Cruel and Unusual Punishment?
Devarim 25:11-12 describes the administering of bodily punishment in a case of assault, demanding to cut off the hand of a woman who has intervened in a brawl and seized the private parts of a male. Other verses seem to imply a punishment of mutilation as well, as in the famous call for an "eye for an eye, tooth for tooth".
- Is such "measure for measure" punishment the the fairest form of justice, or "cruel and unusual" punishment?
- In setting penalties for crimes, which of the following objectives should take precedence: compensation to the victim, rehabilitation of the criminal, retribution, or deterrence? What does this law suggest? Is this the norm or exception in Torah?
- The overwhelming majority of Talmudic sages rule that in the case of bodily harm, the guilty party pays restitution rather than being mutilated. But is this the simple interpretation of the verses in the Torah? Does the peshat of the Biblical texts differ from the Rabbinic verdict? If so, why is this? And, most importantly, how can the peshat and derash be reconciled? See "עַיִן תַּחַת עַיִן" – An Eye for an Eye.
A Beautiful Captive Woman
There are certain sections of Tanakh which commentators explain in such diametrically opposed ways that what is negative for one is a positive for another. The protocol of the beautiful captive woman is a case in point.
- While the Hoil Moshe asserts that all the actions done to the woman (shaving of the head, "doing" of the nails and changing of clothing) serve to beautify the captive and prepare her for her wedding, Rashi maintains that they are meant to denigrate her so as to prevent the intermarriage. Debate the two readings at your Shabbat table. Which do you think is better supported by the text?
- Commentators disagree whether the Torah allows for marital relations before, or only after, the procedure. Rambam1 asserts that, as a concession to man's natural inclinations, a one time sexual act is allowed during the war itself, in the hopes that the remainder of the procedure will convince him to not do so again. Do you find such an approach problematic? In other words, must the Torah's laws represent an ideal, or might they simply be addressing human needs and nature?
See Purpose of the Captive Woman Protocol for elaboration.
What was so terrible about Amalek's attack that it led to a command to totally annihilate the nation?
- How is one supposed to react to terrorism? If a nation with a terrorist mindset and lack of ethical norms attacks, how extreme a response is necessary or appropriate? What if innocents will be killed as collateral damage?
- If you deem another nation to be an existential threat to your survival, is it justified to launch a preemptive attack to prevent your own destruction? How can you determine when such a threat exists?
- How exceptional is the command to wipe out Amalek? In the rest of Tanakh, what is Hashem's usual course of action when dealing with enemies of Israel? How, for instance, does this command compare to the directive to obliterate the seven Nations of Canaan? See Annihilating Amalek and Calling for Peace in the Conquest of Canaan
Each Dies for their Own Sins?
Among the many laws of the parashah, we are taught that children should not be put to death for their parent's sins, nor parents for their children. Rather, "אִישׁ בְּחֶטְאוֹ יוּמָתוּ".
- How does this work with the principal laid forth elsewhere in Torah, that Hashem is "פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבֹת עַל בָּנִים"? How does the statement "אִישׁ בְּחֶטְאוֹ יוּמָתוּ" jive with all the cases in Tanakh where there seems to be collective punishment?
- When, if ever, is collective punishment justified? Can the same reasoning apply to vicarious punishment? Is punishment within a family different?
- For extensive discussion of the issues, see Are Children Punished for Parents' Sins, Collective Punishment, and Theodicy – צדיק ורע לו.