a.k.a Everyone is subject to the law
(Deuteronomy 16: 18 – 21: 9)
God told the people to appoint judges for every tribe in every town. These judges had to make
their rulings impartially, impersonally and not be open to bribes.
It was forbidden to set up a sacred stone honouring God as an idol.
Further, it was forbidden to sacrifice an ox or sheep that had a flaw.
If it were reported that any man or woman had been worshipping a false god or an astral body,
the matter had to be carefully investigated. If this proved true, the person had to be taken to the city
gates and stoned to death. No one could be executed in this way on the testimony of one witness only – at
least two were needed. The witnesses had to cast the first stones.
Provision was made for cases that judges could not unravel. The matter would be referred to the
priests, the Levites, and the judge in office at the time, and they would determine the matter. It was
forbidden to show contempt or disobey. The judgments had to be followed exactly.
God said that once settled in Canaan, the people would inevitably ask for a king to rule them.
God said that only the one he chose could be anointed king. He set down the criteria.
The king had to be one of the people of Israel. He was not to accumulate great wealth, nor order
the people to return to Egypt for any reason. The king also could not have many wives.
On assuming the throne, he had to write down on a scroll the law as given by God. He was to
refer to it continuously during his time of service to God and the people. He too was bound by the law. A
king who ruled justly and who did not consider himself above his fellow Jews would be blessed with a long
reign over Israel.
Additionally, God commanded that no-one in the tribe of Levi was to be given land but the
Levites would live off the offerings made to God. They were thus not to receive a material inheritance.
Specific parts of the meat of sheep and bulls were to be set aside for the priests and they were also to
receive the first fruits of the harvest’s grain, wine and oil. They were also to receive the wool from the
first-sheared sheep. If a Levite moved to another town, he could receive the same benefits in his next place
Upon entering the Promised Land the people were not to imitate the practices of the previous
inhabitants. No one was permitted to offer up a son or daughter as a sacrifice. No sorcery, witchcraft or
divination could be practiced.
The Lord promised to send the people a prophet to guide them, and reminded them that it was
their responsibility to obey that prophet. False prophets or prophets serving false gods had to be put to
death. A false prophet would be known by the failure of his prophesies.
Once the people had settled in the land, they were to set aside three cities in a central
location and build roads to these cities. These were to be refuges for those who had accidentally killed
someone. In these cities of refuge they could get a fair trial and have their case impartially
This measure was to prevent the accused being prematurely killed by an infuriated “avenger of
blood” who would not necessarily listen to an explanation or consider mitigating
Once the people flourished and prospered, and extended their settlements, three more cities
would be needed as places of refuge. It was deemed important that innocent blood not be
However, if a man carried out a premeditated murder against someone, lying in wait and killing
him, then such a man was not to be given refuge. The elders of his town had to send for him and get him
returned so the avenger of blood could exact revenge.
A legal case could not be decided on the testimony of less than two people. The punishment for
bearing false witness was severe. If a person’s testimony were found by the judges to be malicious, that
person would be subject to the same penalty as for the alleged crime – including death. Such severe
punishments would deter others from bearing false witness.No pity, however, was to be shown. The law was to
be implemented according to the principles of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
If the people found themselves confronted by an army greater than theirs, they were not to be
afraid. Before the battle a priest would address the army, telling soldiers that they were to show valour and
reassuring them that God would fight alongside them. Soldiers excused from battle included those who had not
yet dedicated a new house, or had not yet been able to enjoy the fruits of a planted vineyard. Those promised
in marriage could go home and get married to prevent someone else marrying the woman. Those who were afraid
or disheartened were allowed to return too, to prevent them from lowering the army’s
An army about to attack a city had to make it an offer of peace first. If the city agreed, then
the surrendering men became subject to forced labour. If the city declined to make peace, it would come under
Once God had given the city to the people’s army, all the males in the city would be put to
death. The women, livestock and other possessions could be taken as plunder. These rules applied to cities
that were not close by. More stringent rules applied to the conquerors of cities within the domain that God
had given to the people. There, no living thing could be left alive.
