Tzedek Lunch n Learn: Gun Violence and Gun Control

וכי יזיד איש על רעהו רעהו להוציא את אחרים...איסי בן עקיבא אומר קודם מתן תורה היינו מוזהרים על שפיכות דמים לאחר מתן תורה שהוחמרו הוקלו באמת אמרו פטור מדיני בשר ודם ודינם מסור לשמים.

"But if a person came presumptuously upon their neighbor"; "their neighbor" – to the exclusion of others [i.e., non-Jews]...Issi ben Akiva says: Before the Torah had been given, we were forbidden to shed blood; now that the Torah has been given, instead of greater stringency, there is leniency? In truth, they said: That person is exempt according to the laws of people, but that person's judgment is given over to Heaven.[translation Harav Yehuda Amital. Edited for gender neutrality]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What does it mean for one to have their judgment given over in Heaven? How is this different than being judged human law?

2. Which punishment is more grievous? Why do we distinguish between them?

(ח) וכן כל מכשול שיש בו סכנת נפשות מצות עשה להסירו ולהשמר ממנו ולהזהר בדבר יפה שנאמר השמר לך ושמור נפשך ואם לא הסיר והניח המכשולות המביאים לידי סכנה ביטל מצות עשה ועובר בלא תשים דמים:

And so too any obstacle that endangers life, it is a positive commandment to remove it and to be very careful around it as it is said, “Protect yourself and guard yourself." (Deuteronomy 4:9) And if he did not remove and set aside these obstacles that are dangerous, he violated the positive commandment and also violated the commandment, “Do not bring bloodguilt upon yourself” (Deuteronomy 22:8). [AJWS translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. What constitutes an obstacle that endangers life? Would lack of access to medical care count? Lack of access to education?

2. In what ways can business practices count as obstacles? In what ways do they not?

(א) אִם־בַּמַּחְתֶּ֛רֶת יִמָּצֵ֥א הַגַּנָּ֖ב וְהֻכָּ֣ה וָמֵ֑ת אֵ֥ין ל֖וֹ דָּמִֽים׃

If the thief is seized while tunneling (i.e. breaking into one’s home), and is beaten to death, there is no bloodguilt (on the homeowner) in this case. [JPS translation [1] Edited for gender neutrality]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. If the owner of a home kills an intruder, why isn’t the homeowner guilty? Are there situations in which the homeowner would be guilty?

2. What does this text teach us about the individual’s right to self-protection? What are the limits?

(א) כִּי־יִמָּצֵ֣א חָלָ֗ל בָּאֲדָמָה֙ אֲשֶׁר֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהֶ֜יךָ נֹתֵ֤ן לְךָ֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ נֹפֵ֖ל בַּשָּׂדֶ֑ה לֹ֥א נוֹדַ֖ע מִ֥י הִכָּֽהוּ׃ (ב) וְיָצְא֥וּ זְקֵנֶ֖יךָ וְשֹׁפְטֶ֑יךָ וּמָדְדוּ֙ אֶל־הֶ֣עָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֖ר סְבִיבֹ֥ת הֶחָלָֽל׃ (ג) וְהָיָ֣ה הָעִ֔יר הַקְּרֹבָ֖ה אֶל־הֶחָלָ֑ל וְלָֽקְח֡וּ זִקְנֵי֩ הָעִ֨יר הַהִ֜וא עֶגְלַ֣ת בָּקָ֗ר אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹֽא־עֻבַּד֙ בָּ֔הּ אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹא־מָשְׁכָ֖ה בְּעֹֽל׃ (ד) וְהוֹרִ֡דוּ זִקְנֵי֩ הָעִ֨יר הַהִ֤וא אֶת־הָֽעֶגְלָה֙ אֶל־נַ֣חַל אֵיתָ֔ן אֲשֶׁ֛ר לֹא־יֵעָבֵ֥ד בּ֖וֹ וְלֹ֣א יִזָּרֵ֑עַ וְעָֽרְפוּ־שָׁ֥ם אֶת־הָעֶגְלָ֖ה בַּנָּֽחַל׃ (ה) וְנִגְּשׁ֣וּ הַכֹּהֲנִים֮ בְּנֵ֣י לֵוִי֒ כִּ֣י בָ֗ם בָּחַ֞ר יְהוָ֤ה אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙ לְשָׁ֣רְת֔וֹ וּלְבָרֵ֖ךְ בְּשֵׁ֣ם יְהוָ֑ה וְעַל־פִּיהֶ֥ם יִהְיֶ֖ה כָּל־רִ֥יב וְכָל־נָֽגַע׃ (ו) וְכֹ֗ל זִקְנֵי֙ הָעִ֣יר הַהִ֔וא הַקְּרֹבִ֖ים אֶל־הֶחָלָ֑ל יִרְחֲצוּ֙ אֶת־יְדֵיהֶ֔ם עַל־הָעֶגְלָ֖ה הָעֲרוּפָ֥ה בַנָּֽחַל׃ (ז) וְעָנ֖וּ וְאָמְר֑וּ יָדֵ֗ינוּ לֹ֤א שפכה [שָֽׁפְכוּ֙] אֶת־הַדָּ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה וְעֵינֵ֖ינוּ לֹ֥א רָאֽוּ׃ (ח) כַּפֵּר֩ לְעַמְּךָ֨ יִשְׂרָאֵ֤ל אֲשֶׁר־פָּדִ֙יתָ֙ יְהוָ֔ה וְאַל־תִּתֵּן֙ דָּ֣ם נָקִ֔י בְּקֶ֖רֶב עַמְּךָ֣ יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְנִכַּפֵּ֥ר לָהֶ֖ם הַדָּֽם׃ (ט) וְאַתָּ֗ה תְּבַעֵ֛ר הַדָּ֥ם הַנָּקִ֖י מִקִּרְבֶּ֑ךָ כִּֽי־תַעֲשֶׂ֥ה הַיָּשָׁ֖ר בְּעֵינֵ֥י יְהוָֽה׃ (ס)

