29 August 2014

Parshat Shoftim 5774 II

3 Elul 5774
Erev Shabbat Kodesh

Parashat Shoftim: Sanctifying the Name of God
by Daniel Pinner

“In the event that in any one of your gates which Hashem your God gives you, there should be found a man or a woman who does the evil in the eyes of Hashem your God, to transgress His Covenant by going and worshipping other gods and bowing to them, and to the sun or the moon or any of the host of Heaven which I have not commanded; and it will be told to you, and you will hear about it. Then you will investigate thoroughly, and if – behold! – it is true, the matter is correct, this abomination has been committed in Israel, then you will take out that man or that woman, who have done this evil thing, to your gates – the man or the woman – and you shall pelt them with stones, so that they will die” (Deuteronomy 17:2-5).

The Ramban picks up on the phrase “in any one of your gates which Hashem your God gives you…”, and states: “This does not mean that this applies solely in the Land of Israel, because even one who worships [idols] outside of Israel is stoned. Rather, the Torah’s intention here is to say that if this occurs in even the most distant of cities that Hashem gives you ‘when He will enlarge your borders’ (Deuteronomy 19:8)…then regardless of which city you are in when you hear about it, investigate the matter thoroughly; and when you know that it is true, then you shall take them out to the gate [of the same city] in which they worshipped [the idol], and there you shall stone them” (Commentary to Deuteronomy 17:2).

The Ramban proceeds to explain that the phrase “this abomination has been committed in Israel” does not mean “in the Land of Israel”, but rather “among the nation of Israel”.

And he continues: “Furthermore, the Torah had to say ‘in any one of your gates’ to teach that he is to be stoned at the self-same gate at which he worshipped [the idol]; this applies in the Land of Israel, because outside of the Land of Israel he is to be stoned at the gate of the court-house in which he was judged… And in truth, it is quite conceivable that [the Torah] mentions the phrase ‘in any one of your gates’ because it says ‘to transgress His Covenant’ – and this is the abomination that has been committed in Israel: the Torah informs you that the Covenant is in ‘the Land of the Covenant’ [quoting Ezekiel 30:5]; but one who lives outside of Israel is as if he worships idols”.

Rabbi Meir Kahane Hy”d explains the Ramban’s words: “The Torah could not describe idolatry outside of the Land of Israel with the words ‘to transgress His Covenant’ and ‘this abomination has been committed’, because even those who do not literally worship idols outside of Israel are nonetheless as if they do” (Peirush ha-Macabbee, Deuteronomy 17:2-3).

The Targum Onkelos and the Targum Yonatan (Deuteronomy 17:5) both understand that the idolater is to be stoned at the gates of the court-house, which according to the Ramban (as we have seen) applies solely outside of Israel. Rashi unequivocally disagrees with the Targumim: “The Targum, which renders ‘your gates’ as ‘the gates of the court-house’ is mistaken, for as we have learned, ‘your gates’ means ‘the gate in which he worshipped [the idol]’” (commentary to verse 5).

The Sforno gives a magnificent insight into the significance of stoning the idolater precisely at the place where he worshipped the idol: “He is taken to the gate at which he worshipped [the idol] in order to demonstrate that this foreign god who is worshipped there cannot save him”.

This is a truly powerful idea: the purpose of stoning an idolater to death is not merely punishment for his sin, it is the mirror-image of Kiddush Hashem as opposed to hillul Hashem. So to speak, executing an idolater at the self-same location where he worshipped the idol desecrates the name of that idol.

The Name of God is desecrated in this world when He appears to be irrelevant, replaced by impotent idols; the corollary is that His Name is sanctified in this world when His mastery over all His Creation is made clear and unequivocal. That is to say, stoning the idolater to death at the self-same place where he worshipped the idol demonstrates the supremacy of God over the idol.

And this, perhaps, explains a peculiarity in the halakhah. The Talmud says that “one who worships an idol is stoned at the gate where he worshipped it; but in a city where the majority are idolaters, he is stoned at the gate of the court-house” (Ketuvot 45b); and the Rambam brings this as practical halakhah (Laws of Sanhedrin 15:2). The Ramban’s view that the idolater is to be stoned at the gate where he worshipped the idol in Israel, and at the gate of the court-house outside of Israel, is a parallel idea.

If the purpose of executing the idolater is to sanctify the Name of God, then executing a Jew in full public view of non-Jewish idolaters would be counter-productive: for idolaters to see Jews executing other Jews would inevitably desecrate the Name of God. But when the majority of the city are Jews, then executing a Jewish idolater in public is the greatest public display of the mastery and sovereignty of the One true God.

14 comments:

  1. Seriously, are these harsh punishments (eg. stoning) for desecration of biblical law, still applicable, practicably speaking, in today's world?

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  2. Yes, because the Torah doesn't change.

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  3. So why don't we practice polygamy? Are we ISIS now that we line them up and kill them in the streets?

