In halacha - Stoning of homosexuals - Mi Yodeya, mbloch recently said:

In a nutshell, the Torah is not so concerned and doesn't judge how people feel or what their desires are. It prohibits actions not thoughts (see halacha - Are thoughts of sin punished halachically? - Mi Yodeya for nuances on this).

The other Commandments are concerned with actions (idolatry, murder, theft, adultery, etc.), while the tenth is about coveting, which is a mental attitude, not an action.

Does the original Hebrew include something beyond the common English meaning of the word "covet"?

If not, why is this tenth Commandment so different from the others?

EDIT: From the answer to the duplicate question, it seems to me that in this case "covet" means something that in the extreme cases would range from making someone feel uncomfortable to outright extortion. So there is in fact an action against another person, albeit not necessarily overt.

  • 1
    Possible duplicate? judaism.stackexchange.com/q/66874/1713. In any case the answer there addresses this question as well.
    – Daniel
    Dec 3, 2019 at 15:40
  • So why the downvote, after I've already accepted that it is a duplicate? Is there something fundamentally wrong with the question itself? Dec 4, 2019 at 1:28
  • Some people downvote reflexively, without explanation. Just ignore it. (Is there an Aaron Aaronson here? :-) ) Dec 4, 2019 at 19:26

1 Answer 1


The Rambam writes:

Desire leads to coveting, and coveting leads to stealing. For if the owner (of the coveted object) does not wish to sell, even though he is offered a good price and is entreated to accept, the person (who covets the object) will come to steal it, as it is written [in the Book of Micah]: “They covet fields and (then) steal them.” [Micah 2:2] And if the owner approaches him with a view to reclaiming his money or preventing the theft, then he will come to murder. [Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Gezelah v’Avedah 1:11]

So the Rambam views “Do not covet” as a protective fence that avoids a cascade of infractions. For example, coveting your neighbor's wife might lead to murder of her husband. If the adultery is not known and leads to a child, the father is misidentified, and the child does not get to inherit from his real father, which is a form of theft. The child does not get to honor his real father, which breaks another commandment. If the matter is known, the child is tagged as a bastard, and may marry only another bastard. If he can't find one, he cannot marry, which means fewer Jews to observe Shabbat and commandments.

However, the Talmud makes clear that, while coveting is forbidden, there is no punishment for it:

[There is no punishment for mere evil intention], for it is said [in the Book of Psalms]: “If I saw iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not hear.” [Ps. 66:18]... [If evil] intention does not [lead to action], the Holy One, blessed be He, does not [punish it]. [Kiddushin 40a]

The Talmud also says we can refrain from coveting by not looking into our neighbors’ affairs: If two people share the same courtyard, each can force his neighbor to build a wall in the middle so neither can look into the other's half. [Bava Batra 2a]

Ibn Ezra holds that it's all a matter of training children since their youth, and THERE is the implied action behind the commandment. He writes that a person does not desire to lie with his mother, although she may be beautiful, because he has been trained since his youth to know that she is forbidden to him. He does not desire non-kosher meat just as we Westerners do not desire snake meat or fried ants: It's a psychological result of our training. Proper education can regulate improper coveting. As it says in the Book of Proverbs:

Train a child in the way that he should go, and even when he is old, he will not depart from it. [Prov. 22:6]

Also, if we wasted time wishing for what we don't have, we would not spend as much time appreciating what we do have, and may even lose it. The Talmud says:

Whoever sets his eyes on what is not his, loses also what is his. [Sotah 9a]

  • "He does not desire non-kosher meat just as we Westerners do not desire snake meat or fried ants: It's a psychological result of our training.". Yes, I sometimes have to explain that difference between Kosher and Halal. For Muslims, "halal" means permitted and "haram" means forbidden. But Jews, Adventists, and others that strictly follow the Bible, pork etc. is seen as something that one wouldn't want to eat, not as something forbidden. Dec 3, 2019 at 16:44

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