Mishpatim – Sheini

What for an Eye?

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Killing a slave is also a capital crime, but only if he dies as a direct result of the injury. Causing a woman to miscarry results in a monetary penalty, but if the woman herself dies, it’s a capital offense. Appropriate damages are paid for the loss of an eye, a tooth or other limb. (This is the meaning of “an eye for an eye, etc.” – the PRICE of an eye or other organ! Throughout the Bible, we never see someone have a hand or foot hacked off by the courts and no authority suggests that we should.) If one knocks out a slave’s eye or tooth, the slave goes free.

If an ox kills a person, the ox is stoned; it may not be eaten. The owner is not punished unless the ox had a prior history of goring people. If he was warned and failed to take precautions, he really deserves to die but, mercifully, he is permitted to pay financial penalties that will spare his life. If the ox gores a slave, the fine is 30 silver shekels, payable to the slave’s owner.

If someone digs a hole and an animal falls in and dies, he must pay the owner for the animal. If an ox gores another person’s ox, the live ox is sold and they split the monetary value of both oxen. But, again, if the ox had a history of goring, then the negligent owner must pay for the dead ox.

If someone steals an ox or a sheep and slaughters or sells it, he must repay the owner with five oxen or four sheep, respectively.

If a thief is caught breaking into a house and is killed, it’s considered self-defense. If he’s killed on the way out, it’s murder because the home owner is no longer in danger. A thief must repay what he stole and if he can’t, he is sold to work it off. If he’s found with a stolen object (including live animals), he must pay double what he stole.

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