The Jewish Legal System

21:1 While Moses was still on the Mount Sinai, God gave him the general outline of all the Torah's commandments.1 In this context, He repeated the legal code that He gave the people at Marah2 and that Moses reviewed before the giving of the Torah.3 By repeating these laws on Mount Sinai, God endowed them with the same legal force as the rest of the Torah.4 He also taught Moses the details of the commandments in the following section.5 Inasmuch as the details of these laws are too complex to learn in only forty days, God "gave" Moses a full understanding of them on the last day.6 God gave the details of the rest of the commandments (with a few exceptions7) between Tishrei 10, 2449, when Moses descended Mount Sinai,8 and Iyar 20, 2449, when the people began their journeys.9

God prefaced this section by saying: "In order to adjudicate legal cases, you will have to set up a system of courts. The highest of these courts, the Sanhedrin, must be located adjacent to the Tabernacle, wherein the people will offer their sacrifices, in order to decide cases of ritual law. Furthermore, you must teach the legal code to the people thoroughly and explain the derivations and reasoning behind each law so they understand it well. Tell them that they must bring all their legal cases to their own courts and not to those of other nations—even if these other courts try a particular case according to the same legal principles laid out in the Torah—for this would imply that the Jewish courts are incapable of trying such a case. This causes embarrassment to the Jewish people and enhances the prestige of these non-Jewish courts, whereas My intent is that the Jewish people inspire the other nations to imitate them. These are some of the laws that you shall set before them:

The Hebrew Bondman

2 Although you are all now wealthy because of the booty you took in Egypt and at the Sea of Reeds, there may nonetheless come a time when things will be different.10 Thus, if, in the future, one of you becomes so poor that he steals something, and he cannot pay back its value, the court may sell him for a period of service in order to pay back his debt.11 If you buy such a Hebrew bondman from the court, he shall serve you for six years, and in the seventh year he shall go free without further obligation to make any payment. He will also go free in the Jubilee year, even if this occurs prior to the end of the six years from when he was purchased.12

3 It will be explained presently13 that if you wish, you may give this bondman a non-Jewish maidservant so that he may father non-Jewish children through her, who will then be your legal servants. But this applies only if he is already married to a Jewish woman: if he comes to you single, you may not give him a non-Jewish bondwoman for a wife, and thus, when he leaves your service, he shall leave still being single. On the other hand, if he has a Jewish wife when he begins his term of service, you are obligated to provide not only for his needs but also for those of his wife and his family as along as he is in your service—even though they do not become your servants together with him. Of course, when he leaves your service, his wife shall leave your care with him and you will no longer have to provide for her.14

4 If he has a Jewish wife and his master gives him a non-Jewish bondwoman for a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and when he leaves his master's service, he shall leave alone, i.e., without them, and return to his Jewish wife and family.

5 But if, in such a case, the bondman repeatedly says, 'I am fond of my master, my non-Jewish wife and my non-Jewish children; I do not want to go free,'

6 then his master shall bring him to the court that sold him and they shall take him to the door. The door must be standing upright, like the doorpost. His master shall then pierce his right ear with an awl and he shall serve him until the next Jubilee year, when he will go free whether he wants to or not.15 He is given the relatively light punishment of having his ear pierced16 since we give him the benefit of the doubt: he probably stole because of his abject poverty, and it is certainly natural that he should harbor affection for his wife and children, even though they are not Jewish. Nonetheless, his right ear is pierced, because the right, better ear signifies proper use of the power of hearing. He heard Me say 'You shall not steal!'17 on Mount Sinai, but he nonetheless went and stole, and is not embarrassed about it—as evidenced by the fact that he is in no hurry to be rid of the stigma of having been sold into slavery because of it. The ear is pierced against a door, which in turn must be standing upright like a doorpost, because the door and doorpost were witnesses, so to speak, to how I liberated the people from slavery in Egypt,18 and this individual nonetheless chose to prolong his slavery."19 Because these laws recall the Giving of the Torah, they are the first ones God gave after the Giving of the Torah.20

The Hebrew Bondmaid

7 "If a man is too poor to marry off his daughter, he may sell her for a period of service to a wealthier family with the intention that she eventually marry a member of this family. In such a case, the money paid to the girl's father will retroactively become her betrothal money. If a man sells his daughter in this way as a bondmaid, he can only do so if she is still a minor, that is, if she is less than twelve years old and has not yet shown signs of incipient puberty.21 She shall serve the master either for six years, or until the Jubilee year, or until she shows signs of incipient puberty—whichever comes first. She shall not leave his service as non-Jewish bondmen do, i.e., in consequence of the master inflicting a blow that causes the loss of a tooth or an eye.22 If her master causes her such damage, he must pay her full restitution according to law, but she does not go free because of it.