If, in the land that Adonai your God is assigning you to possess, someone slain is found lying in the open, the identity of the slayer not being known, your elders and magistrates shall go out and measure the distances from the corpse to the nearby towns. The elders of the town nearest to the corpse shall then take a heifer which has never been worked, which has never pulled in a yoke; and the elders of that town shall bring the heifer down to an ever-flowing wadi, which is not tilled or sown. There, in the wadi, they shall break the heifer's neck. The priests, sons of Levi, shall come forward; for Adonai your God has chosen them to minister to God and to pronounce blessing in the name of Adonai, and every lawsuit and case of assault is subject to their ruling. Then all the elders of the town nearest to the corpse shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the wadi. And they shall make this declaration: "Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. Absolve, O Adonai, Your people Israel whom You redeemed, and do not let guilt for the blood of the innocent remain among Your people Israel." And they will be absolved of blood guilt. Thus you will remove from your midst guilt for the blood of the innocent, for you will be doing what is right in the sight of Adonai. [JPS translation, edited for gender-neutrality]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why are the elders of the town closest to the body responsible for the death?

2. Is this process necessary? Why?

3. Do we today have a similar responsibility towards crimes committed in our midst? If so, how far does that responsibility extend?

אם אמנם מצד ההלכה אין בעל הבית חייב בנזקי הפועל…נוטה אני לומר שבעל הבית מוזהר מן התורה לעשות כל מה שאפשר להבטיח פועליו מסכנת מות או מום ככתוב: "ועשית מעקה לגגך ולא תשים דמים בביתך" שכולל כל מכשול העלול להזיק כמו כלב רע וסולם רעוע וכו'. מכאן אנו למדין חובת בעל הבית או הקבלן לדאוג בדיקנות זהירה בתנאי העבודה שיהיו בטוחים מכל מכשול הגורם לאיזה אסון שהוא…ובאם לאו הוא נלכד בעוון "לא תשים דמים בביתך וצריך כפרה. אבל אין זה דבר היוצא בדיינין

Ben Zion Chai Uziel, Mishpatei Uzziel IV, Choshen Mishpat 43

Though it is the case that according to the law the owner is not liable for the damages of the worker…I am inclined to say that the owner is warned by the Torah to do all that is possible to insure his workers from the danger of death or disability, as it says: “You shall make a parapet for your roof and you shall not bring blood-guilt upon your house” (Deuteronomy 22:8), which includes any hazard which is likely to cause injury, like a mad dog or a rickety ladder [Baba Kamma 15b, Choshen Mishpat 427:5]. From this we learn the obligation of the owner or contractor to address the working conditions with strict care, so that they are secure from all hazards which might precipitate an accident…for if he is guilty of the sin “you shall not bring blood-guilt upon your house” and needs atonement. But this is not adjudicable before judges. [Ziegler translation]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. How does the author of this text try to mandate a law that is not measurable?

2. What power dynamics are at play?

3. In what ways have the concerns here been addressed in contemporary labor law? What still needs to be addressed - particularly in a global context?

לא יצא האיש לא בסייף ולא בקשת ולא בתריס ולא באלה ולא ברומח ואם יצא חייב חטאת רבי אליעזר אומר תכשיטין הן לו וחכמים אומרים אינן אלא לגנאי שנאמר וכתתו חרבותם לאתים וחניתותיהם למזמרות ולא ישא גוי אל גוי חרב ולא ילמדו עוד מלחמה בירית טהורה ויוצאין בה בשבת כבלים טמאים ואין יוצאין בהן בשבת.

One must not go out [on Shabbat] with a sword, bow, shield, lance, or spear; and if one goes out, he/she incurs a sin-offering. Rabbi Eliezer said: They are ornaments. But the sages maintain they are merely shameful, for it is said, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: Nation shall not lift sword up against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. A knee-band is clean, and one may go out with it on the Sabbath; ankle-chains are unclean, and one may not go out with them on the Sabbath. [Soncino translation. Edited for gender neutrality]

Suggested Discussion Questions

1. Why does Rabbi Eliezer say that weapons are ornamental? Why do the sages say that they are shameful? What is the reason for each argument?

2. Do you see evidence of the same argument in the world today? Where?