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Photo credit: David Boyle

In a joint message, the presidents of the Italian Rabbinical Assembly and the Italian bishops’ commission for ecumenism and interreligious dialogue reflected on the tenth commandment, a.k.a. the Decalogue.

For the past two decades, January 17 — the day before the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity — has been observed in Italy as a day of Jewish-Catholic dialogue. The Ten Commandments have been a topic of joint reflection over the past decade.

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The tenth commandment “teaches us to purify our desires and orient them to the design of God,” said Archbishop Bruno Forte and Rabbi Giuseppe Momigliano, who affirmed “the need to pursue the path of dialogue that we wanted to start 20 years ago” and prayed that God “grant us the Wisdom necessary to identify the next steps of this common journey.”

The Tenth Commandment is comprised of several prohibitions on coveting: “Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:17)

Bible scholar Joel M. Hoffman argues that the common understanding of the Tenth Commandment as referring to desiring things that belong to others is wrong, and that the Hebrew words “Lo Takhmod” mean “Don’t Take.” But then, there already is a commandment against theft, No. 8. The problem with Do Not Covet is, of course, that it refers to something going on inside a person’ skull, which is impossible to detect, much less punish.

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