Torah Study Notes 8-18-18

August 18, 2018

Rabbi Altman

Plaut – page 1300

Shofrim means “Justice” and this parsha focuses on judges, priests, kings and laws. The priests were primarily in Jerusalem and the sacrifices were to feed them. There is a warning here about practicing magic and divination. Last week was about false prophets. This section is on cities of refuge.  This concept is first mentioned in Numbers.

19:1 …so that any killer may have a place to flee…See the accidental death with the axe head in the grove of trees. This is an example. The Rabbis in the Mishnah and Talmud gave more examples. The “blood avenger…”  This was usually a family member, but it is also believed by some scholars that someone could be hired for this purpose. The killer had a place to flee and be safe prior to trial.

19:8 “…you shall add three more towns to that three… “ It is unknown if such cities ever were in fact established.

19:11 “If a man lies in wait and strikes a fatal blow… you shall show him no pity…Thus you will purge Israel of the blood of the innocent, and it shall go well with you.” See page 64 and the story of Noah. At that time the earth was filled with violence and the flood was man’s punishment.

(See: Steven Pinker’s. A History of Violence- https://www edge.org/3rd_culture/pinker07/pinker07_index.html ) It is Pinker’s thesis that violence has actually considerably decreased since ancient times.)

See also Genesis 5 re the creation if man in the image of G: “For your blood guilt I will require a guilty person…” This is not nuanced here. It is the underlying principle that, because we are created in the image of G, there cannot be murder. This was a revolutionary notion for the time according to some scholars. Turn to page 479 verse 13 “You shall not murder.” is the broad principle from the Ten Commandments. Thereafter there are “case studies.” See page 514 verses 12 through 14. “One who fatally strikes another person shall be put to death…” followed by some specific examples. The killer here is masculine. There is no indication that the cities of refuge were available to woman. There is a distinction here for accidental and premeditated death. Here the altar is a place of refuge but not available to the intentional killer. Many of these sins and consequences were later modified as to the punishment by the Rabbis in their interpretations. LL: This is analogous to originalism vs interpretation in Constitutional Law. See also page 1124 for a reference to cities of refuge.

Numbers 35:6 The towns assigned to the Levites. ‘The cities shall serve you as a refuge from the avenger… so the killer may not die unless he has stood trial before the assembly.”  Later, the Sanhedrin became the “assembly” who passed judgement. Deuteronomy restates much of this.

35:13 Six cities – three beyond the Jordan and three in the land of Canaan. What follows is numerous examples of what constitutes murder with iron, stone, wood.  This deals with intentionality. See: Rise Up and Kill Them First by Ronan Bergman -.  https://www.newsweek.com/2018/02/16/mossad-israel-rise-and-kill-ronen-bergman-assassinations-secret-history-797888.html  This is the secret history of the Shin Bet and Mossad assassination programs. The title is from the Talmud “If someone should come to kill you rise up and kill them first.”

35:22 Remaining in the city of refuge. When the killer may be protected. Note the power of the high priest.

35:29 The testimony of witnesses. There must be more than one for a conviction of murder or, indeed, any capital crime.  Note verse 33 –“… you shall not pollute the land… for blood pollutes the land… “ Remember that this is written in Babylonia and the Israelites were disenfranchised. The Talmud says that a Sanhedrin that decrees death once in seven years shall be discharged, or even every seventy years according to the Rabbi being quoted. There was great concern about the death sentence. Judaism is about using the Torah as a starting point and then refining by argument and discussion. See Essay on The Pursuit of Justice on page 1308.

LL/

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