Friday, February 21, 2014

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Deuteronomy 17 and 19

Yeah, I know, it looks as if I skipped the Hebrew lesson again but scroll down or use the link to the page at the right and you'll find it.

Your assignment for this week was the following verses Deuteronomy 17:4, 17:9, 19:18.
Jewish law avoids the excuse “ignorance of the law” by having the two or three witnesses perform community policing.  They stop the criminal, warn him that what he is doing is a crime, make him either go away, or say “I don’t care what the law is” and attempt to complete the crime.  Then what?
Deuteronomy 17:4:  and it is told to you, you shall listen and investigate well and if it’s true, the matter is real, this abomination was done in Israel…
Deuteronomy 17:9: You shall go to the priests, the Levites, and the judge that shall be in those days and investigate and they shall tell you the word of the judgment..
Deuteronomy 19:18: The judges shall investigate carefully…
Every crime has to be tried before judges.  I’ll talk about the makeup of a court later but for now, obviously there have to be judges, and it is their responsibility to get to the truth of a case.
Now I want you to notice that Deuteronomy 19:18 is next after a verse we already looked at, I think, verse 17, which says “The two men who have the quarrel shall stand before the Lord before the priests and the judges that shall be in those days.”
How do you know two men have a quarrel?  Because they were fighting.  So battery and attempted battery have to come before judges to award damages.  Under the principle “you shall have one law,” that also means the case of the pregnant woman, and the case of the woman who grabs the man’s nasty place. 
One of the urban legends about Torah is that the verses in Deuteronomy and Numbers in this lesson and the last one did not exist before about 630 BCE.  The Bible has information that disagrees, see Samuel II, 14:6-7.  When Yoav, David’s nephew, had had enough of David and Avshalom sulking after Avshalom had Amnon his half-brother murdered, Yoav sent a woman to David to complain that her community wanted to put her surviving son to death after he killed her other son.  Her complaint hinges on the phrase “nobody got between them to stop it.”  Since nobody stood up and did their job as witnesses, they had no right to condemn the surviving son to death.
This is a concept called “due process”.  It is in the American constitution in Amendments 5 and 14.  There’s more to it than that, however, and that’s where investigation comes in. 
The requirement for investigation includes Exodus 23:1 where it says “you shall not raise empty rumors.”  Investigation rules help prevent judging a case based on rumor, and I’ll discuss them next.  You have no assignment because this information is in Mishnah and Gemara.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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