important for society? 
  8. Some people feel more comfortable without rules, and some feel more comfortable with rules. Where do you fall on the spectrum between these two personality types? Are there times when you prefer rules and times where you don’t? Explain the advantages and disadvantages of rules in our private lives.
  9. The ten commandments are divided into “do’s” and “don’t”s. What is the difference between a commandment to do something and a commandment to not do something? Categorize the commandments according to these two categories.
  • Have the students write an eleventh commandment, something they think is missing in the ten commandments. Ask the students whether the commandment they chose is universal, Jewish or personal. This can lead to a discussion of their personal connection to the ten commandments and the possibility of innovating its content.
  • The students choose one of the commandments, study it and create an art project inspired by it which they will present to the rest of the students. Ask the students to address in the work both their personal connection to the chosen commandment and the Jewish value reflected in it.
  • Each of the commandments raises many issues that require further consideration and clarification. Ask the students to choose one commandment where it’s not completely clear what we are meant to do, and to write some questions that arise from it or situations connected to it.
    For example, the commandment to “Honor your parents” – does this mean we have to do everything our parents ask? Or “Do not steal” – what about downloading songs/videos online? Is this considered stealing? And so on.
    To make the activity more experiential, you can write out each commandment on a posterboard , hang them up around the room, and have the students write their questions around it.
  • Learn the second version of the ten commandments that appears, with some changes, in the Book of Deuteronomy (5, 6-17). Examine the differences between the two texts and consider what might be learned from these differences and how they can be explained.
  • How did the Tablets of the Covenant (luchot habrit)  look?
    The Torah does not detail much beyond the fact that they were made of stone and engraved on both sides. And so, generations of commentators and artists have given free rein to their imagination and suggested how the word of God came down to the world. Most interpretations are related to the role of the Commandments as the law of God.
    1. Midrash Tanchuma, for example, suggests that the engraving of the Commandments in stone was done by fire – a suitable means for the word of God: “And the Torah, with what was it written? On white fire in black fire.” (Tanchuma Bereishit 1). 
    2. The sages suggest that even the stone was not regular stone, but rather precious stone – sapphire (according to Vayikra Rabba 32, 2), an interpretation connecting to the idea that the words of Torah are precious to us. 
    3. Because of the prohibition in the second commandment against making statues and pictures, there was a long period of time in which Jews did not express themselves through the medium of art. The few images made of the tablets are usually seen in the form of a double tablet, as seen in the illustration of the sukkah or in ancient handwriting. Christians drew the tablets in different shapes – like a scroll, a book, or as slightly rounded tablets. Because the Torah is a kind of contract, a covenant, the drawing reflects the type of contracts in their day.
      With these sources, we see that commentators chose (through words or art) to describe the Tablets in a way that would reflect their importance and content.
      If you could describe the tablets using an image of any kind – what would you choose?