Thus, the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and
Jebusites and their cities had to be obliterated. This was to prevent them from teaching God’s people any of
their pagan beliefs.
Commentary on the 48th parsha (portion) of the Torah. The Torah consists of the
five books of Moses, the first part of the Old Testament.
To get to grips with this parsha, our Supermaven, Sigmund Albert Spinoza, interviews
Methuselah Solomon (an Ancient Elder). Supermaven is a modern philosopher who is trying to understand Judaism
and how we got where we are.
He will do this every week by investigating the Old Testament.
SAS: Primitive as these rules
and customs are, they nevertheless reflect a surprising degree of sophistication and
MS: What’s really surprising
is your uncharacteristic receptiveness to God’s word. What has brought on this
SAS: Give us a break,
Methuselah. I might be a critical man, but I give credit where it’s due. Here it is definitely due. We have
previously discussed this system of having cities of refuge, and I repeat my opinion that this was a clever
and effective way of dealing with problems. The accused man’s flight to such a refuge provided the others a
time for pause, the tempering of extreme anger, and an opportunity to gather
MS: Even from the first, our
newly settled communities practiced a form of law that put justice and due process ahead of impulsive acts of
retribution. God demanded fairness and impartiality in the legal system. Men who had a good defense had to be
allowed to present that defense.
SAS: I applaud that, just as
I applaud the people’s commitment to honest testimony and the testing of witness statements. Anybody
inventing a cock-and-bull story aimed at getting a neighbor punished knew that if his story was shown to be
false, he was going to going to be punished in accordance with the magnitude of his lie. That’s a good
MS: Such checks and balances
helped create a workable legal system. I’m glad you admit that early Jewish society had clear and precise
rules that regulated community life effectively.
SAS: I don’t just admit it –
I’m proud of it. I’m particularly proud of the community’s regulations governing kingship. Kings were not to
be self-aggrandizing overlords, but servants of the people who were bound by the law. We know from the
writings of the prophets that kings were indeed called to account when they
MS: It was made clear from
the first that kingship was no quick way to riches, a harem or unchecked behavior.
SAS: I applaud the fact that
the rules are egalitarian in spirit, at least for fellow Jews. No Jew could treat another Jew with impunity.
It’s good to see the growing reputation and status of the law itself.
MS: But remember God’s
authorship of that law. Honor goes to him!
SAS: He’s just a mythical
being whose name is invoked to give the law weight and sanction. The hero at the centre of this passage is
the law itself. However, I should mention that I don’t think that all of its precepts are
MS: I knew this was
SAS: Well, a civilized person can’t help feeling sorry for someone who got a
foolish notion in their head and started praying to some unsanctioned image of the deity. Next thing these
misguided people knew, they were being dragged to the city gates for a stoning.
MS: We are not talking about
foolish people here, but rebellious people, treacherous people and socially dangerous people, who turned
SAS: Absolute rot! These were
deluded and ignorant people who somehow got a false idea in their heads and were following that false notion.
Stone someone to death for praying to the Moon or crying “Dagon bless me” when they sneezed? It’s
MS: Some followers of Dagon
were promoting their religion in far more dramatic ways than sneezing. They were aggressive and dangerous
zealots. You have also conveniently failed to mention other serious forms of apostasy such as witchcraft and
SAS: Witchcraft? Sorcery? I
doubt there was much of that around and what little there was, was probably harmless. I’m sure lots of
rituals within other belief systems were incorrectly labeled witchcraft. You elders were hell bent on
stigmatizing every conflicting form of faith going on around you. Meantime, your whole community was simply
operating in terms of another religious delusion!
MS: We were protecting our
community and keeping our religious practices uniform. We couldn’t let these dangerous and superstitious
practices co-exist with our faith.
