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The art of counting was founded on the number of the fingers and toes, which constituted the basis for the quinary, decimal, and vigesimal systems, according to whether one hand was used or two, or whether the toes were included or not. Among the ancient Hebrews the decimal system prevailed, as is shown by the Hebrew names for the numbers from one to ten. In the later development likewise the number ten preserved its importance as a higher unity, although the number seven, which was, like three, a sacred number, predominated in religious usage.


Ten forms a basal unit in the round numbers of the measurements of Noah's ark, and is clearly present in the dimensions of the Tabernacle (Ex. xxvi.-xxvii.) and of both Solomon's and Ezekiel's temples (I Kings vi., vii.; Ezek. xl.-xlii.), and in the number of the commandments (Ex. xx.; Deut. v.); and possibly it served to measure the week (Gen. xxiv. 55; comp. Dan. i. 14). It appeared also in the ritual for theDay of Atonement (Lev. xvi. 29), which was observed on the tenth day of the seventh month, and in the celebration of the Passover (Ex. xii. 3). The Egyptians were visited with ten plagues (Ex. viii.-xi.); as a punishment ten women were to bake bread in one oven (Lev. xxvi. 26), while of a hundred who went forth to war ten only would remain alive (Amos v. 3). Furthermore, "a new song" was played in the Temple on an instrument of ten strings (Ps. cxliv. 9), and Jacob promised to give God a tenth of all that He might give him (Gen. xxviii. 22). Abraham bestowed a tenth of everything on the priest (Gen. xiv. 20), so that the Levites and the poor received a tithe (Num. xviii. 26; Lev. xxvii. 30-32; et al.), while according to a very ancient custom the king demanded a similar portion (I Sam. viii. 15, 17).

Ten is used also as a round number (Gen. xxxi. 7; Num. xiv. 22; Job xix. 3; I Sam. i. 8; et al.), and it often occurs in the Bible, although a large portion of its symbolic interpretations are unwarranted. The multiples of ten likewise occur frequently; but seventy (as in Num. xi. 16) is to be regarded as a multiple of seven. In general, ten is the number of completion, of perfection, of foundation, and the like.

Talmud and Midrash.

In the Talmud and Midrash the number ten is still more important; out of a single incomplete series of sayings beginning with a definite number, twenty-six commence with ten ("Pirḳe de-Rabbenu ha-Ḳadosh," in Schönblum, "Sheloshah Sefarim Niftaḥim," pp. 39-41, Lemberg, 1877). It is found also both in the Halakah and in the Haggadah.

In the regulations governing the day on which the scroll of Esther is to be read a "large" city is defined as one in which there are ten men who have no occupation, and hence are always free for divine service (Meg. i. 3; comp. Baṭlanim); and in Meg. iv. 3 nine functions are enumerated at which ten men must be present, since they form a congregation in themselves (Abot iii. 6; Meg. 23b; see Jew. Encyc. viii. 603b). Ten classes of families were distinguished in regard to racial purity (Ḳid. iv. 1), and just as many kinds of leprosy in houses (Neg. xiii. 1), while ten verses of Scripture in which God's attributes are mentioned were to be recited on New-Year's Day (R. H. iv. 6). Ezra instituted ten laws (B. Ḳ. 82a, top), and there were ten special legal regulations for Jerusalem (ib. 82b). A large number of similar laws existed. Josephus, for example, states ("B. J." vi. 9, § 3) that as a rule not less than ten men gathered around every Passover meal.


The Haggadah is even more partial to the number ten, as a reference to a few selected passages will show. The world was created by ten utterances of God, while between Adam and Noah, as well as between Noah and Abraham, there were ten generations. Ten things were created in the evening twilight of the first Friday, including the rainbow, the art of writing, the stylus, and the two tables of the Law (Abot v. 1-6). There are, moreover, ten things (the instances cited number twelve) which form a series in the order of their strength, so that one overcomes the other: rock, iron, fire, water, cloud, wind, the body (which inhales the wind), anxiety, wine, sleep, death, and alms (B. B. 11a). Ten measures of wisdom came down from heaven to earth, the land of Israel taking nine, and the rest of the world one. The same proportion is observed in the distribution of beauty between Jerusalem and the world; ninetenths of the wealth in the world was Rome's; of poverty, Babylon's; of pride, Elam's; of bravery, Persia's; of lice, Media's; of magic, Egypt's; of immorality, Arabia's; of shamelessness (or bastards), Mesene's; of gossip, women's; of drunkenness, Ethiopia's; of sleep, slaves' (Ḳid. 49b; Ab. R. N., Recension A, xxviii., beginning; Recension B, xli.; comp. "Monatsschrift," xxii. 270-276). There are also midrashic works whose titles contain the number ten: Ten Martyrs (Jellinek, "B. H." ii. 66, vi. 19-35); The Ten Signs of the Messiah (ib. ii. 58); and The Exile (ib. iv. 133, v. 113).

Pythagorean speculation ascribed a peculiar creative power to the number ten, which is important also in Jewish mysticism. According to the "Sefer Yeẓirah," a work based on Pythagorean principles, beside the twenty-two letters of the alphabet stand "the ten digits, since they, as a complete decade, form the higher principle of existence which is superior to that of the letters" (Bloch, "Gesch. der Entwickelung der Kabbala," p. 23; translation of the chief passages, p. 27; comp. Epstein, "Recherches sur le Sepher Yeçira," p. 29; Lehmann, "Aberglaube und Zauberei," p. 122; and Jew. Encyc. iii. 474 et seq., s.v. Cabala [the Ten Sefirot]).

The custom of pouring out ten glasses of wine for the mourners on the day of a funeral (Sem., end) and for a bridegroom on the wedding-day belongs to the domain of folk-lore.

  • Bähr, Symbolik des Mosaischen Cultus, Heidelberg, 1837;
  • Z. D. M. G. xxiv. 662 et seq.;
  • Bloch, Gesch. der Entwickelung der Kabbala, Treves, 1894;
  • Epstein, Recherches sur le Sepher Yeçira, Versailles, 1894;
  • Lehmann, Aberglaube und Zauberei, Stuttgart, 1898;
  • Pick, Der Einfluss der Zehnzahl und der Siebenzahl auf das Judenthum, in Allg. Zeit. des Jud. lviii. 29-31.
W. B. L. B.
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