8 If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master, who should have designated her as a wife for himself, and prior to the end of her term of service the opportunity arises for her to be redeemed from it monetarily, the master shall assist in her redemption by allowing her to be redeemed for less money than he paid for her, proportionate to the fraction of the six-year period she actually served. He is not authorized to sell her to another master, for he betrayed her by not marrying her. Similarly, her father is not authorized to sell her to another master, for he already betrayed her once by selling her to someone who did not eventually marry her, and may not subject her to such an ordeal again.

9 If, on the other hand, the master designates her as a wife for his son, the son may also consider the money paid to the girl's father as her betrothal money. The son, as her husband, shall accord her the standard rights of girls who marry: food, clothing, and conjugal rights.

10 If he marries an additional wife, he may not reduce this one's food, clothing, or conjugal rights.

11 If the master takes none of these three earlier-listed courses of action for her—i.e., marrying her, marrying her off to his son, or letting her be redeemed—she shall go out free at the end of her term, without owing him any additional payment.

Murder and Manslaughter

12 "An adult who strikes a man, woman, or child so that the latter dies must be put to death.

13 If, however, he did not lie in wait or intend to kill, but God caused it to happen to him, then I shall provide you a place to which he shall flee. During your trek in the desert, this place of refuge will be the Levite camp;23 when you enter the Land of Israel, you will designate specific cities to serve as cities of refuge.24 God causes someone to kill someone else inadvertently in order for justice to be served. For example: a person killed someone intentionally, and another killed someone inadvertently, and there were no witnesses to either crime. Since there were no witnesses, the intentional murderer cannot be executed and the unintentional killer cannot be exiled. God arranges for them to stay at the same inn; the intentional murderer sits under a ladder and the unintentional killer climbs down this same ladder, slips, and falls on the intentional murderer, killing him. Thus, the intentional murderer receives his death penalty, while the unintentional killer is witnessed committing a second unintentional killing and is thus tried and sentenced to exile.

14 The law that a murderer must be put do death applies only if such a person acts intentionally against his fellow Jew to kill him with guile. But if a person kills someone while intending to kill someone else, or kills a non-Jew, or kills someone while administering a court-ordered punishment, or kills someone while trying to heal him, or kills his son or pupil while disciplining him, he is liable to other forms of punishment but does not incur the death penalty. But if someone is liable to the death penalty, you must administer it; even if he is a priest and is about to perform some priestly function, you shall take him from My very altar to die.

Honor to Parents

15 "He who strikes his father or mother and thereby inflicts a wound on them must be put to death by strangulation. A person who inflicts a wound on anyone else, however, is only liable for damages.25 According to one opinion, a person is liable to the death penalty for striking his or her parent only if the parent is righteous, but not if the parent is a sinner. According to another opinion, a person is liable to the death penalty for striking his or her parent whether the parent is righteous or not.


16 "He that kidnaps and sells a man or woman—and both the kidnapping and sale were witnessed, and thus the victim was seen in the kidnapper's possession before the sale—must be put to death by strangulation.

Honor to Parents, continued

17 An adult who curses his father or mother must be put to death by strangulation, even if he curses them after their death. A person is liable to the death penalty for cursing his or her parent only if the parent is righteous.

Compensation for Injuries

18 "When two men are quarreling and one man strikes the other with a stone or with his fist and he does not die but becomes bedridden,

19 if he then gets up and walks about outside under his own power, the one who struck him shall be acquitted. In the meantime, however, you must arrest the assailant and wait to see if his victim recovers. Still, he must pay for his loss of work and provide for his complete cure. He must pay him for the time he was away from work as if he was working as a guard, and pay his medical bills.

The Non-Jewish Bondman

Second Reading 20 "You are permitted to purchase certain non-Jews as bondmen or bondwomen,26 and the children of non-Jewish bondwomen in your possession also become your bondmen. If a man strikes his non-Jewish bondman or bondwoman in a place on the body susceptible to a lethal blow, and does so with a rod capable of inflicting a lethal blow, and he or she in fact dies under his hand, he or she must be avenged by putting the master to death by the sword.

