Weekly Parsha Review Laced with Humor and Sarcasm from The Oisvorfer Ruv

Emor 2024: Cancel Culture

Raboyseyee and Ladies,

Cancel Culture:

Shoin, just last week, the RBSO instructed us to love our friends and neighbors as we do ourselves. It’s understood by most, that this mitzvah required much exegesis, isn’t performed by many, and certainly not on a consistent basis. We concluded that most people do not love their neighbors; many hate them and fartig (case closed). The bottom line: it’s nice in theory. And if that mitzvah did not boggle the mind, wait until you get to the end of this week’s parsha where we come across this warning for those who might act out on such hatred.

Buried in the middle of ancient rules for priestly purity – where virginity and divorce   play a role- and details of various yomim tovim (Jewish holy days) including the counting of the sefira days, of lighting the  menorah and punishing the blasphemer – indeed, it appears that this person was mamish put to death by stoning- is a short injunction known by just about everybody in the world -Jewish or not- religious or not: The heylige Toirah identifies three acts of violence:  assault resulting in death, damage to property, and personal injury. That’s followed by the consequent punishment; It’s not pretty. Let’s read the posik innvaynig. Says the heylige Toirah (Vayikro 24:20) azoy:

(כ) שֶׁ֚בֶר תַּ֣חַת שֶׁ֔בֶר עַ֚יִן תַּ֣חַת עַ֔יִן שֵׁ֖ן תַּ֣חַת שֵׁ֑ן כַּאֲשֶׁ֨ר יִתֵּ֥ן מוּם֙ בָּֽאָדָ֔ם כֵּ֖ן יִנָּ֥תֶן בּֽוֹ׃

“Fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The injury he inflicted on another shall be inflicted on him.” In other words: revenge!

Well, blow me down! An eye for an eye? Mamish? How does that work? Where have we seen these instructions before? Will we see them again? Are these words to be taken literally? Does the RBSO mean, or not mean what He says? Were the Jewish courts, or individuals themselves mamish acting out on the words of the heylige Toirah?  Nu, as you can only imagine, these instructions -originally found back in Sefer Shmois, repeated here and three-peated again over the summer in Sefer Devorim- caused our sages many headaches; how were they meant to be interpreted and understood?

Back in Sefer Shmois (21:3-5) we read this:  “…You shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Similar instructions will be repeated yet again later in Devorim (Deuteronomy 19:21): And you [shall have no] pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

What’s pshat here? Why are these instructions repeated over and again? May we assume that this is mamish what the RBSO wanted? Why else would He give us the same law three different times? Moreover, are they not crystal clear?

Ober, before we go veyter, now is a good time to mention that hundreds of years before the RBSO gifted us His heylige Toirah – according to many, approximately 400 years earlier- some person by the name of Hammurabi had this to say about the very same topic. More on him just below.  Was the heylige Toirah -when reduced to writing- mamish but following the Code of Hammurabi (Code of law of ancient Mesopotamia, dating back to about 1754 BC) where we find this?


If a seignior (i.e. lord) has destroyed the eye of a member of the aristocracy, they shall destroy his eye.

​If he has broken another seignior’s bone, they shall break his bone.

If a seignior has knocked out a tooth of a seignior of his own rank, they shall knock out his tooth…

If he put out the eye of a commoner, or break the bone of a commoner, he shall pay one gold minna. If he put out the eye of a man’s slave, or break the bone of a man’s slave, he shall pay one-half its value.

Who was the Hammurabi fellow and did his laws mamish predate the heylige Toirah?  According to sources the Ois scoured, The Hammurabi code is one of the oldest preserved codes of law dating back to 1772 BCE. This is roughly the time after the Mabul (Noiach’s flood) (-2105BCE), the Tower of Bovel incident (1765BCE) and our heylige forefathers.

The bottom line: Although the laws are starkly different from Jewish laws in the heylige Toirah,  there are those that mamish bear very specific resemblance. Limoshol -by way of example-  we find therein the  ‘eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth.’

May we kler (postulate) that the Hammurabi code could have derived from the ‘Jewish philosophy’ of the time (be it from Noiach, Avrohom, Shaim, Ever, etc.)? Maybe! The Ois has taka -for many years- been wondering what the curriculum was at that famous yeshiva and Shaim and Ever? Is that what they studied? Or, is it also possible that Toirah laws  -coded formally only years later- were derived as improvements/successors to earlier laws such as Hammurabi’s code? And is the Hammurabi code mentioned at all in Jewish scripture? Did the code mamish predate the heylige Toirah? Say it’s not so please, but is it? Was this Hammurabi a real person?

