Friday, February 7, 2014

Fact Checking the Torah -- Due Process

We are working on witness qualifications and we just finished getting rid of the use of confessions by the accused as evidence in a case where judicial execution applies.  When you can use judicial execution is Numbers 35:30 and Deuteronomy 17:6, plus you were supposed to study Leviticus 19:17.
Numbers: Everybody who strikes a person in front of witnesses, they may declare him a murderer but one witness shall not answer to put anybody to death.
Deuteronomy: At the word of two witnesses or three witnesses the dead person shall die, he shall not die at the word of one witness.
A witness is a non-bonded circumcised Jew, except in business cases when women can give testimony.  Witnesses can’t be relatives to the accused or to each other. 
Who else is qualified as a witness?  Mishnah documents that a valid witness is somebody who not only saw the event but tried to stop it and told the person trying to commit the crime that it was against Torah.  This is called hatraah and it is described in Sedra “Damages”, tractate Sanhedrin 10:4.  I believe it goes back to Leviticus 19:17 which says not to hold back from “admonishing” your brother; tell him when he is about to commit a crime.  But I don’t have any support for that derivation from any of my study resources.
Why is hatraah necessary?  It involves a number of principles. 
American law says “ignorance is no excuse.”  That’s because America has literacy programs, and publishes its laws and keeps them in publicly accessible places, nowadays including the Internet. Judaism has literacy programs, too, but it admits that it’s not enough to read the law once because human memory is such a tricky thing. 
So at the moment the crime is being committed, the witness has to step in, stop it, and tell the attempted criminal they’re violating the law.  If the criminal then verbally says “I don’t care” and finishes committing the crime, he can be taken to court.
The requirement for witnesses who step in and stop crimes is called community policing nowadays.  If somebody is brazen enough to attempt a crime in public, then the community is responsible for stepping in, first to prevent it, and second to take the criminal before a court.  You can’t turn a blind eye to what’s going on in front of you, and then suddenly show up in court and say “I saw the whole thing.”  You have to get involved.
Now you have a question, I know you do, and that’s the next lesson.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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