Eye for Eye: Telephone Torah Study
We re-visit the Torah’s notion of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” justice in this week’s Torah portion, Emor (Lev. 21:1-24:23). To join in on Telephone Torah Study conference call, please dial 702-851-4044, when prompted punch in 2, then our pass code 22252#. Class starts at 4pm.
At the end of Parashat Emor, a disturbing incident is related. In the heat of a fight, a man curses God and is stoned to death for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:10-23). It is understandable that readers may be repulsed by this narrative, and shocked and angry to find it in the Torah. I want to examine the incident more closely, however, to understand the meaning of what occurred in terms of the world of the story.
The narrative does not give us the man’s motive but presents him as socially marginal; the first fact we are given is that he is of mixed ancestry. His mother is an Israelite, while his father is an Egyptian. Significantly he is never called by name; his name has been erased by the text for his aggression against God’s name. We learn only that a fight broke out in the camp between this man and an Israelite man, and during the fight, the man of mixed ancestry pronounced a curse on God using the Divine Name . He is brought to Moses and kept under guard while Moses consults God. We are even given the perpetrator’s mother’s name and lineage: She is Sh’lomit, daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan, the only woman named in the Book of Leviticus.
The blasphemer is sentenced to be taken outside the camp. In a chilling ritual, all who heard him lay their hands upon his head, transferring their guilt for hearing the blasphemy onto the blasphemer himself (see Hilary Lipka on Emor in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, ed. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Andrea L. Weiss [New York: URJ Press, 2008], p. 739). Then he is stoned to death. God further instructs that anyone, Israelite or stranger, who curses pronouncing the Name YHVHshall be put to death.
Selected Passage of the Week
If anyone kills any human being, that person shall be put to death. One who kills a beast shall make restitution for it: life for life. If anyone maims another [person]: what was done shall be done in return—fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The injury inflicted on a human being shall be inflicted in return. One who kills a beast shall make restitution for it; but one who kills a human being shall be put to death. You shall have one standard for stranger and citizen alike: for I Adonai am your God. (Lev. 17-22)