Shoin, some believe that Hammurabi was real and that he was none other than Amrophel Melech Shinar. Believe it or not Amrophel is mentioned in the heylige Toirah (Bereishis 14:1), where we read of the battle between the four and five kings. It’s the battle that saw Loit, Avrohom’s nephew being taken captive and Avrohom waging his own war to get him back. He did and lesson learned! At times, the Yiddin need to wage war to get their people back. The Daas Mikra mentions that “there are those that liken Hammurabi to [Amrophel Melech Shinar] to the Babylonian king known as ‘Hammurapi.'” In the footnote he mentions that he ruled over the land ‘across the river’ and instituted a law called ‘Hammurapi law’ and that it was discovered after much archaeological digging in a city in the Babylon region. Hammurapi, Hammurabi, ver veyst? Rashi says  it’s not so; Hammurabi was actually Nimrod. Who was Hammurabi? Ver veyst!   The bottom line: The similarity and relationship between the Code of Hammurabi and the heylige Toirah has been noted by many.  As to Hammurabi, his code and Toirah, ver veyst? There seems to be inconclusive discussions about this topic in the writings of many a scholar.

Let’s get back to the eye for an eye law mentioned in our parsha and let’s immediately get to the bottom line: Over the centuries, antisemites, critics of the Yiddin and Israel, and stam azoy ordinary  people have had a field day talking about our cruelty, our lack of compassion, our lust for revenge allegedly embodied in that eye for an eye law. Indeed, the words are clear: If someone puts out your eye, go ahead and put out his eye. Give him a dose of his own medicine. Let’s get real: the heylige doesn’t mince words when it comes to various forms of punishments; the entire smorgasbord is laid out for all to see.  Are they correct? Ober, in reality, there is an issue with such  criticism. Why not? Davka because there is seemingly no record of Judaism ever sanctioning doing this eye for an eye revenge maiming. If fact, if we Yiddin wasted time hating those who have wronged us in the past and seeking retaliation in kind, we would not have time for anything else, and could not have contributed to the betterment of humankind as much as we have. As is well known, hate eventually destroys the haters. How do Yiddin mostly act when hurt? We stop talking to the people who cause us pain.

Yet the meaning of the text seems plain enough: “Do unto others as they did unto you.” Does the RBSO -heaven forbid- not know how to express Himself? Why three-peat these instructions if they were not meant to be taken literally? What to do? Not to worry because our sages of the heylige Mishne and Gemora debated this issue and concluded – most of them- that in the case of an eye for an eye, just kidding!  The Rabbis in the heylige Gemora (Buba Kama 84a) were at pains to demonstrate the text cannot be understood literally. They maintain the underlying principle is that the perpetrator should pay monetary compensation to the victim for the loss suffered.

Our sages of the Mishne note by means of different teachings, that a literal implementation of the rule of “eye for eye” might lead to a punishment far removed from true justice. The most familiar example is a case in which a person who sees with only one eye blinds one eye of someone else who had two healthy eyes. Removing the eye of the perpetrator would render him completely blind. That being said,  a result that is far from true justice would emerge even in less extreme cases. The sugya in the heylige Gemora also mentions the danger of death arising from the amputation of a hand or foot, or from the putting out of an eye, and it is difficult to imagine that the Torah would countenance such a danger. Admittedly, administering the punishment of lashes also entails a certain danger, but the danger of amputation is immeasurably greater.


Said Rab Saadia Goan azoy: ‘An eye for an eye’ – we cannot explain this verse literally, for if a man struck the eye of his fellow and caused a vision loss equal to 1/3, how will it be possible to inflict precisely the same injury on the perpetrator, without neither excess nor deficiency? The wound and the bruise present an even more difficult situation, for if the initial injury was sustained close to a vital organ, perhaps the retaliatory strike will result in the death of the perpetrator. Reason does not tolerate a literal interpretation of this verse! Saadia Gaon, Ibn Ezra and Maimonides all bring similar arguments against a literal interpretation of the text and insist it refers to monetary compensation.

And says the Seforno that an eye for an eye  is what should be the judgment against the offender, if we were to apply the principle of the punishment fitting the crime in all its severity. However, according to tradition only financial compensation is exacted as we cannot accurately measure how to apply the principle of “an eye for an eye” literally.

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai argues a literal interpretation of the law cannot be practically implemented – it is impossible to inflict the exact same injury on the perpetrator as that suffered by the victim. The school of Hezekiah asserts a literal interpretation of the text may result in a more unjust outcome where the punishment is harsher than originally intended –the process of maiming a person may result in complications leading to death.

And let’s read this most clever approach to prove that an eye for an eye was not meant to be taken literally. And the proof? We need to look at the middle word of the phrase עין תחת עין ‘eye for an eye’ and examine how the term ‘תחת’ is used in other places in the Tanach. Back at the akeyda (binding of Issac) Bereishis (22:13), Avrohom offered the ram as a sacrifice in place of his son Yitzchok:  ‘ויעלהו לעולה תחת בנו’. Later in Bereishis  (44:33), Yehuda argues with Yoisef then the vizier of Egypt. He begs to remain in Egypt in place of his brother Binyomin. Let’s read the words innvaynig: “עתה ישב-נא עבדך תחת הנער.” These examples where the word tachas-  תחת  means instead of, support the argument that the phrase means ‘the value of an eye in place of an eye’ i.e. the offender should provide monetary compensation for the injury.

