When Men Fight: Mishpatim 2023

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What topics of conversation are too difficult for you to talk about in a public setting? How have you coped when confronted with such conversations without warning?

Among the many laws in this Torah portion is one that, for some, is a source for Judaism’s views on abortion:

The Pitch: “When men fight, and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other damage ensues, the one responsible shall be fined according as the woman’s husband may exact from him, the payment to be based on reckoning. But if other damage ensues, the penalty shall be life for life.” – Exodus 21:22-23

Swing #1: “The fact that capital punishment is not stipulated in the Bible suggests that the fetus lost in the incident was not considered a vital human, whose death would have required the death penalty according to the concept of ‘a life for a life.’” – Carol Meyers in Women in Scripture, Carol Meyers, ed.

Swing #2: “The law … may address the concern of the family over the loss of a potential ‘breadwinner.’ Since the miscarriage was caused unintentionally, by a blow intended for a third party, the penalty is compensation for the loss of the future breadwinner.” – J. Gerald Janzen, Exodus

Swing #3: “The Torah here describes the premature birth of such a baby as a result of the mother having been struck as having given birth to a נפש אדם, a human being in the full sense of the word. The wording in our verse makes it clear that only if the mother had been struck in the region of her body to which her fetus is sensitive, does the attacker deserve the penalty prescribed, not when she was hit on the head or other parts of her body not related to her pregnancy.” – Chizkuni

Late-Inning Questions: To what extent does the Torah (and Jewish sacred texts in general) guide your viewpoints on challenging modern issues? Does this text and/or its commentaries alter your thinking on this topic? How do we reconcile personal religious beliefs with our behavior in the voting booth?

On-Deck at TBT: Please consider donating to our Mishloach Manot fundraiser if you haven’t already! The deadline is Friday, February 25th.

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of controversial topics (albeit one that is extremely minor in importance in the grand scheme of things), Spring Training has begun, and with it the introduction of dramatic new rules in how baseball is played – a pitch clock, larger bases, and a ban on infield shifts. Which one will be the hardest for players to adjust to? My guess is the pitch clock – and that’s the rule change I agree with the most.

Shabbat Shalom!