Why, then, is it our practice to stand during the reading of the Ten
Commandments? We publicly read the account of the giving of the Ten
Commandments three times a year: on the Shabbosos of Parashas Yisro and
Parashas Va'eschanan, and on Shavuos. On each one of these occasions, the
congregation stands while the reader recounts these basic tenets (for
various reasons for this custom, see Parasha Page, Yitro 5757).
(a) The BEIS YAKOV (Teshuvos, #125) answers that the manner in which we
read the Ten Commandments on *Shavuos* cannot possibly be used to support
the perverted arguments of non-believers. If we would give unique status to
the Ten Commandments any other day of the year, perhaps it would show that
we consider that section of the Torah to be more important than any other.
But what we do while reading them on Shavuos, the very day that the Torah
was given to us, cannot be mistaken for anything but a commemorative act.
This argument, however, cannot be used to defend the custom of standing
during the reading of the Ten Commandments on the Shabbos of Parshas Yisro
and Parshas Va'eschanan.
(b) RAV DOVID FEINSTEIN shlit'a (quoted in Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:22)
points out that it has become customary to stand for other Torah readings
also (such as the the Az Yashir reading) and not just for the reading of
the Ten Commandments. One can no longer claim that standing for the Ten
Commandments gives them a unique status.
Following a similar line of reasoning, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt'l (ibid.) and
Rav Moshe Sternbuch shlit'a (Teshuvos ve'Hanhagos 1:144) suggest that in
order to avoid a clash with the Rambam's ruling not to stand for the Ten
Commandments, one should rise *before* the reader reaches that portion. In
this manner, he will both stand for the reading of the Ten Commandments,
yet not afford it a different status than the rest of the reading.
(c) Another approach to this issue (MATEH YEHUDAH 1:6; CHIDA ibid.; RAV
MOSHE FEINSTEIN ibid.) is that we cannot compare reading the Ten
Commandments when other portions are not read *at all* (such as during the
morning prayers, which the Gemara prohibited), to reading it in a
*different manner* than other Torah portions (such as standing during their
reading, which is permitted). The latter will not be enough to feed the
arguments of those who reject the Torah.
(d) RAV YOSEF DOV SOLOVEITCHIK zt'l (the late Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva
University) suggested a brilliant approach to this matter, exonerating both
our custom and the Rambam's ruling.
In most Hebrew printings of the Chumash, a note appears before the Ten
Commandments advising us to read it in public using the "upper set of
cantillations". The Mesorah provided us with two different ways of
cantillating the Ten Commandments. Instead of setting each verse apart from
the following one, as the lower set of cantillations do, the upper set of
cantillations set each of the Ten Commandments apart from each other. In
doing so, they either group a string of verses into one long pseudo-verse
(in the case of the commandment to observe the Shabbos), or they divide a
verse into many tiny pseudo-verses (in the case of the verse beginning with
The custom of reading the Ten Commandments with the upper set of
cantillations is quite ancient and is mentioned in the early Torah
commentaries. However, there is disagreement as to exactly *when* the upper
set is to be used. The Magen Avraham (494:0) cites the disagreement:
CHIZKUNI (Shemos 20:14) and MAS'AS BINYAMIN (#6) assert that they are only
to be used on Shavuos; the lower set of cantillations are to be used for
the Shabbos readings of Yisro and Va'eschanan. On the other hand, OHR TORAH
and HAKOSEV (Ein Yakov, Yerushalmi Shekalim, ch.7) tell us to read even the
Shabbos readings using the upper set of cantillations and to use the lower
set only when reading the Torah in private. Present day practice (in most
synagogues) is in accordance with the latter opinion.
When the Ten Commandments are read with the upper set of cantillations, Rav
Soloveitchik explained, it is clear from the very *manner in which the
verses are read* (i.e. as Ten Commandments, not as individual verses) that
we are commemorating an event rather than simply reading a portion of the
Torah. It is thus justifiable to stand during this Torah reading since
standing is a commemorative act which cannot be mistaken as a show of
preferential treatment for one part of the Torah.
Where the Rambam lived, however, the Ten Commandments were apparently read
using the lower set of cantillations (or perhaps the Rambam was only
discussing the Shabbos Torah readings of Yisro and Va'eschanan, which he
read using the lower set of cantillations). When read in such a manner, it
is not clear that we are commemorating an event. Standing indeed attributes
a unique status to the Ten Commandments which could lead to heretical