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These are the judgments that you shall put before them… (21:01).
These words open the details of the standards of behavior and nature of observances required of the Israelites - to be worthy of being 'a people treasured by Me above all nations' (19:5).
The force of the words 'before them' means that the Israelites are required to put their cases before Israelite courts, not before legal systems of other nations. That even applies to cases where the application of their laws would bring the same result as Torah law. For, as Rashi quotes, 'our Rock (G-d) is not their rock' (Deut. 33:31).
Why does Rashi qualify his explanation with specifically those words?
It may be argued that that verse gets us to the very fundamental of Torah law - namely that it is a unique partnership between Man and G-d. This may be illustrated by viewing the issue below.
The text of the Parasha includes the following direction:
If a man persuades a virgin who is single to sleep with him… if her father refuses to allow her to marry him, he shall pay according to the dowry of virgins (22:15-16).
Rashi quotes the tradition recorded in the Talmud that the amount is fifty Biblical shekels. That was a very large sum, based on the annual subscription rate being half a Biblical shekel.
However the Torah seems to be surprisingly lenient in what seems a far more severe case:
If a man finds a young maiden virgin who is single, and grabs her, and sleeps with her… he shall pay… fifty (Biblical) shekels (Deut. 22:28-29)
Seduction happens when the young lady is a willing participant - out of choice and desire. Rape is where she is a helpless victim. Virtually no penalty is adequate by the standards of the modern mind. What may be learnt from the Torah prescribing the same penalty for seduction and rape?
The answer is that a human judge - however great - can do the possible, but not the impossible. The Torah does not require him to distinguish between seduction and rape. It is an issue that creates the greatest difficulties in non-Jewish courts. She says he raped her; he says that she egged him on. She says he forced her; he says she is lying to hide her shame, and so on… The act itself might have been witnessed, but how can the motivation be witnessed? [Perhaps that accounts for 92% of rape cases tried by juries in the UK to end in acquittal]
Torah law is not human law, although Man is a partner with G-d. Torah law tells the judge to assess according to the evidence before him - that and no more. His partnership with G-d in dispensing justice is limited to his being only human. He is not expected to read minds.
The guilty performed an act that took away her virginity. That is all he can act on.
The truth is known to G-d only, Who created… their hearts, who understands all their deeds' (Psalms 33:15). Only G-d reads thoughts and understands people's motives fully. Only He will bring the correct retribution according to the true merits of the case. And only 'our Rock' who is not as 'their rock' can make up the 'balance of justice' in His time…
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.co.il/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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