Tag Archives: Slavery

The Final Positive Mitzvot (P#224-248)

Read the full text here. 

A goring bull, one of the most common causes of damage in ancient times.

Summary: Mitzvot #224-231 deal with meting out various forms of punishment for sins and crimes, including both corporal punishment and four kinds of capital punishment. The next four mitzvot deal with laws of slavery. Mitzvot #236-246 all have to do with laws of damages, including the four main categories of damages which are a goring ox, a hazardous pit, grazing animals, and fire (as discussed at length in the Talmud, tractate Bava Kamma). Mitzvah #247 is to save a person who is being pursued. The final positive mitzvah deals with the laws of inheritance.

Insight: Although the Torah commands four kinds of death penalties, in reality the death penalty was quite rare in ancient Israel. The Mishnah (Makkot 1:10) states that a Sanhedrin that put someone to death even once in seventy years was called a “destructive” or “bloodthirsty” court, and was looked upon unfavourably. Great sages like Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Tarfon said they would never rule to put anyone to death. Ultimately, the Sages found a way to abolish the death penalty altogether. Similarly, while the Torah does allow for servitude, the laws are so favourable towards the slave that our Sages stated “one who gains a slave, gains a master!” Among other things, a slave was required to eat the same meals as his master, and sleep in the same kind of bed. The Torah prohibits owning a slave for more than six years, as every seventh year all slaves were freed. Interestingly, the Torah speaks of the procedure when a slave wishes to remain in servitude to his master beyond the seven years. Such a possibility exists only because the slave was treated so well.