Question for Jews on 9th Commandment -- impossible?

I’m not sure of the official number, but here it is and my question follows.

I think it is impossible to keep this commandment.

How can you even barter for (or buy) anything unless it is for something you want? Or can you only barter for (or buy) things you do not want, which does not make much sense.

Any wisdom here will be welcomed with open ears.

Actually ** jumullaney **, we have the commandments numbered differently. What you refer to as the 9th and 10th are, in reality, one commandment. The 9th (according to Jews) is not to bear false witness.
That said…

I don’t think that desire of an object in and of itself is bad. As you mentioned, commerce and society would probably grind to a halt without it.

What I think the commandment is (and this is my opinion alone) is to not want what you cannot have. You shouldn’t want your neighbor’s wife… she’s not available.

You want your neighbor’s cow, fine. Ask him if he will sell it. Once he says no, however, at any price, you must put it out of your mind. You obviously cannot legislate feelings, but you can encourage people to not dwell on the unatainable.

Zev Steinhardt

But then how is this really different from Thou Shalt not Steal? That seems to be the commandment you are talking about. I mean – could I offer my neighbor twenty bucks to sleep with his wife, and still be keeping the 10th commandment? (the numbering not being too too important really – but the eleven commandments would just be too many!)


Stealing is the act of illegaly taking something you do not own.

Coveting (as I defined it above) would probably be a necessary first step to stealing.

As to your neighbor’s wife, no, simply because your neighbor does not own his wife.

Zev Steinhardt

Doesn’t own his wife. Er, his wife. I think the “'s” is called a possessive. I mean, you could pay him to divorce his wife if order that you could marry her, right?

You’d already be coveting her. :slight_smile:

I suppose so.

There is a concept in Judaism called * Naval b’reshus haTorah *. What it means is being low while technically being within the letter the law.

So while, yes, you could pay someone to divorce his wife so that you can marry her, it would be contrary to the spirit of the commandments.

As for the possessive s…

Not all “'s” mean absolute possession. Someone could say “Zev’s country is the USA.” That doesn’t mean, however, that I own the USA. It’s more of an associative possessive. I would apply the same thing to a husband/wife relationship. They don’t own each other.

Zev Steinhardt

Hmmm… But buying the cow isn’t? :confused:

but in the old testament traditions, didn’t a man own his wife? not being contrary, and i have a feeling that i’m wrong. but if i’m not, then how is coveting property different than coveting a wife?

I’m not Jewish nor very religious, but it seems that the problem is not so much a religious one as a definition one.

According to
covet means: “to desire (what belongs to another) inordinately or culpably
intransitive senses: to feel inordinate desire for what belongs to another.”
inordinately meaning: “exceeding reasonable limits”
culpably meaning: “meriting condemnation or blame especially as wrong or harmful”

Which seems to indicate that we aren’t talking about wanting something and offering to pay for it. We are talking about being told no and plotting to steal it or kill the guy to get it.

It seems to me that covet is to desire as phobia is to fear. One is excessive the other is normal.



A man can be said to own certain rights with regard to his wife. For example, a man does have a right to expect that his wife will not sleep around, wantonly destroy his property while he’s off at work, etc.

Similarly, a wife can be said to own certain rights with regard to her husband. Support is the first that comes to mind.

But a man did not (and does not) outright own his wife in a way that he can sell her, give her as a gift, do whatever he wills (beating and toruture, for example) with her, etc.

Zev Steinhardt

gotcha zev.

BTW, jmullaney what’s the Christian take on this commandment and the practicality of it?

Zev Steinhardt

I recall that wives had other rights, too. Couldn’t a woman demand a divorce if her husband wasn’t having enough sex with her? “Irreconciliable differences” is what we’d call it today, I guess.

Hmm. I looked at Exodus 20 in several translations. The plainer word “desire” is also used in several of them. For example, YLT:

17 `Thou dost not desire the house of thy neighbour, thou dost not desire the wife of thy neighbour, or his man-servant, or his handmaid, or his ox, or his ass, or anything which [is] thy neighbour’s.

Zev – I’m sort of torn as to what Jesus’s take on this was. (standard “I’m only a Christian sympathizer” diclaimer here). It depends on the degree of mystical attachment you want to give to what he taught. Of course, begging or praying for money to buy food or other things is wrong – Jesus makes somewhat clear you should ask plainly and cut out the stone middle man. Otherwise, he says “Ask and ye shall recieve” but I don’t know how pedanticly he means that. Is it only OK to ask God? He seems to acknowledge one must “want” food from time to time – Lazarus is described as one who desired food, and Jesus raises him from the dead in the story, while the man who didn’t give him food went to hell. I guess he would consider wanting much beyond that in the world of things an infraction, although asking to borrow a pen hardly seems unholy – but a person would borrow it from another in the Church first (as they hold their property in common, and for some reason it really is hard to borrow a pen from someone “still of the world”).

I’ll give it some more thought.

(Groundscores are allowed, of course.)

*Originally posted by zev_steinhardt *

But since he has certain rights, can’t he sell those rights? Selling the right to have sex with one’s wife is not the same as selling one’s wife.

Back to the OP for a bit of mindless blathering:

Buddha was not a god. Not, at least, in the Judeo-Christian meaning of the word. He was just a man who had some really great insights into the world and shared them with some other folks. Dip him in the cosmology of the time / place he was from, and you have the mythical Buddha. But he was just a man espousing some universal truths. One of the proverbial four noble truths was the idea that suffering was brought about by desire. Conquering desire was part of the pathway to enlightenment. See the parallel? Thou shalt not covet. Not saying that Moses was a Buddhist, nor that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob spoke through the Buddha. Two different sages giving advice to two different peoples at two different times – but much of the advice was the same.
Thanks for listening,


I think chosing the word ‘desire’ wasn’t very good. I meant to refer to the OP and indicate that to want something and be willing to give just compensation for it was normal. But covet carries a negative meaning with it including envy, excessive, harmful, wrong that you can attach to ‘desire’ also. My statement might have been better phrased “… covet is to simply wanting as phobia is to fear.”

I think I understand what I mean, anyway.


My understanding is that the commandment is to not covet something because it’s your neighbor’s property. For example, if my neighbor has a Lexus, it’s not wrong for me to say, “Boy, that looks like a car that would go fast, handle curves well and be comfortable. I’d like something like that too!” It is wrong to say, “I’ve got to be as good as him…I want a Lexus, too!”

Correct. The relationship of an owner to a cow is not the same as that between a husband and a wife.

When I take a wife, I make a commitment to her. She agrees to become mine (so to speak) exclusively. She plans to be with me for life.

I have no such relationship with the cow.

Zev Steinhardt