Getting Blood From a Stoning: Shoftim 2020

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: How do you react when you hear negative talk about someone you know? Under what circumstances would you spread that talk to others?

The Torah tells us that idolatry is a serious enough accusation to inform the authorities — but punishment is not automatic:

The Pitch: “[If] you have been informed or have learned of [someone worshipping another god], then you shall make a thorough inquiry. If it is true, the fact is established, that abhorrent thing was perpetrated in Israel, you shall take the man or the woman who did that wicked thing out to the public place, and you shall stone them, man or woman, to death.” – Deuteronomy 17:4-5

Swing #1: “Deuteronomy’s rhetoric demonstrates a confidence in the ability of courts to ascertain the truth in criminal cases and identify the guilty party. … Deuteronomy does not provide a legal standard of evidence, such as ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’ Instead, one must investigate until the truth is uncovered.” – Chaya T. Halberstam, Law & Truth in Biblical and Rabbinic Literature

Swing #2: “Most passages in the Torah do not make a point of saying ‘a man or a woman,’ but use either adam (‘human being’) or ish (which can mean ‘person’ as well as ‘man’). In the penalty for idol worship, however, both sexes are specifically stated, as if to emphasize women. Why was this done? ‘Because of light-mindedness, the woman can be enticed to witchcraft by signs and wonders done before her,’ Nachmanides asserts.” – Judith S. Antonelli, In the Image of God: A Feminist Commentary on the Torah

Swing #3: “[If he is a man, they stone just] him, without his clothes, but [if the condemned party is a woman, they stone] her with her clothing.” – BT Sanhedrin 45a

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators describe both fairness and unfairness in ancient Israelite justice? Has our society progressed in terms of judicial fairness, or have we only changed our judicial methods? Why is it so difficult for justice to be achieved?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: Pursuant to the recommendation of the TBT reopening task force, we are, on a trial basis, augmenting our Livestream Shabbat services with an in-person minyan for Friday night, August 28th; Saturday morning September 5th; and Friday/Saturday, September 11th-12th, by reservation only, for up to a maximum of fifteen family units (no more than 20-25 people) wearing masks and maintaining a distance of twelve feet. Please see the Temple website for further details.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of justice, we’re now a dozen years into the new rules punishing players for using performance-enhancing drugs. Do you get the sense that these rules have deterred steroid use, or are players simply better at getting away with using?

Shabbat Shalom, and stay safe!