21 Thus, the master incurs the death penalty for killing his non-Jewish bondman or bondwoman just as he would for killing anyone else.27 The only difference is the method of execution. However, there is an exception: if the bondman or bondwoman survives for at least one full day—i.e., for twenty-four hours from the time the blow is delivered—before dying, he shall not be avenged, since he is his master's property. If anyone else other than the master strikes the bondman or bondwoman, however, this leniency does not apply.

Compensation for Injuries, continued

22 "When men are fighting with each other and they accidentally collide with a pregnant woman, causing her to miscarry though not causing her a fatal injury, then the guilty party must be fined when the woman's husband sues him, and he shall pay at the court's discretion. The court determines how much this woman would have been sold for on the slave market when she was pregnant and how much she would be sold for now that she is not pregnant, and the guilty party must pay the difference to the woman's husband.

23 If, however, she suffers a fatal injury, you shall exact the monetary compensation of a life for a life. The guilty party must pay the woman's heirs the price she would have commanded on the slave market when alive. According to another opinion, the party guilty of manslaughter must be put to death.

24 Monetary compensation for an eye must be made for the loss of an eye, of a tooth for a tooth, of a hand for a hand, and of a foot for a foot. In all these cases, the assailant must pay the victim the difference between the price he would command on the slave market before and after incurring the injury.

25 Similarly, monetary compensation for a burn must be made for a burn, and likewise that of a bleeding wound for a wound, and that of a bloodless bruise for a bruise. In these cases, even though there may be no difference in the price the victim would command on the slave market before and after having incurred the injury, he must be compensated for the pain he suffers. This is calculated by determining how much money a person of similar social stature would agree to accept in exchange for suffering these injuries. The assailant must then pay this amount to the victim. The obligation to compensate the victim for his pain applies whether or not loss of a limb was incurred; the assailant may not argue, 'since I am paying for his limb, it is mine to do with as I please.' The assailant must pay whichever of the five forms of compensation—depreciation, pain, incapacitation, medical fees, and embarrassment—are applicable.

The Non-Jewish Bondman, continued

26 "The law of release after six years, at the Jubilee year, or (for females) upon the onset of puberty, does not apply to non-Jewish bondmen. They serve for life or for the term for which they were bought, unless someone pays for their release or their master frees them. If, however, a person strikes the eye of his non-Jewish bondman or the eye of his bondwoman and destroys it, he shall free him as compensation for his or her eye. The same applies if the master strikes and destroys any of the bondman's or bondwoman's fingers, toes, ears, nose, or (in the case of the bondman) his genitals.

27 Similarly, if he knocks out the permanent tooth of his bondman or the permanent tooth of his bondwoman, he shall free him as compensation for his tooth. This does not apply to primary teeth, however.

The Goring Animal

28 "If any animal, for example, an ox, gores a man or woman and the victim dies, the ox must be stoned and its meat may not be eaten—even if it had been properly ritually slaughtered instead of stoned. And no other material benefit may be derived from it, either. But the owner of the ox shall not be punished, as long as it is only the first, second, or third time this ox had gored someone.

29 However, if it was an ox that had gored on three previous occasions, and its owner had been warned in court by those who had witnessed it gore that it had thus proven itself to be a malicious ox and that he must therefore guard it, but he nonetheless did not guard it, and it then killed a man or a woman by goring or any other means, the ox shall be stoned. Its owner, too, will be put to death by the heavenly court, but not by the earthly court.

30 Nonetheless, the earthly court does fine him. When this atonement fine is imposed on him, he shall pay whatever sum is imposed on him by the court as ransom for his life. According to one opinion, he must pay the victim's heirs the victim's value on the slave market; according to another opinion, he must pay them his own value on the slave market.

31 This law does not only apply to adult victims: if the ox gores and kills a boy or a girl, the owner shall be dealt with according to the same law.

32 However, if the ox gores a bondman or a bondwoman, its owner shall pay a fixed fine of thirty silver shekels to his or her master—this being the average worth of a bondman28but the ox shall still be stoned.

The Pit

33 "If a person uncovers a pit that had been properly covered, or digs an already existing pit, deepening it, and does not cover it, and this pit is located in the public domain, and an ox, or a donkey, or any other animal falls into it,

34 the one responsible for the pit must make restitution. He is not liable, however, for damages suffered by people or utensils the animal may be carrying when it falls. The one responsible for the pit shall restore the value of the animal to its owner, taking into consideration that the carcass remains the owner's property. The value of the animal when it was alive is compared to its present value as a carcass, and the one responsible for the pit pays the difference to the animal's owner.

