This week is
Standing or sitting?
‘Aseret haDiberot – The Ten Utterances
It is the minhag of all Jews from North Africa, as well as our brothers, the Ashkenazim, to stand up during the reading of the ‘aseret hadiberot on Shavu’ot, Parashat Yitro, and Perashat va-Ethanan. Ribi Shalom Messas zt”l writes that we stand in order to stir feelings of fear and trepidation, as we felt at Har Sinai. However, this minhag has been disputed amongst some halachic authorities.
The Gemara (Berachot 12a) relates that at sunrise, the Kohanim would call out the ‘aseret hadiberot together with the shema’:
“Ribi Yehuda said in the name of Shemuel: They even wanted to call out the ‘aseret hadiberot by the borders, but this decree was nullified because of the claims of the heretics (Qaraim). Rashi explains that they were worried that the heretics will tell the ignoramus that the reason they call out only the ‘aseret hadiberot and the shema’ is because they only read out what Hashem told us from His “mouth” at Har Sinai, whilst the rest of the Torah is not true.”
Following this line of reasoning, Rambam zt”l writes not to stand for the ‘aseret hadiberot because the heretics will claim, “we only attribute importance to these ten misvot as they are the only ones that are true; the rest of the Torah is not true,” has veshalom. E”H Hacham ‘Ovadia Yosef s”t and e”H Hakham Yishaq Yosef s”t share the opinion that we should not stand during the ‘aseret hadiberot as per Rambam’s response. Yemenite Jews, along with those of ‘Edot haMizrah (Middle Eastern communities), also do not have the minhag to stand during the reading of the ‘aseret hadiberot. However, this minhag existed even before Rambam and the question is: Why did Rambam make such a decree against it? And why do the majority of Jews today continue to follow this minhag, which seemingly contradicts Rambam’s pesaq?
The reason we continue to follow this minhag, is because the heretics back then at the time of the Rambam were much different then the heretics of today because the heretics of today do not make any such claims. Ribi Shalom Messas zt”l is also of this opinion and explains further that whether we were to remain seated or we stood during the ‘aseret hadiberot it would not change the perception of the heretics; either way they would find ways to deny the Torah. Also, it is clear that since we continue to read the remainder of the Perasha – and not solely the ‘aseret hadiberot – there is no reason to worry about such claims. Furthermore, Maran haHida zt”l explains that since we make berachot before and after each ‘aliya laTorah – and not just the ‘aliya of the ‘aseret hadiberot – we have no worry that the heretics will make a claim that the rest of the Torah is untrue. However, Maran haHida zt”l cautions us to stand from the beginning of the ‘aliya in order to show that we stand for other pesuqim as well. He also adds that it is very important that if the majority of the qahal (congregation) is standing, one should NOT sit, as this shows as if they are belittling the ‘aseret hadiberot, h“v. Nonetheless, Ribi Yishaq Hazan zt”l, Ribi Yossef Messas zt”l, and Ribi Refael Berdugo zt”l all say that the common minhag is to stand only once we reach the ‘aseret hadiberot for we are not concerned about the claims of the heretics.
Summary: There are posqim, such as Rambam zt”l and e”H Hakham ‘Ovadia Yosef s”t, who prohibit standing during ‘aseret hadiberot for fear of the heretics’ claims. The majority of posqim are not concerned with these heretics’ claims for various reasons and thus permit standing. Each one should follow the minhag of the synagogue regarding which point to stand.