SAS: The cult of the Hebrew
God, in other words, was worth killing for!
MS: Worth killing for, yes,
and also worth dying for. Our men fought because they were fighting for God and were united in their belief
that what they were fighting for was right because it was commanded by God.
SAS: I bet many fought
because it was expected of them. I am surprised, however, that you elders allowed a degree of latitude in
terms of who could go into battle. Let someone go home because he might lose his fiancé, or because he hadn’t
enjoyed his vineyard yet! And then someone could go off home because he didn’t feel like fighting due to
cowardice! How on earth did you get anyone to fight? Didn’t everyone suddenly remember a rite of passage they
hadn’t enjoyed yet, or get cold feet and take the day off?
MS: You understand so little
because you don’t understand the nature of communities. These fighting men were like brothers and they looked
after each other. They knew who was young and had not as yet tasted the sweetest fruits of life. They let
these people live to fight another day. As for those that were afraid, well they wouldn’t have been good
soldiers, would they? Are you not satisfied now?
SAS: Not really, no. Another
thing I don’t accept without challenge is the required slaughter of the surrounding tribes. They were just people trying to live life
according to their lights and your God ordered them to be destroyed, including every living thing within the
MS: It’s the same issue. Are you slow? If we had let them all live, and allowed them to set up camp
close to their former homes, would they not have planned our destruction in every waking minute of their
SAS: Alright, I take that
point, and that brings us down to the nitty gritty. In essence, we had this us vs. them scenario with no prisoners taken. OK, that’s what happened in
those days. But then you suggest that a loving and all-powerful
God set up the scenario and sanctioned the slaughter!
MS: Once again, you challenge
what you don’t understand. God had to make his people safe enough and strong enough to protect their
SAS: Actually, you’re right.
I don’t understand. How can I understand these paradoxes? I’m a rational person. Another thing I think was a
bit shortsighted of your omniscient God is this “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” law. It’s brutal. Who
will execute the executioner? It leads only to more death and more violence. The repercussions never end.
It’s elementary logic.
MS: Elementary? It’s simply
wrong. No one in society ever sanctioned the killing of an executioner. The matter ended
SAS: I’m sure it didn’t in
many instances. But our argument is becoming a bit like an eye-for-an-eye exchange. I say something, you
contradict it, and on we go.
MS: Yes, your stubbornness does have that effect on a discussion. It’s
exasperating. Let’s stop for the day.
SAS: If I were truly stubborn
I’d say, “No”. But I’m happy to agree.
MS: We agree on something. A
covenant! A covenant!
If you’d like to know more about the real history of our
extended Jewish family, read on.
The Second Intifada (2000 - 2005): Part One
The Second Intifada, also known as the al-Aqsa Intifada, is usually dated from
September 2000. The death toll from this uprising was 5,500 Palestinians, 1000 Israelis and 64 citizens of
other nations. Many Israelis believe that the Intifada was precipitated by PLO chairman Yasser Arafat’s
walking out of the Camp David Summit in July 2000. Some Israelis also believe Arafat planned the Intifada.
Many Palestinians view the conflict as part of their quest for justice, national liberation and a “shaking
off” of the Israeli yoke.
As in the First Intifada, there were strikes and protests and riots. However, the ante
was upped when Palestinians launched armed attacks on Israeli soldiers and policemen, and Qassam rockets were
fired into Israel. The Second Intifada also saw suicide bombings by Palestinians. Israel responded through
the setting up of checkpoints, the imposition of curfews and attacks on Palestinian prisons and policemen.
Israel also practiced aggressive forms of riot control that resulted in numerous deaths.
One of the reasons for the
Second Intifada was the failure of the Oslo Accords. In terms of these, Israel would begin a phased withdrawal
from the West Bank and Gaza, and the PLO would assume responsibility for the security of previously occupied
areas. However, instead of a movement towards peace and normalization, conflict escalated and in the five years
following the Accords, 405 Palestinians and 256 Israelis were killed.