The Goring Animal, continued

35 If one man's animal, for example, his ox, attacks his fellowman's ox by goring, lunging, kicking, or biting it, and the attacking ox has not yet been proven to be malicious,29 and the attacked ox dies, then, if both oxen had the same value when they were both alive, the owners shall sell the live ox and divide the proceeds, and they shall also divide the value of the carcass. In this way, the owner of the attacking ox compensates the owner of the attacked ox for half his loss.30 If the oxen had different values when both were alive, the owner of the attacking ox still compensates the owner of the attacked ox for half his loss, but only up to the full value of the attacking ox.31

36 However, if the ox was known to have gored on at least three previous occasions and had thus been proven to be malicious, yet its owner did not guard it, and it attacked someone else's ox and killed it, he must pay the full value of an ox in compensation for the ox, i.e., he must compensate the owner of the attacked ox for the full value of his loss, taking into consideration that the carcass remains its owner's property. The owner of the attacking ox pays the owner of the attacked ox the value the ox had when alive minus its value now as a carcass.


37 "If a man steals an ox or sheep or goat and slaughters or sells it, and is then caught or admits his guilt, he shall repay five oxen in place of the ox and four sheep in place of the sheep. Normally, a thief is required to pay back only double the value of what he stole;32 this extra fine applies only to oxen and sheep. The basic fine charged to the thief is five times the value of the stolen animal, but this is reduced in the case of a sheep because the thief has to carry it on his back in order to steal it, and this causes him some embarrassment when his case is tried in court, and we must concern ourselves with human dignity even in the case of a thief. (Inasmuch as he only has to pay this extra fine when he slaughters or sells the sheep, it is only in such a case that the public focuses on the fact that he had to carry it on his back, and so only here is his punishment lessened on this account.) In contrast, the basic restitution given to the victim of the theft is four times the value of the stolen animal, but this is increased in the case of an ox because an ox is a working animal, and the damage to the victim is therefore greater. Even though an ox plows the field at most twice a year—and, if the thief sold the ox, this would indicate that it was not particularly suited to plowing—this inflated fine is still imposed, in order to emphasize the value of productive work.33

22:1 "If a thief is caught while breaking in, and he is struck by someone guarding the property he is attempting to steal and the thief dies, there is no bloodguilt in his case. For the thief knows full well that people will defend their property, so he takes the risk of mortal combat when he breaks in.

2 If, however, metaphorically, the sun shone on him, i.e., it is clear that he is uncontentious and will not kill the one guarding the property if he opposes him, it is an act of murder to kill him. Similarly, if there are witnesses present who warn the guard not to kill the thief, it is an act of murder to kill him, since the thief will not kill in the presence of witnesses. In any case, a thief must make full restitution for what he steals. If he does not have the means, he must be sold as a bondman to make restitution for his theft.34

3 If the stolen article is actually found in his possession, whether it be an ox, a donkey, or a sheep, and it is still alive—he did not slaughter or sell it—he shall repay two live animals, and not four or five, in contrast to the rule stated above35 and in accordance with the rule stated below.36

Compensation for Damages

Third Reading 4 "If a man takes his animals into someone else's field or vineyard, and he lets them trample or graze in this other person's field or vineyard, then, he must pay for the damages. If he wishes to pay for the damages with land rather than money, he shall make restitution with the best of his field or the best of his vineyard.

5 "If a fire breaks out—even accidentally—and spreads through thorns, so that it consumes stacked or standing grain or a newly-plowed field, hardening it so the owner has to plow it again, the one who kindled the fire must make restitution. Even though he started the fire on his own property, he did not take sufficient measures to prevent it from spreading onto someone else's property, and is therefore liable for damages.

The Unpaid Consignee

6 "If a man gives his fellowman money or objects for unpaid safekeeping, and the consignee asserts that although he was not negligent in their care they were nonetheless stolen from his house, then, if the thief is found he must make double restitution to the owner of the goods.

7 But if the thief is not found, and the consigner accuses the consignee of stealing the goods himself, and the consignee admits that he took a portion of the goods but not all of them, then, the owner of the house—the consignee—shall approach the judges to swear that he did not lay a hand on his fellowman's property any more than he admits. By taking this oath, the consignee exempts himself from having to pay anything further to the consigner.

