Student Teaching in the New Millenium

Word for Word (5771 Shoftim II)

In Deuteronomy on September 3, 2011 at 7:54 pm

One word? Not enough.
Two or three words? A matter.
After we’ve stoned them.

Isaiah 51:12-52:12
Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

What is “My word” that is put into Israel’s mouths here? Justice? Mercy? Commentary? Prophecy? If it’s my word against yours, what does it mean when they differ?

We are told specifically that we bow down to God alone, and that we bow down to no other gods besides Him. Worship God. What about justice? Can we posit that God is Justice? Worship Justice? Is this permitted?

Does the parsha literally impose the death sentence on idolaters? The parsha first specifies stoning at the gates (v. 5) and then specifies that the hand of the witnesses shall be first…to put…to death, and afterward the hand of all the people (v. 7). Why repeat this? Are these statements contradictory? A lot of emphasis is placed on the number of witnesses here. One witness is not enough. Two or three witnesses are necessary. The Hebrew is rendered at the mouth…shall be put to death (Deut. 17:6). So do we put people to death at the hand, or at the mouth? How do we put someone to death at the mouth? Can we speak death? Are words our stones?

The sequence of this exchange is as follows:

1) Publicly stone the idolaters that they die (v. 5)
2) Two or more witnesses are necessary to establish the matter (v. 6)
3) The hand … shall be upon him (or her?) … to put him to death (v.7)

Why lead with a directive to kill the suspects before locating witnesses? If we accept that words are stones, and stoning happens, publicly, how is a fair trial possible?

Is this why at the hand is last: so that, after all this, if there is still no reasonable doubt, a physical sentence may be considered? Does the Torah comment on human nature AND due process?

Is there a difference between idolatry and treason?

I believe the Hebrew for “have done this evil thing”, referring to the idolaters, is ha-davar hara. Can we render this as the evil word? Therefore, is a stoning of words all that is needed, as it is written:

life for life
eye for eye
tooth for tooth
hand for hand
foot for foot

(Deuteronomy 19:21)

Word for Word?

Final question: what does this mean for libel suits?


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