As different Israeli prime ministers came and went, construction within Israeli
settlements in the West Bank increased. While the Oslo Accords made provision for building within existing
enclaves, the Palestinians viewed the growth of Israeli-built houses in the Occupied Territories with alarm.
They claimed that the spirit of the Accords was being violated.
In response, Israel countered that the Palestinians had built in Area C, a territory
administered by Israel.
Tensions mounted in September 2000 when Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement started
attacking a number of Israeli military and civilians targets. Israel’s response, according to the
Palestinians, was excessive and illegal. Then, on 28 September, Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon
visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem along with a Likud Party delegation. Since the site is considered as
the third holiest in Islam, rioting followed the visit. In response, Israeli police fired teargas and rubber
The next day, wide-scale rioting broke out in the Old City of Jerusalem. Called in to quell the rioting, the Israeli police killed seven
Palestinians and wounded 300. Riots then broke out in the West Bank and Gaza and in five days 47 Palestinians
were shot dead and 1885 wounded.
On 30 September the world was shocked to see the image of 12-year-old Palestinian boy
Muhammad al-Durrah trying to take cover behind his father during rioting in Gaza. A few moments later he was
Many in the Arab world view Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount as the catalyst for the
October saw rioting continuing
inside Israel. More deaths followed on both sides. Supreme Court judge Theodor Or held an investigation into
events and charged senior police officers with bad conduct. He found that the police were ill-prepared to deal
with the riots. The Or Commission also reprimanded Israel’s PM Ehud Barak and recommended that Minister of
Public Security, Shlomo Ben-Ami, not serve in that capacity again. The Or Commission also blamed
Arab leaders and Knesset members for inflaming the situation.
The crisis escalated on 12 October when two Israeli reservists wandered into Ramallah
and were beaten to death by a mob. Their bodies were thrown onto the street from the second-floor window of a
police station. The world watched TV footage of these events. It was another grim reminder of a situation
that appeared to be impossible to endure or control.
Here follows a discussion on this
historical segment by Dad, Chaya and Ben.
DAD: Recent history can
sometimes lack the gravity of more ancient events yet the episodes described here weigh very heavily on all
observers and seem epic in their own way.
CHAYA: Well, they are epic.
We have the cradle of the world’s major theistic religions being overrun by violence and
BEN: I don’t see these events
as epic. These are tawdry and dirty events that show us how
degraded the participants in this conflict have become. Everyone there is a desperado trying to survive in a
dog-eat-dog world of terror, mistrust and barbarity.
DAD: Epic or tawdry, these
events get many Jews, Muslims and Christians reaching for their apocalyptic tomes and searching for signs of
Moshiach, the Mahdi, or Jesus coming on the clouds. All the big cards are on the table and there’s everything
to play for.
BEN: Let’s talk less
mystically and look at actual events and their significance.
CHAYA: Yes, the broad sweep
of events is often less significant than specific events that capture the imagination of TV audiences
DAD: Like that little boy who
was killed. It put the Israeli forces in a very bad light.
BEN: But what about when Palestinian civilians tore those two soldiers apart
CHAYA: I think most TV
viewers are over the blaming game. They view the events as part of a political and cultural problem that is
DAD: I tend to think that
there’s plenty of partisan thinking out there, with one-eyed judgments being made all the time. I think many
people are aligned to either the Zionist or Palestinian cause and tend to view things in blinkered
BEN: There’s no such thing as
objectivity. We all have our predispositions and our agendas. Because we’re Jewish, we will always believe –
deep down – that the Israelis have right on their side and that the Palestinians are untrustworthy and
deceptive. We don’t believe they will ever stick to signed treaties.
DAD: Don’t generalize, Ben.