8 If the consigner afterwards brings witnesses who testify that the consignee has stolen more than he has admitted, then, in every such case of possible dishonesty, whether it involves an ox, a donkey, a sheep, a garment, or anything allegedly lost or stolen, and witnesses testify, "This is it—the disputed goods are in the possession of the consignee," the claims of both parties—the witnesses (testifying on behalf of the consigner) and the consignee—shall come before the judges. The party whom the judges find guilty shall make double restitution to his fellowman: If the judges accept the testimony of the witnesses, they pronounce the consignee a thief and he must pay double the value of the goods to the consigner. If the judges determine that the testimony of the witnesses is false, the witnesses must pay double the value of the goods to the consignee. The rule that the guilty party must make double restitution applies only when the consignee first swore that he did not steal the consigner's goods; if, however, the consigner first brings witnesses who testify that the consignee is a thief and the judges accept their testimony, the consignee does not need to swear and only has to pay the consigner the actual value of his goods.

The Paid Consignee

9 "If a man gives his fellowman a donkey, an ox, a sheep, or any other animal for paid safekeeping, and it dies naturally, or is fatally maimed by a wild beast, or carried off by robbers,and there are no eyewitnesses,

10 then an oath to God shall take place between the two of them: the consignee shall swear that he did not lay a hand on his fellowman's property to use it. For if he used it, he is no longer considered a 'paid consignee' but a 'hirer' and as such is responsible in these cases.37 But if he swears that he did not use it, the owner shall accept the oath, and the consignee need not pay the consigner anything.

11 If, however, it was in fact stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner. Unlike the unpaid consignee, the paid consignee is responsible for theft.

12 If in fact it was killed by a wild beast, and this was witnessed, then the consignee need not swear to that effect; he shall produce witnesses, and then he need not make restitution for the mauled animal. But in any case, the consignee is exempt from responsibility only when the consigner's animal was attacked by an animal he could not contend with, such as a wolf, a bear, or a snake. But if it was attacked by an animal he could have deflected, such as a cat, a fox, or a marten, he is held responsible.

The Borrower and the Hirer

13 If a man borrows something from his fellowman and it breaks or dies, and its owner was not also employed by the borrower to work with him, the borrower must make restitution. Unlike the paid consignee, the borrower is responsible for accidental loss.

14 If, however, its owner was employed by the borrower to work with him, the borrower need not make restitution. In fact, the owner need not be employed in the same kind of work the borrowed object or animal was borrowed for, and he need not have been employed at the moment the accident occurred. As long as the owner was in the borrower's employ when he borrowed the object from him, the borrower is not responsible for accidental loss.

If, in contrast, the article was hired, it has come into the hirer's service in exchange for its rental price, and he is therefore not a borrower, and is not held responsible for accidental loss as the borrower is. However, there are two opinions regarding what the hirer is responsible for: according to one opinion, he is responsible only for negligence, as is the unpaid consignee; according to another opinion, he is responsible also for theft, as is the paid consignee.

The Seducer

15 If a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed and engages in sexual intercourse with her, he shall marry her with a marriage contract.

16 If her father utterly refuses to give her to him in marriage, he shall weigh out money according to the customary monetary settlement of virgins, i.e., fifty shekels.38


17 "You shall not allow a sorcerer or sorceress to live. He or she must be tried by the court and executed.


18 "Whoever engages in sexual intercourse with an animal must be tried by the court and put to death by stoning.


19 "Whoever sacrifices, offers incense, pours a libation, or prostrates himself39 to idols shall be tried by the court and put to death by stoning. Such forms of service are permitted only to God alone. Serving idols in other ways, such as sweeping the floor in front of it, kissing it, etc., is punishable by death only if this is the way that particular idol is normally worshipped; otherwise, performing such acts is a non-capital offense and is punishable only by lashes.


20 "You shall not taunt a foreigner who has converted to Judaism nor oppress him by robbing him of money, for you yourselves were foreigners in the land of Egypt, so he can easily taunt you back. Although it is forbidden to rob anyone, it is especially sinful to rob a convert.

21 You shall not cause pain to anyone, but particularly to any person with limited means to defend themselves against you, such as a widow or orphan.

22 If you do cause them pain, you will certainly get your just deserts! For if a widow or orphan will urgently cry out to Me, I will certainly heed their cry and punish you measure for measure:40

23 My wrath shall blaze forth and I will kill you by the sword, and there will be no witnesses to your death, so that your wives will have to remain widows, unable to remarry, and your children will remain destitute orphans, since they will be unable to inherit your wealth.

