Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Printed from
Contact Us
Visit us on Facebook

Doesn't "an eye for an eye" make the whole world blind?

Doesn't "an eye for an eye" make the whole world blind?


Eye see what you mean. ;-)

According to Jewish tradition, this verse was never understood or applied literally. Rather, according to the Oral Law, this injunction is a call for commensurate monetary compensation for damage inflicted on another's person.

All the Biblical commentators, starting from Rashi to Targum Yonatan interpret the verse as such. This interpretation is based on a discussion in the Talmud, tractate Bava Kama 84, and in the Mechilta, ad loc.

The Ibn Ezra discusses this verse at length, and explains how even according to simple logic, the verse could not possibly be understood literally. For it is impossible to ever exact precisely the same damage on the other person. Like the argument employed against Shylock as to why he could have his pound of flesh, but not an iota more.

Rabbi Eliezer Danzinger for

Rabbi Eliezer Danzinger, first content editor for, is the translator and editor of several important chassidic texts. He also serves as the Jewish chaplain for York Central Hospital, and for numerous Federal prisons. Rabbi Danzinger currently resides in Toronto, Canada, with his wife, Yehudis, and their children.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
1000 characters remaining
Email me when new comments are posted.
Sort By:
Discussion (5)
October 12, 2015
MER, the עין תחת עין שן תחת שן commandment occurs within the context of a discussion about the difference between homicide and lesser crimes. From the outset, non-fatal damages call for a monetary fine. In the only specific case of a real eye or tooth being put out, which deals with slaves, the consequence is that the slave should be set free, so there is no actual putting out of eyes or teeth. Losing one's first eye would be a harsher punishment than losing one's last eye, so that would violate the principle of equity.

As for the commandment to wipe out those non-Jews, it doesn't apply to all non-Jews (nor to anybody who's actually been around for 20-something centuries) but only to certain specific nations who behaved particularly badly. Without the blanket destruction of everybody, what's to stop one from starting wars in order to enslave women and children and take livestock and other loot for their own purposes?
Susan Ellman
March 3, 2010
I believe that the "eye for an eye" doctrine applies primarily to civil law among and between individuals inhabiting the same community. The rules of war--and total war, at that--concern behavior between hostile groups and are necessarily very different, and rarely fair or equitable, either back then or now.
Forest Hills, NY
March 1, 2010
Interpreting Eye for an Eye
I am happy to know this but I wonder how this interpretation works considering the very ancient bible stories of Gd's injunctions to Jewish armies to completely wipe out other communities (non jewish) either because they were not Jewish, or they were settled on land Gd had reserved for the Jews etc. I am referring to those texts which require all people, men women and children, all animals, and even growing things of the land, be destroyed. There are cases where fruit trees were spared, and supposedly the deaths were sacrifices to Gd, but there was no equity in those actions. I recognize this was ancient history and does not reflect what Jewish religion teaches today or how it evolved. I think Judaism stopped trying to justify violence a long time ago. Sadly the same is not true for Christianity or Islam.
Honolulu, HI
May 6, 2009
What it really means
The principle behind "an eye for an eye" is that a punishment should fit the crime, not exceed it. THat's why it calls for an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and not an eye for a tooth or a tooth for an eye.
Forest Hills, NY
February 21, 2007
an eye for an eye, and so on ... and on ...
I c! Whew! What a relief!
Mark Cameron
Walsenburg, Colorado