Friday, May 16, 2014

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Exodus 21:37, 22:3

Your assignments for today were Exodus 21:37 and 22:3.  This will help finish off the discussion of bonding and get us to the next set of urban legends.
Exodus 21:37:  When a man steals an ox or sheep and butchers it or sells it, he shall pay five cattle for the ox and four sheep for the sheep.
Exodus 22:3: If the stolen item is actually found in his hand, ox or ass or sheep, and it’s alive, he pays double.
These verses go with the one I already discussed about the thief in the night that the homeowner is allowed to kill, but only if the thief doesn’t drop the stuff and run. 
They prove that property theft is NOT a capital crime in Judaism.  This is one reason why Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17 are interpreted to mean kidnapping for sale as a slave, not property theft. 
An ox could be worth as much as a maneh or 100 zuz or the value of 50 goats or sheep.  A zuz is a silver dinar.  Why was a dead animal so much more expensive than a live one?
Think of the economy of those times.  An ox was not a milk animal, a goat was a milk animal.  An ox was a draft animal.  It could plow, thresh, run a grain mill, or haul heavy loads.  A sheep was a clothing animal.  If you got the live animal back, the thief only made double restitution for depriving you of the work or the milk or the fleece.  If he killed the animal, the owner had to replace it to carry on his livelihood.
Fifty goats in the 21st century can produce something like 500 pounds of cheese a day, and a pound of feta goes for $9.  Likewise, 50 sheep produce enough wool for 8 three-piece men’s suits, which nowadays go for about $1200 on the Brooks Brothers site.  If goats and sheep were half as productive in the Mishnaic period, still, a mixed herd of 25 goats and 25 sheep basically provided a family’s clothing and protein for the year.  The ox helped produce the grain and pulse and vegetables and get saleable goods to market so the family had some spending money.
Why should a law-abiding family be deprived of necessary household goods or farming tools any longer than necessary?  So the thief had to pay the whole restitution at once.  I already discussed how battery can create poverty, and poverty makes paying debts difficult if not impossible.  The court that convicted a man of being a thief was allowed to bond him out.  It paid off his creditors and ensured that his family would have maintenance as long as the bond lasted.
And now, in under 30 weeks, we have come full circle in the discussion of battery.  It was wrong because it deprived a family of the injured person’s wages plus it required doctor’s bills; it might also reduce their income.  The impoverishment could lead to theft, and the thief might have to be bonded to pay restitution.  The battery might also reduce the value of the thief’s bond.  Something a skilled laborer could pay off in three years, might take the entire six years if he had been injured to the point where he could no longer practice his skills.
But battery was a worse problem because it was the opening stage of a murder case, which could deprive a family permanently of part of its income, or rather two families because if murder was proven, the murderer could be put to death.
With this discussion of property theft and bonding, we have moved out of criminal law into civil law, which consists of contracts and torts.  Next, I’ll finish off financial torts because that’s another part of Jewish law where urban legends abound.  Your assignment is to read Exodus 22:24, Leviticus 25:36-37 and Deuteronomy 23:20.

© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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