Sago Boulevard

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Rabbis Who Give Torah a Bad Name

Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein's article in today's LA Times opens with a misleading and irresponsible mention of a few biblical prohibitions.
Did any of us insult our parents? If so, according to the Torah, death by stoning is the decree. Women, did you wear pants last year? If so, according to the Torah, death by stoning is your decree too.

You don't need to be a Reform Jew to realize that these ancient laws are beyond the pale. Among them is the infamous ayin tachat ayin — an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. To modern Western culture, this is simply barbarism.

A rabbi should know better. First, ayin tahat ayin is understood as requiring reparations in the amount of the value of the damage inflicted. There is absolutely no evidence that biblical or rabbinic courts ever did otherwise.

The rabbis make a tremendous effort to avoid capital punishment, making it near impossible for a halakhic court to execute anybody. For Rabbi Stein to flippantly suggest that the Torah would demand stoning in these cases in an article addressed to an audience largely unfamiliar with the nuances of halakhic discourse is disrespectful to the Torah itself and incredibly foolish.

And women being stoned for wearing pants?! Are you kidding? Now of course, if Rabbi Stein cited the appropriate texts, it would be clear how strained of an interpretation this is - even if there are some who may understand it this way. To mention it as he does, without qualification, is simply dishonest.