Weekly Torah - old

Mishpatim

image_pdfimage_print

The Torah is often accused of being a legalistic document rather than an expression of spirituality. Of course only biased reading could overlook the presence of God dominating every aspect of the Torah.

But it is true that one aspect of the Torah does indeed focus on behavior–after all, this is something that we all do! But the impression created by behavioral guidelines is often one of arid, harsh legalism. Look at this week’s parsha–all those “Thou Shall Nots” and all those “Put him to death” bits. It does not make pleasant reading, unless you are prepared to take a much closer look.

So, for example, circumstantial evidence is not acceptable in a Jewish court of law dealing with capital offences. In England people have been hanged for murder after having been convicted on the basis of circumstantial evidence and it was later determined that at least some of those hanged were innocent! Not only does Jewish law require actual witnesses, but it also requires two of them. It also requires evidence that the perpetrator had been officially warned about both the crime and the punishment. In effect, you would have to be a suicidal maniac to get convicted under Jewish law. Indeed, Rabbi Akiva famously said that a Beth Din that put one person to death in seventy years would be a Beth Din with blood on their hands!

And as for “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth”, this statement cannot possibly be taken at face value. What would a judge have done with a toothless man who had knocked out the tooth of another? There must have been some supplementary code of practical guidance for judges. The Oral Law says that the context in Torah proves that the law is talking about financial compensation.

The traditional position is right. You cannot understand the Written Law without the Oral!

Leave a Reply