Podcast: Leon Kass on the Ten Commandments

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Chapter 1: God or Pharaoh?

Chapter 2: God’s Commandments and Self-Command

Chapter 3: Shabbat and the Family

Chapter 4: The People of the Book

The revelation at Sinai was central to the transformation of the people of Israel into a nation. Fresh from their Exodus from Egypt, at the foot of that mountain, a nation of slaves heard the Lord Himself pronounce His law—His “Ten Commandments”—prescribing proper conduct toward God and man. It would be hard to overstate the influence of the Decalogue in the history of West. Even in our increasingly post-Christian age, the Ten Commandments remain a potent cultural symbol. Yet, for all this familiarity, their true significance remains elusive.

In 2013, Leon Kass—one of America’s deepest thinkers—sought to shed light on how the Ten Commandments ought to be understood. Published as Mosaic’s inaugural essay, “The Ten Commandments: Why the Decalogue Matters” analyzes the meaning of each Divine command, placing it in the context of the Bible as a whole as well as the permanent conditions of human nature.

In this Tikvah Podcast, Professor Kass joins Jonathan Silver for a reconsideration of this important piece of commentary. In a conversation that looks back toward creation and forward to the civic character of the modern Jewish State, Kass and Silver take a deep dive into the first five commandments and their meaning. Their wide-ranging discussion touches on the nature of God’s covenant with Israel, man’s relationship with nature, and the indispensable role of the family in the life of the people of Israel.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble, as well as Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

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