Friday, October 24, 2014

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Free speech

If this is your first time here, you can read earlier posts here.
We’re discussing Exodus 22:27 and 23:1-3, Exodus 23:6-10 and Leviticus 19:15-16.  I said that Torah prohibits backbiting by criticizing (negatively) court decisions.
You’re saying, but that’s a restriction on free speech.  Doesn’t Jewish law protect free speech?
In fact somebody on a discussion group once put it more strongly; how could he be a halakhic Jew and still preserve his rights of free speech and thought under the Constitution?
Well, the thought thing was a strawman fallacy.  Jewish law never penalizes feelings and the only problem with thoughts deals with violating rules on sacrifices.  It sometimes punishes actions.  So let’s just talk about free speech. 
The poster still set up a strawman fallacy because there are forms of speech that the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution doesn’t protect.  Falsehood is not protected when it leads to damages.  That’s the subject of defamation suits, false advertising suits, fraudulent misrepresentation suits.  Threats are not protected; that’s the doctrine of “clear and present danger”, leading to criminal trials against verbal bullies and people who make threats against the government. 
Torah does not protect power-mongering based on negative representations of court proceedings.  If the witnesses have not been impeached and the court has observed due process, then a personal loss is just that, a personal loss.  The person who can’t take a personal loss, but has to pretend that society has been damaged by it, has a character flaw.
Harsh?  I’ll give you a for instance.  When the Mendel Beilis trial of 1913 ended in acquittal of Beilis, one of the prosecuting attorneys said in Beilis’ hearing “Russia is destroyed.”
This attorney had been trying since 1906 to have reinstated a law that allowed trying people for “religious fanaticism” because he believed that ritual murder existed and was currently in practice by Jews.  The verdict in the Beilis case rejected ritual murder.  I’ve translated the transcript, I know how the charge was worded, and that’s how I know what it meant.  See my essay “Endgame.”  This attorney was a bigot who thought that if the government wouldn’t support his bigotry, it was incompetent.
Well, the government was incompetent, and events from 1905 through 1915 proved that, but not in the sense the attorney meant.  In fact the Beilis trial was not an example of due process. All the testimony and evidence against Beilis was either faked or “empty rumors”.  The witnesses who spoke against Beilis were impeached on the witness stand and some of them co-operated in proving that their depositions had been forged by the government.  The behavior of the entire “legal system” in the Beilis case demonstrated to Russian citizens that they could not count on fair play in court, no matter who they were.  That along with everything else going on in Russia from 1905 to 1915 made it impossible for the Romanovs to hold onto their throne, even with foreign troops to help.
That is a constant theme in history.  Governments that set out to oppress the Jews wind up oppressing everybody.
For next week read as much of Leviticus 1-4 as you can get under your belt.  I will slice and dice it for you, and this is not the entire context, but I’ll get to the rest of the context after next week.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

No comments:

Post a Comment