Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Katrina Coffman's Sinai Statement

[The tenth grade students who became Confirmed on May 14, 2013 have spent a year immersed in the study of Torah,
and in particular, the Ten Commandments. Shavuot is a time when the Jewish people is asked to bring bikkurim, offerings of great meaning and value, to share with God and community. Our students have responded to this call. Each of our Confirmands has prepared a “Sinai Statement,” a reflection on the learning and experiences that have been part of their year together as a class. They were asked to consider one of a number of topics including: their relationship with God, Torah’s impact on their behavior towards other people, the role of Jewish community in their lives, or our tradition’s prophetic call for social justice in our world. We hope that you will take the time to read them, perhaps to learn from them, and to be inspired by the thoughtfulness and commitment of this class. We are very proud of them!]

If a practicing Jew were to be asked if they knew what the Ten Commandments are, I’m almost positive that person would laugh and say, “Of course”. The Ten Commandments seem to be one of the best known elements of the Jewish tradition: I mean, I’m pretty sure they were the first thing we learned in 2nd grade religious school. But, if the Ten Commandments are so basic and so significant, why - when twenty 10th graders gathered in a room at the beginning of the year - did we actually struggle with naming all ten? I think we didn’t completely remember them because we thought of them as almost outdated and irrelevant. Do we really need to be told to not murder or to not commit adultery? The commandments can feel kind of condescending, with “I Am Adonai Your God” telling us exactly what to believe from the very beginning to “Thou Shall Not Murder,” and “Thou Shall Not Steal,” things that surely, for the most part, we can be trusted to do without direct orders. But as the year went on, and we talked about how people can be killed with words and gossip or how pirating music is just as much theft as walking out of a store with an unpaid CD, I realized that the Ten Commandments do have a relevant place in our lives today. That’s not to say that one necessarily thinks of them all the time. To be honest, I probably didn’t actively think about them this year except in Confirmation class. But when I studied them in greater depth I realized that the commandments, even the ones that seem obvious, are actually good advice - and may not be as condescending or obvious as I originally thought. One should try not to lie or steal or gossip, but that’s easier said than done, and the fact that qualities that are thought of as a necessity in any good citizen are outlined in the basis of Judaism really show what kind of values our religion stands for. Even practices that I may never completely keep, like the rules of kosher and all the rules of Shabbat, are based on basic Jewish values like kindness to animals and the value of taking time to rest. And these values are what really makes the Ten Commandments and more importantly, Judaism as a whole, everlasting and relevant to whatever time period we’re in.

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