The Maimon family of Teaneck was celebrating the bar mitzvah of their eldest son on Parshat Yitro of 5763 (2003). A large crowd had gathered, filling the Aviner basement (which housed Shaarei Orah at the time) to beyond capacity. Among the guests was the venerable Rav Solomon Maimon of Seattle, the great-great-uncle of the bar mitzvah.
Many Sephardic and Ashkenazic family and friends had joined the simcha and all were eagerly awaiting the Torah reading. All was beautiful as we reached the aliyah that contains the Aseret Hadibrot. I alerted and reminded the kahal that Sephardim remain seated for all of Torah, including the Aseret Hadibrot. I noted that it was particularly poignant at this wonderful simcha to remain seated during the reading of the Aseret Hadibrot since the Maimon family takes great pride in their descent from the Rambam. The Rambam, it turns out, adopts a very strong stance against those who stand for the Aseret Hadibrot. Therefore, at the bat mitzva of one of his descendants, I noted that we should be especially careful to honor his ruling.
The Aseret Hadibrot undoubtedly constitute a cornerstone of Torah. They express the essential message of Torah—respect. The mitzvot contained in the Aseret Hadibrot teach respect for Hashem, for others and ultimately for ourselves as well. It is therefore not surprising that the Mishna in Masechet Tamid records that the Aseret Hadibrot were recited each day in the Beit Hamikdash.
The Gemara in the first perek of Berachot, however, records that Chazal chose not to incorporate the Aseret Hadibrot in the daily tefillah due to concern for misinterpretation. A deviant sect of Judaism aggressively preached that only the Aseret Hadibrot constitutes the revealed word of Hashem. Chazal rejected the idea of reciting the Aseret Hadibrot in our daily tefillah lest the deviant sect cite this practice as evidence for their belief. The Rambam similarly argues against standing only for the Aseret Hadibrot since it strengthens the hand of those who claim that only this portion of the Torah was revealed by Hashem.
There were those Sephardic authorities, such as Maran Hachida, who defended those who stand for the Aseret Hadibrot. He argues that since we read the entire Torah we celebrate each word of the Torah as the word of God. We stand for the Aseret Hadibrot only to reenact the revelation at Har Sinai when, the Torah records, we all stood.
Hacham Ovadia Yosef, however, notes (Teshuvot Yechave Da’at 1:29) that had Maran Hachida been aware of the Rambam’s responsum he never would have defended those who acted against the Rambam’s ruling. Hacham Ovadia therefore insists that Sephardim must sit during the Aseret Hadibrot in deference to the Rambam.
One exception, writes Hacham Ovadia, is if one’s father or rav receives the aliyah in which the Aseret Hadibrot is read. Sephardic custom is for children and talmidim to stand for their father or rav during their aliyah. In such a case, Hacham Ovadia writes, the children and talmidim should rise as the father or rav comes for his aliyah, to clarify that they are standing in honor of their father or rav and not to accord special stature to the Aseret Hadibrot.
While we have deep appreciation for the Aseret Hadibrot, ultimately we love each and every detail in the Torah and treat each pasuk with equal reverence and respect. Just as a responsible parent loves each child equally, we Jews love each part of the Torah equally—with no special preferences for one section over another.
By Rabbi Haim Jachter
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a Rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a Dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.