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February 27, 1987 - Image 18

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-02-27

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HILLEL
DAY
SCHOOL

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Headmaster

Executive Director

For further information call Rochelle Itzkovitz, Assistant Principal.

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Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit admits Jewish students of any race, color, national or ethnic origin. Its
admission and scholarship programs are non-discriminatory. No child will be denied an education at Hillel because
of parents inability to pay the full charges. Tuition allowances will continue to be granted based on individual needs.

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THE JEWISH NEWS

Call Us Today! 354-6060

TORAH PORTION

Taking A Closer Look
At 'An Eye For An Eye'

RABBI RICHARD C. HERTZ

Special to The Jewish News

T

his week's Torah por-
tion, Mishpatim, con-
cerns the subject of law.
Moses' genius forsaw that un-
less law governed relation-
ships between individuals,
chaos would occur. After giv-
ing the monumental Ten
Commandments as the basis of
all law in Exodus 20, he fleshed
out the details of a just society
in a series of laws covering the
day-to-day relationships of the
Israelites. Ordinances dealing
with property, personal dam-
ages and liability, marriage,
divorce, arson, homicide, bor-
rowing and lending of
money—all these and others
formed the Book of the Cove-
nant. Some laws were ancient
and perhaps codified by-Moses.
Moses grew out of the experi-
ences of the Israelites coming
out of the Sinai desert and into
a sedentary, agricultural way
of life in Canaan. These were
wise and simple practical rules
which made for a world of jus-
tice.
None proved to be more
noteworthy than the verse 'in
Exodus 21:24 about an "eye for
an eye." This was the law of
retaliation, known as lex

talionis.

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18

Friday, February 27, 1987

HOURS: Doily 10:00-5:30 xd,
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sot 10:00-5:00

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

People sometimes say to me,
"The Jewish religion is harsh.
Look at your Torah! It calls for
an eye for an eye, a tooth for a
tooth. Isn't the Christian reli-
gion more humane? The God of
the Hebrews was a God of ven-
geance. Jesus taught people to
turn the other cheek."
What such people forget is
that the law of retaliation was
a much more humane law than
what had preceeded it. The
Judaism of Moses was not a
vindictive religion. In primi-
tive times, when someone
gouged out an eye, the whole
tribe might retaliate and
wreak vengeance. There
wasn't any other recourse for
punishing the guilty. They had
no police forces, no jails to
house prisoners. Justice was
meted out in cruel and primi-
tive ways in retaliation fo in-
jury. Moses improved on the
old ways. He taught that not
more but not less should be the
punishment.
The term lex talionis, law of
retaliation, is an ancient term
referring to codified numerical
equality in every punishment.
For example, one eye for one
eye, not two. One hand for one
hand, not ten, and so on. The
Code of Hammurabi (c. 1795-
1750 BCE) treated citizens
differently from slaves, men

FINE JEWELERS ,

Dr. Hertz is rabbi emeritus of
Temple Beth El.

differently from women. A
slave for a slave, an eye for an
eye, a broken bone for a broken
bone. The agents who would
carry out the sentence were
usually those involved by the
misdeed: the plaintiff and his
relatives.
Moses and his law of lex
talionis got away from
punishment being a tribal
matter. He created the founda-
tions for later rabbinic and
talmudic courts to base a judi-
cial system whereby not the
clan nor the tribe but courts of
law would hand down justice.
Damages became a large body
of talmudic law determining
the rights of individuals sus-
taining a loss.
In the tenth century, Saadya
Gaon taught, "Suppose a man
injures another man's eye so
that he loses one-third of his

Mishpatim,
Shabbat Shekalim:
Exodus
21:1-24:18;
30:11-18,
II Kings
11:17-12:17,
I Samuel 20:18,42

vision. How could a corre-
sponding penalty be inflicted
on one so that he will lose one-
third of his vision, no more and
no less?" The law, he said, can-
not be applied literally, only
figuratively.
That the punishmment must
fit the crime is basic to civilized
law. After all, no eye can be
accepted as the precise equiv-
alent of another eye. Thus did
the ancient prescription of
monetary compensation
evolve, a predecessor of mod-
ern insurance companies.
Monetary compensation
makes up for damages done if
the amount is equitable and as
far as possible equivalent.
Measure for measure thus
substituted legal punishment
in place of wild revenge.
Incidentally, the law of lex
talionis may have been moot.
There is no evidence that a
single case was ever found in
3,000 years of Jewish history,
where the literal application of
"eye for eye, tooth for tooth"
was ever carried out.
What we have in this sidrah,
which contains so many differ-
ent examples of humane and
brotherly concern for the
rights of one's fellow man, is a
clear step forward in man-
kind's quest for law and equity.
Ancient severity gradually led
to greater humaneness. Ven-
geance led to retribution. Guilt
is not only avenged but is also
punished.

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