Saturday, May 7, 2011

Thoughts on an Eye For A Dollar

A quick thought I had in Shul today:

One of the most famous cases of non literal readings by the Oral Law of the Torah is reading an "Eye for an Eye" as monetary payment. I won't go over the many proofs given by the the midrash for this reading, but will focus on a different question. Lets assume that God really did want us to pay monetary compensation for bodily injuries, and not literally  to repay them with hacking off our own eyes, teeth, hands and ears. Why didn't God just say that, and save us all the possible painful arguments?

My answer is that we should imagine what would happen if the Torah had literally written that we should pay X dollars (allright, shekels) for an eye, etc. Given the current Halacha=Morality mindset that is prevalent in some black hat communities, I have no doubt that we would soon find some community believing  that it was all right to cut off other peoples limbs, so long as we pay them back. The rich would find advantages in blind servants or knocking out teeth as a form of discipline. I am sure that in such a world, people who made sure they paid the full sum owed to an intentionally injured man, would be considered a mensch.  The Torah had to set a punishment severe enough to make sure that the principal that it is not ok to harm another person was clearly perceived. God left it to the oral law, to make sure that the harsh and impractical principal was translated into a working legal system - i.e. paying monetary compensation. 
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