The 10 Commandments Through A Contemporary Lens
Religion & Liberty Online

The 10 Commandments Through A Contemporary Lens

Rabbi Benjamin Blech, Professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University, reminds us that the 10 Commandments are not only relevant in our world, but needed more than ever. Writing at, Rabbi Blech says the Commandments are both universal and timeless.

The first Commandment is “I am the Lord your God.” (Yes, I know that there is a bit of a difference in the numbering of the Commandments between Jews, Catholics and Protestants. Since this is a Jewish author, we’ll go with his numbering.) Rabbi Blech tells us that in a world of “selfies,” this Commandment is more relevant than ever.

The aggrandizement of self, the preoccupation with ego, the narcissism of our generation needs above all to be reminded that “it’s not all about you.”

No moral system can be based solely on concern with the self. If man is the sole arbiter of goodness then evil will always be rationalized as necessary for personal pleasure and privilege.

As Dostoyevsky so perceptively put it, “Without God, all is permissible.”

“You Shall Have No Gods Before Me” is the second Commandment and one that is widely ignored in a culture that literally adores celebrities.

Sociologists have a name for the idolatry of our times. It’s “celebrity worship syndrome,” It describes the pedestal on which we have put our movie stars, sports figures and famous people, follow their every move, and treat them as modern gods. There is a giant media subculture around the cult of personality. Gossip and news about the rich and famous is big business. Magazines like People and Us Weekly, TV shows like Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight, and a long list of blogs such as Gossip Girl, TMZ.Com, and Perez Hilton have captured our imagination. There are more celebrity magazines than real news magazines in the United States.

In The Decline and fall of the Roman Empire, Edward Gibbon asserted that there were several factors contributing to the fall of Rome, but prime among them he said “The development of an over-obsessive interest in sport and celebrity was one of the main factors in the collapse of the greatest civilization ever known to man.” That’s why God warned us so strongly against worshiping false idols.

Rabbi Blech says that the Commandment to observe the Sabbath is necessary in a world that is plugged in all the time. He mentions a graduation speech from Google CEO Eric Schmidt:

The head of the world’s most popular search engine urged college graduates to step away from the virtual world and make human connections. He told them “Turn off your computer. You’re actually going to have to turn off your phone and discover all that is human around us.” And that is what God told us to do once every seven days.

The seventh Commandment deals with sexual morality: “Do not covet your neighbor’s wife.” In a sexually-saturated world, we need to be aware of the evil that surrounds us.

According to a major new study, over half of all television programming is filled with sexual content; in prime time, over two thirds of all shows deal with it. Sexual permissiveness is the norm. Chaste behavior is depicted as abnormal, faithfulness in marriage as unrealistic.

The seventh commandment is God’s way of reminding us that happy marriages require commitment and that – in spite of what Hollywood says – it is more than worth it in creating relationships that last a lifetime.

We are told that lying is a sin. Yet our culture not only allows it, it encourages telling falsehoods.

remarkably enough a Florida Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that there is no law against distorting or falsifying the news in the United States (see Read how the media, including the New York Times – the supposed Bible of journalistic integrity – cover Israel and those intent on its destruction and you fully appreciate the extent to which truth has become a victim of prejudice and honest reporting a fatality of anti-Semitism.

Consider this quote from John Swinton, former Chief of Staff for the New York Times in an address to the New York Press club: “There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print.”

It is good to be reminded that this simple list of commands are not archaic, but are timeless and useful to all people. Even for those who are not religious, the 10 Commandments serve as a guide for moral behavior both in a relationship with God and in relationship with others.

Read “The 10 Commandments Today: Why we need them now more than ever” at

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.