This Week’s Torah Portion

Watch the whole show.

I discuss the weekly Torah portion with Rabbi Rabbs every Monday at 7pm PST on my live cam and YouTube.

The rabbi reacts to my video and essay of a year ago about Orthodox homosexuals wanting a special deal.

Feb. 18, 2010:


Last week’s show and the rabbi recommends this list of Jewish websites you should not visit!

This week we have Parashat Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18).

These are instructions for how to lead a life. This parsha deals with tough stuff like slavery. The Torah isn’t feel good. It just does good.

There is no realm of “religion” in Torah. Torah covers everything. Jewish religion is not confined to ritual and temple.

The central experience of Jewish history is slavery and redemption and getting the law, which is going to include slavery.

Knowing how bad it is to be a slave, here is how you treat a slave.

The Hebrew word for slave is the identical word for servant and bond man. The Jews are to be slaves or servants of God.

Thieves and debtors were two of the three classes to become slaves (along with paupers). Not such a bad system. Better than ours. Why is it more dignified to take charity than to work for somebody for room and board?

People who have served prison time have not paid their debt to society. They have just sucked more resources from society for their upkeep. Better to put them to work to pay their debts.

Instead of welfare, bankruptcy and prison, the Torah has slavery or indentured servitude.

If you knock a slave’s tooth out, you have to let him go. If a slave runs away, he can not be returned to his master. There is no comparison with the slavery blacks suffered in the United States.

Judaism is revolutionary in its theology but evolutionary in its ethics. (Dennis Prager)

The Torah gives you great principles (such as the Ten Commandments) and then follows up with specific examples.

It’s easy to give a code of ritual behavior (such as prayer three times a day) but it is hard to give an ethical code.

The Torah is unique among the Near-East law codes that the wife is entitled to sexual gratification.

Kidnapping is forbidden.

If you kill your slave, you are put to death. No Near-Eastern parallel to this.

Bondservants are both people and property, just as a wife can be a human being and a sex object. A waiter is human and a utility to use to get your meal.

* We have moral obligations to animals. The thief who steals an animal and then kills it has much more restitution to pay because you might have had an emotional connection to the animal.

* If you are in the market for a slave and you have a choice between a Jew and a non-Jew, you should choose the Jew. (Artscroll chumash, Exodus 21:2)

* What is the role of luck in Torah? It does not seem to be much. Either people choose to do something or God does it. (Ex. 21:12 about manslaughter) Ex. 21:35 is an example of luck rather than culpability.

* According to the Artscroll on Ex. 21:22: “Causing the death of a fetus is not a capital offense, but the person responsible must pay damages.”

* Ex. 21:28 If an ox kills, the ox is put to death. If a mentally ill person kills, he too should be put to death because he knows more about what he is doing than does an ox. It is not right to allow to live those who take human life.

The law about an ox goring has relevance to our lives today. If you’ve been warned and you keep engaging in risky behavior, and you kill someone, you should pay the ultimate price.

* What should we do about blokes who seduce virgins (Ex. 22:15)? Shall we make them pay what virginity is worth in modern terms? What is that amount? How important is it to you that you marry a virgin? According to the Artscroll, he must pay a fine for humiliating her. Is that fine dependent on the things he made her do? Are certain acts more humiliating than others or is it the ethos of the thing rather than the raw physicality? What makes love making humiliating?

* Ex. 22:17. You shall not permit a sorceress to live. What’s a sorceress? Is the author of the Harry Potter novels a sorceress?

* Ex. 23:26: There shall be no woman who loses her young or is infertile in your land. What does this mean?

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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