Acton Institute Powerblog

Freedom Carved in Stone

Share this article:
Join the Discussion:

Reuven Hammer writes about the rabbinic interpretation of the Ten Commandments in a Jerusalem Post article titled, “On Judaism: True Freedom.” He talks about a contemporary understanding of freedom as something that is simply free of all constraint.

We moderns tend to see freedom as the ability to do whatever we want whenever we want and to view any limitations on that as tyranny or slavery. The rabbis seem to be saying exactly the opposite. They see true freedom as residing within self-imposed discipline. Consider the Ten Commandments. They indeed limit our “freedom.” If we observe them, we are not free to rob, murder, commit adultery, abuse or abandon our parents and so forth. The teaching of the rabbis is that only when we accept these limitations have we attained freedom from the urges to do the things that enslave us to our baser selves. By exchanging slavery to our instincts for slavery to the will of God, we attain freedom.

Hammer’s exposition recalls the famous quote of Lord Acton: “Liberty is not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.”

John Couretas John Couretas is Director of Communications, responsible for marketing and advertising, media relations, and print and online communications at the Acton Institute. He has more than 20 years of experience in the news, events and corporate communications fields. He has worked as a staff writer on newspapers and magazines, covering business and government. John holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in the Humanities from Michigan State University and a Master of Science Degree in Journalism from Northwestern University.


  • Unfortunately, the people who most talk about freedom are the ones who want it for themselves and no one else. Of course if all people had a conscience, we could live by spiritual principles, but they don’t and thats why we have laws here in the US. On the other hand, THE PEOPLE shouldn’t be policed on their personal choices, when it does no harm to anyone else. joodi