On the other hand, the heylige Gemora [Shabbis 63a] also says that the plain meaning of the words of (the poshit pshat) of the heylige Toirah never loses its value, and that other interpretations (remez, drash, sod) only add new dimensions to its meaning. אֵין מִקְרָא יוֹצֵא מִידֵי פְּשׁוּטוֹ — A verse does not depart from its literal meaning. Oib azoy, if that’s the case, how do we reconcile the two? Taka an excellent question, ober above the Ois’s pay grade. The bottom line: they were sages and the Ois is not!

Did all our sages of the heylige Gemora agree that an eye only means the financial value and the words are not to be taken literally? Kimat all, but there was one lone dissenter and let’s meet Rebbe Eliezer who maintain azoy:  ‘Eye for eye’ literally refers to putting out the eye of the offender. Could Rebbe Eliezer be against all the others? What happened to Rebbe Eliezer and his opinion?   He was eventually cancelled! Some say that Rebbe Eliezer had a habit of dissenting with the majority opinion refusing to accept it as halocho (final ruling). For this, he was eventually placed into cherem and banned from the debates, even though he was a great scholar. He was excommunicated and shoin. Well blow me down! Is that emes? Rebbe Eliezer was cancelled for disagreeing? Indeed he was and the Gemora (Buba Metzia 59b) dedicates several paragraphs to the cancellation details of this very wise man. It’s a fantastic read. One key point  stands out: our sages insisted that the “cancelling” was to involve a face-to-face notification and not on-line shaming.  In fact, if you want more information about how cancel culture worked in the days of the heylige Gemora, check out the Gemora (Moed Koton 16a) for a great read; here is a link: https://www.sefaria.org/Moed_Katan.16a.11?lang=bi

As the Ois has reported over the years, the emes is azoy: our sages and rabbis very often depart from biblical law, even to the extent of completely rewriting it. Exactly when in Jewish history the practice changed from reciprocal injury to the payment of a fine, ver veyst? It’s terribly unclear, but by the time the heylige Mishne was compiled, in the first century CE, the change was already well-established. That being said, and this next statement is mamish fundamental lest you too be cancelled like Rebbe Eliezer is this. It is a fundamental principle of the heylige Gemora that such revisions can never be acknowledged as revisions. After all, if the heylige Toirah is the word of the RBSO -avada it is- no human court can modify it. What to do when the heylige Toirah says “an eye for an eye” and we find this position intolerable? It’s quite poshit (simple)! Our sages simply reinterpreted the heylige Toirah’s words so that they said mamish the opposite of what they seem to plainly mean. And guess what? Such reinterpretation was authorized by the idea that the Toirah-She-baal-peh (the oral law, as recorded in the heylige Mishne), is of equal antiquity with the written law because both were given to Moishe at Sinai. Were you there to suggest otherwise? Not! The devil is in the detail. Mamish gishmak.

In this case, however, the contradiction between the Mishne and the Toirah is so direct that the rabbis of the Gemora were clearly unsettled by it. “The Merciful One states: An eye for an eye,” the Gemora points out, and “you might say an actual eye” is what it means. But this common-sense reading is immediately ruled out, in strong terms: “That interpretation should not enter your mind,” the Gemora replies, as though it were a dangerous temptation that must be resisted. Instead, the rabbis quote a baraisa, which gives the correct interpretation of the words of the heylige Toirah: “One might have thought that if one blinded the eye of another, the court blinds his eye as punishment; or if one severed the hand of another, the court severs his hand; or if one broke the leg of another, the court breaks his leg.” However, the proper way of reading the Toirah in this case is to ignore the surface meaning and focus on a meaningful juxtaposition. “Therefore, the verse states ‘One who strikes a person’ and the verse also states ‘And one who strikes an animal,’ to teach that just as one who strikes an animal is liable to pay monetary compensation, so too, one who strikes a person is liable to pay monetary compensation.” By stating these two cases in consecutive pisukim (Vayikro 24:18-19), the rabbis argue, the RBSO meant us to deduce that the law governing human injury is the same as the law governing animal injury—which, as we have seen extensively in the heylige Gemora (Buba Kamma), is compensated by the payment of money.  For the rabbis, this kind of juxtaposition is but one of the basic tools in their armamentarium.

In fact, they developed an entire kit called “The Hermeneutic Rules,” which gives them license – forever – to interpret and re-interpret the rule book they created.  Gishmak.

And the bottom lines? We have a few. First of all, let’s stop with the nonsense that nothing is repeated in the heylige Toirah because many things are. An eye for an eye is but the latest example. Next: Because our sages of the heylige Gemora and others could not fathom that the RBSO -master of the world- would want us humanoids to exact such literal punishment on the person who gouged out the eye of another person, they dedicated many folios of the heylige Gemora as well as many other writings to conclude that the RBSO was just kidding! He may have said those words but of course He didn’t mean them. Of course this makes good sense, ober the question is azoy: what else did He say and where, doesn’t He mean?


A gittin Shabbis-

The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv

Yitz Grossman



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