Chavarah- Jewish Community Learning

A blog of Jewish study and traditions. Notes from classes: Torah Study with Rabbi Marder, Toledot and Shabbaton as well as other details found of interest.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

"Show Him No Pity"

A convicted murder is guilty - how should we feel about that person? How should we feel about the punishment?

There are different thoughts from our sages:

Hirsch: Showing pity is the same as showing indifference. You must punish those who are guilty to honor the sanctity of life.

R. Akiva: Killing a person "impairs God's likeness" in mankind and thus diminishes the image of God each time a life is taken including the convicted murderer.

While the Torah clearly includes capital punishment for murder, we need to remember that times were different, there were no jails. Later interpretations in Talmud and Rabbinical texts regarding this makes capital punishment very difficult to justify unless there are extreme circumstances.

Cities of Refuge

Deut. 19:1-13

Three cities are set up as places of refuge for those who kill someone by accident. This portion definitely sets a difference between murder and manslaughter and how they are different. It also makes us aware of various reasons that these places of refuge existed.

Previous to Deuteronomy the Altar was a refuge place but with the centralization of the Temple set up, an alternative was required.

So we find that these cities of refuge were the same cities where the priests or Levites lived. Possibly that those who needed refuge would have council of the priests to help them. Imagine that killing someone by accident would most likely result in terrible issues of guilt and remorse by the person who was responsible for the accident. They would need help in more ways that just to escape from the possibility of 'blood revenge'.

The Book of Joshua addresses the details of setting up the cities of refuge further.

Places of refuge exist today as well. One example is a National Park in Hawaii. About 20 years ago in El Salvador there were sanctuary congregations.

Relevant Book: Book about the French city of refuge during WWII
Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed -- by Philip P. Hallie

This portion contains much of the basis for a complex legal system defining 'manslaughter' as different from murder. Addressing differences in punishment.