Moses vs. the Death Panels. Obama Quotes the Ninth Commandment

THIS WEEK IN MOSES: Harry and Louise meet Moses.

In a conversation with religious leaders last week, Barack Obama hit back against some of the more outlandish attacks against his health care proposals. Responding to rumors of “death panels” that would “decide whether elderly people would live or die,” he referred to the “Great Words of Sinai,” the Ten Commandments. “There are some folks out there who are frankly bearing false witness,” he said.

The dictate against “bearing false witness” first appears in Exodus 20:16, when Moses climbs to the top of Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments after leading the Israelites across the Red Sea. The line reads: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

Obama deftly didn’t mention which of the Ten Commandments this is, as different traditions count the commandments differently. In the Jewish, Protestant, and Orthodox tradition, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor” is commandment number nine. In the Catholic and Lutheran traditions, it’s number eight.

Despite harsh criticism that Obama is injecting religion where it doesn’t belong, “bearing false witness” has a long presence in American jurisprudence, as do most of the Ten Commandments. A Connecticut law from 1642 promised death “if any man rise by false witness.” Similar laws appeared in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. As recently as 1988, the Supreme Court of Mississippi cited the Ninth Commandment in reproaching prosecutorial misconduct:

When the State or any party states or suggests the existence of certain damaging facts and offers no proof whatever to substantiate the allegations, a golden opportunity is afforded the opposing counsel in closing argument to appeal to the Ninth Commandment. “Thou shalt not bear false witness . . . ”

More striking: Obama’s use of the Ninth Commandment echoes Kay Hagan’s use of the same line to hit back against claims by Liddy Dole in last year’s Senate campaign in North Carolina. That Democrats are now using the Ten Commandments as a weapon against Republicans continues a longstanding tradition that has been appalling absent in recent years: The Bible can be used by used by both sides in the culture wars.

Specifically, Moses, wielded by presidents from Washington to Reagan, Lincoln to Obama, may be the one figure in American history who transcends Red and Blue. The question of the moment is whether he’s strong enough to take on the forces that include Blue Cross & Blue Shield.

  • Virginia Robison
    Posted at 10:15h, 27 August

    Greetings fron Memphis,Tn. – just finished “Where God was Born”, which was interesting and yet raises questions to me as you as a Jew seem to avoid or not understand a basic element about the God of the Bible. That He is Holy and we are not – we are sinners. You never mention the one key ingredient that sets apart the Torah and the OT and NT from all other religions – the need for a blood sacrifice before we are able to have a personal relationship with the God of the Bible. The priests of the OT spent a huge amount of their time sacrificing and burning bulls,goats, rams and lambs, and turtledoves to provide the blood sacrifice(the atonement) on the behalf of individuals and the nation.There is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood.The Holy God, the sin of man, and the blood sacrifice are major issues that seperate the whole Bible from all the other religions of men.
    I don’t think the God of the Bible, the Creator of the universe has changed His mind or his perception of our fallen state. I have known a few Jewish friends well enough to see that they spend alot of their time in ritualisitc behaviors, such as cleaning all dirt.etc from the house before the Passover as it represents sin, seperating utensil sets into those that are used for meat and milk and those that are not,etc hoping these are ways that please God. A lot of the rituals were passed on generation to generation,etc. One time I mentioned casually ,” but the most important you have completely forgotten”.
    What is that? The blood sacrifice???? Why aren”t you still sacrificing perfect animals in the temple or synagoge?? Are you no longer sinners? Silence
    All humans, including Jews, fall into the same behavior I call “working hard to be good. They create human laws, behaviors, rituals, self punishment, etc. etc. hoping that some how they can become perfect enough to please God that they will be acceptable if He really does exist??? and just maybe they will be allowed into Heaven, if there is such a place. You also mentioned that the Bible doesn’t have an end – you must have meant the OT and not read the NT as it definetly has an end and it may be soon.
    The point I am getting to is that you really haven’t gotten to the essence of the whole Bible yet as you cannot work your way into a relationship with a Holy God and ignore the requirements of the blood sacrifice. If you would carefully read with prayer the forbidden NT you would understand why Jews no longer have temple sacrifices and why our country does not need Moses, but WHO it is they really need more of. You would also discover that the whole Bible does have any ending.
    Continue your journey with the NT> you will find that the meaning of the OT is revealed in the NT, and that the NT is concealed in the OT. What a marvelous book – what a holy and mysterious God
    and what a precious blood sacrifice has been made on our behalf. Sincerely, Virginia

  • Mike
    Posted at 06:38h, 21 November

    I happened upon Virginia’s comment while simply clicking links that seemed interesting in the healthcare debate. I just wanted to comment that she makes a good point about the efforts of my people to lead perfect and acceptable lives, heaping loads of guilt upon ourselves for wrong-doing, even if the wrongdoing was committed by a fellow Jew (ie. Madoff). We admit to constantly having a guilty conscience. Always worrying we’ve led ourselves down the wrong path and wondering, praying, or kvetching about what will happen as a result. That’s what I’ve come to experience and seen reflected in movies, TV and other forms of media. But, as Virginia said, when most Jews start to feel this way, they generally do not sacrifice an animal before God asking forgiveness for the sin we just committed, instead we hold ourselves accountable. We use symbolic gestures, like sweeping up crumbs, or shaking branches from specific trees, asking God to have mercy on us- we are imperfect. Why don’t we perform blood sacrifices? The more religious Jew still do, actually. I think for the rest of us, maybe, we’re too busy and found that in the modern world, throwing bread into a river, fasting 24 hours, and sitting through hours and hours and hours of religious services in a language we don’t commonly use outside of Israel- in other words, the traditional holidays Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur- enough to extinguish the shame and guilt we build up throughout the year. Is this an acceptable replacement of blood sacrifice? Well, ask two Jews that question and you’ll probably get 3 answers- another Jewish custom.

  • Hugo Morales, MD
    Posted at 05:45h, 12 April

    In support of Virginia’s “The Blood Sacrifice”
    The Passover was one of the many prophecies in the Bible about the coming of the Jewish Messiah. Because of Pharaoh’s stubbornness impeding the Israelites to leave Egypt, God was going to allow the “Angel of Death” (Satan) to kill the entire first born population of Egypt, not only humans, but animals as well. Moses gave the Israelites clear instructions he received from God on what they had to do to be protected (saved) when the Angel of Death (Satan) would come to strike every first born in Egypt. They would have to stay in their houses and would kill a lamb without blemish (perfect and pure) and spread the blood of the lamb on the wooden doorframes. That night the Angel of Death would pass over without striking the Israelites because the blood of the lamb exposed on the wooden doorframes would save them.

    Approximately 2,000 years later God sent his only begotten Son to the world and exactly at Passover the Messiah (The Lamb of God) spread His own blood on the wood to destroy the works of Satan. In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, Moses under God’s inspiration wrote about this. In the 3rd chapter, he writes that the seed of the woman (this is the virgin born Messiah) will be bruised by the serpent (Satan) but the Messiah will crush his head. This was prophesied in the OT by Isaiah (7: 14) “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”

    The Prophet Isaiah also in the OT announced this atonement 600 years before it happened. He wrote in 53:4-5 “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

    “For the law was given through Moses; Grace and truth came through Yeshua Ha Mashiach.”

  • Lyndonnn
    Posted at 17:48h, 03 September

    Obama has been decent president. Certainly better than the previous!