Who’s “we”? I think there are many fair-minded analysts among Israeli historians and commentators. And no
doubt not all Palestinians think as one. Surely they too have differences in their assessment of the
CHAYA: I agree with
Dad. Self-reflection and rigorous scrutiny enables people to
stand outside of a situation and see if for what it is.
BEN: That’s easy to say but
the reality doesn’t support the theory. Almost all Zionists will tell you that Yasser Arafat never intended
to abide by the Oslo Accords and was scheming up the Second Intifada even as he returned home from the
negotiating table. And how many Israelis do you know who would condemn Ariel Sharon from exercising his right
to visit the Temple Mount precinct?
DAD: Quite a few would
condemn Sharon, if not exactly for his action then certainly for his timing. There’s no excuse, they would
say, for acting provocatively during a time of crisis. On the subject of Arafat, you are probably right. He
was, it seems to me, a slippery and disingenuous man who was only interested in one thing – undermining and
destroying the state of Israel.
CHAYA: Yet to millions of
Palestinians he was nothing less than a hero and a father to his people. In other words, he was a man to be
BEN: So you can step out of
your pro-Zionist world, and appreciate his contribution from the Palestinian perspective? I guess that makes
you Miss Empathy 2010.
CHAYA: Don’t be sarcastic! My
feelings about Arafat are based on evidence from the perspective of different historians. Nothing more and
nothing less! Let me remind you, anyway, that I am not a citizen of Israel and I am not an apologist for the
decisions and actions of any Israeli government.
DAD: I am an apologist for
good Jewish cooking. Let’s eat.
Every Shabbat we read five short sayings that express, with typically Jewish wit and
humor, insightful reflections on this life of ours.
Here are tonight’s sayings:
· Worries go down better with soup.
· Where two Jews, three opinions.
· If I knew God, I would be God.
· Good is the enemy of great.
· In choosing a friend, go up a step.
Celebration of Great Lives
Every Friday night we celebrate the achievements of our Jewish family in contributing
to changing the world for the better and having an extraordinary impact on those around
Disraeli was Prime Minister of Britain from
1874-1880. He played a key role in the formation of the modern Conservative Party. A close friend of Queen
Victoria, Disraeli was raised to the peerage as the Earl of Beaconsfield in 1876. His career in the House of
Commons spanned nearly four decades. Descended from Italian Sephardim, Disraeli had some success as a
novelist. He also studied law before settling on a career in politics. While his parents were Jewish, he was
baptized as an Anglican at 13 and remained an observant one. He saw no essential conflict between the
religions and argued, when supporting a bill that would allow Jews to enter parliament, that Christianity was
grounded in Judaism. On occasion he used British power to support Jewish interests, such as his support for
the Ottoman Empire in preference to the anti-Semitic Tsarist Empire. He once famously said, “Yes, I am a Jew,
and when the ancestors of the Right Honorable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were
priests in the temple of Solomon.” He is also known for this gem: “There are three kinds of lies; lies,
damned lies and statistics.”
Born in Bobruysk, in today’s Belarus, Berl Katznelson worked in a Hebrew-Yiddish library and
taught Jewish literature and history. After migrating to Palestine in 1909, he worked on farms and began
organizing labor movements. During World War 1 he served with the Jewish Legion. After the war he was
recognized as the intellectual guru of the Labor Zionist movement. He and Meir Rothberg founded the consumer
co-op HaMashbir LaTzarhan. He also helped to set up the Kupat Holim Clalit sick-fund. He became the editor of the newspaper
Davar, the mouthpiece of Histadrut, the General Federation of Jewish Labor. He was also the founder
and editor-in-chief of the Am Oved publishing house. Katznelson was well-known for his wish to see Jews and
Arabs living peacefully side-by-side in Israel. While a secularist, Katznelson argued strongly that Jewish
traditions should be rigorously observed. He championed the observance of Shabbat, the festivals and dietary
laws. During World War II he argued for the formation of a Jewish state. After his death, many streets were
named after him. Israeli Post issued a commemorative stamp in his honor.