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  4. Moriah No, we are not ISIS and I don't think this is a serious question. This is the death penalty as carried out after due process in a court of law. How is it any different from hanging or the gas chamber or the electric chair or lethal injection? Do these things bother you, too? Good! THAT is the difference between us and them. They enjoy it. We don't. Neither we nor Hashem wants to see people punished, but if the law is broken and Hashem has deemed it worthy of death, we don't have the option to disobey. Hashem knows better than we do how to go about exercising justice in the world that He created.

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  5. The French were still chopping off heads in public until less than a hundred years ago.

    The last public execution by guillotine, France, 1939

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  6. For that matter, the French were still chopping off heads until the late 1970s according to the article referred to by Anon 29/8/14 6:03 PM! They just did it in private.

    The last one might possibly have been a Muslim (tho the article doesn't say) - Hamida Djandoubi was executed on September 10, 1977.

    They stopped public executions only because crowds - according to their media - were becoming unruly and disgusting (including women dipping their handkerchiefs in the blood!) and the French decided that public executions weren't having the deterrent effect they were expected to. So what's stopping them now?

    I wonder whether sensitivity has to do with it. We Jews are taught by our many laws that sensitivity is a highly-valued trait. A few other cultures in the world also do likewise, especially in the Far East, but most do not. So, while our death penalties are harsh, we hope they will be very few and very far between - what with the opportunities we have to turn from our wicked ways and return to HaShem. As for the goyim, it seems rather the opposite. The Yishmaeli openly-displayed bloodlust is arousing that of the Edomi as well, although the latter still wish to keep it hidden.

    Teshuva does not seem to be mentioned in the Torah in this context, but I wonder also whether the opportunity would be granted.

    CDG, Yerushalayim

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  7. In Biblical times, we had Neviim and the entire nation was frum and knew the Torah was from Hashem. If someone felt like doing a death-penalty aveira, the transgressor first of all knew it was wrong (no alternative "Judaism" or secularists around to mess with your mind) and could go to a Navi for guidance and advice. And there was the whole issue of the person doing it before witnesses, etc. My understanding is that for someone to commit such capital transgressions under those circumstances demonstrates a hopelessly fallen person.

    Prior to the execution, the criminal was drugged so as not to feel any emotional or physical pain, which is vastly more merciful than any execution carried out today in the USA and most other places. (There have been issues with the lethal injection in that the criminal is in pain, but cannot express it.)

    We would never be able to put together a qualified Sanhedrin today to decide capital cases. We simply do not have sages of the same caliber as existed in, say, Talmudic times, let alone the times we had Neviim.

    My understanding also is that it is much harder to hold today's people accountable because there is so much confusion, even among committed Jews, as to what is really right and what is truly wrong in certain areas.

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  8. CDG - Excellent point.

    Dassi - Absolutely. And there's no way the current regime could be trusted to execute Jews.

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  9. CDG -- your comment reminds me about how Edom is always trying to look oh-so kosher on the outside while being totally treif on the inside.
    Western movies and TV have become progressively more violent and the violence, blood, and gore progressively more realistic. Even today's children's movies can feature a truly horrifying scene among all the innocent stuff. There is no difference at this point between watching the fake stuff and seeing the real thing.
    Not to mention the Edomite love of boxing and wrestling matches.
    Yet these same people will proclaim their pride in how society has evolved and become more sensitive because we no longer perform public executions.
    Well, I guess the French are now getting their bloodlust via the Yishmaelim, like you said.

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  10. Firstly, we have to understand that in the times when we had a Sanhedrin, there was a hardly a time when anyone was executed. Jewish law always makes it difficult for this to happen. There had to be two witnesses, never one, etc., etc. Jewish Law is Hashem's Laws; thus there can be no greater compassion on the face of the earth. We, His children, are rachmanim, bnei rachmanim.

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  11. Dassie: Do you really believe that the bloodlust is less with Esav than with Yishmael; the difference being Yishmael is pereh adam and Esav is the big deceiver.

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  12. To Anonymous 8:45 -- No, I don't believe the bloodlust is less with Eisav. I reread my comment and I don't see how you got that from what I wrote.

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  13. Sorry, Dassie, misunderstood.

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  14. Anonymous 2:14 -- Apology accepted, of course.
    I do think it's good that you emphasized that "Yishmael is pereh adam and Esav is the big deceiver."
    It's an important reminder because Esav really does look so clean and genteel in comparison to Yishmael.
    But on the alternative Conservative sites that are run and commented on predominately by Christians (Michael Snyder being the exception), I was shocked at how sympathetic they are toward Muslims while bashing Israel and Jews in general. This is even as Muslims brutalize and exterminate entire communities of their fellow Christians. Ultimately, Esav has no loyalty even to his own in the face of Yishmael's bloodfest -- I guess because they deep down share the same disregard of tzelem Elokim. Of course, these same Edomite people claim to be siding against Judaism with Yishmaelite savagery out of compassion and truth. That actually says a lot about their definition of compassion and truth.

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