24 "When a fellow Israelite asks you for a loan and you are able to lend to him, you must do so. Therefore, when you lend money, if you have to choose between lending to a Jew or to a non-Jew, you should lend first to My people, your fellow Jews. Furthermore, if you have to choose between lending to a rich man or a poor man, you should lend first to the poor man; if you have to choose between a poor relative and another poor person, you should lend first to your poor relative; if you have to choose between lending to a local poor man or a distant poor man, you should lend first to the poor man in your midst. In any case, if the borrower cannot pay you back at the appointed time, you shall not act towards him like a creditor, demanding payment, but rather act towards him as if he does not owe you money. Treat him respectfully, for he is still one of My people; put yourself in his place. Furthermore, you may not charge him interest.

25 If, when he does not pay at the appointed time, you repeatedly take your fellowman's day-garment as a pledge, you shall return it to him every morning until sunset,

26 for this alone is his outer cloak, or the inner garment for his skin. If you take his couch as a pledge, you must also return it to him every morning, for if you do not, with what shall he lie down to rest during the day? If you do not return these items, then when he cries out to Me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.

Respect for Authority

Fourth Reading 27 "You shall not curse God or a judge, nor may you curse a leader of your people, i.e., the king or anyone else with executive authority granted him either by the Torah or the ruling government.41

Donations Due to the Tribe of Levi

28 "I will later command you to give the priests and Levites certain specific portions of your agricultural produce. Do not give these dues out of order; for example, you shall not delay your tax of newly-ripened first fruits (bikurim)42 by giving the priests their portion of your oil, wine, and grain (terumah)43 first, nor shall you delay your terumah by giving the Levites your tithes (ma'aser)44 first. As I have told you,45 you shall present to Me the firstborn of your sons and redeem them by giving five shekels to a priest. Just as your firstborn sons are to be redeemed only after they are 30 days old,46

29 you shall do likewise with your ox and your flocks: give your firstborn oxen to the priest only after it is 50 days old47 and your firstborn sheep and goats only after they are 30 days old. If you are a priest and you take a firstborn animal from a lay Israelite before the specified time, and you wish to offer it as a sacrifice, it shall remain with its mother for seven days, and only on the eighth day or later you shall give it to Me.

Forbidden Meat

30 "You shall be holy people unto Me: you shall therefore not eat flesh torn off living animals by beasts in the field or anywhere else. Similarly, you shall not eat the flesh of animals that were not ritually slaughtered, nor of animals that were fatally wounded, even if they were ritually slaughtered before they actually died. But if you do not refrain from eating the meat of such animals, I will not consider you holy unto Me. Although you may derive any other benefit you wish from such meat,48 you shall preferably cast it to the dogs, because they obeyed My command not to whet their tongues against you when you left Egypt,49 and this will be their reward.

Truth in Justice

23:1 "You shall not accept a false report from someone wishing to slander someone else. If you are a judge, you should not listen to one party's arguments until the other party is also present. You shall not join forces with a wicked person—i.e., someone planning to make a false claim against someone else—by even promising to be a corrupt witness on his behalf.50

2 If you are involved in any dispute, and you see that most people are mistaken about the truth, you shall not follow the majority to do evil, and, in response to the defendant's question regarding your stance in this case, you may not stray from the truth and follow the incorrect majority view, thereby perverting justice. Rather, you shall state the truth as you see it and not be afraid if your opinion does not accord with that of the majority; let them bear the responsibility for their views. Do not even try to avoid conflict by declining to voice your opinion.

"Also, in capital cases tried in a court: you shall not follow a simple majority—in which there is only one more judge in favor of conviction than there are judges in favor of acquittal—to do evil, i.e., to convict the defendant. However, you may follow such a majority to do good, i.e., to acquit the defendant. If, however, there are two more judges in favor of conviction than there are in favor of acquittal, you shall follow such a majority and convict the defendant. Furthermore, if you are a lesser judge, you shall not speak against the opinion of the chief judge, inclining against his opinion. Therefore, the lesser judges must voice their opinions before the chief judge voices his.

3 "You shall not show deference to a poor man in his lawsuit in order to give him the respect he usually does not get. Rather, you must judge the case according to the truth.

Behavior toward Enemies

4 "If you come across your enemy's ox or donkey going astray, you shall return it to him, repeatedly if you have to.

5 "When you see the donkey of someone you hate crouching under its load, you must disregard your hatred and help the person unload his donkey. (This is not a case of minimizing an animal's pain,51 for carrying too heavy a load does not cause the donkey excessive pain; he will simply crouch and try to relieve himself of the load.) You are permitted not to help the person: (a) if doing so is beneath your dignity or you are not strong enough—for example, if you are an elder, or (b) if the donkey belongs to a non-Jew—to whom you are not required to show exceptional consideration,52 even if the load belongs to a Jew. In all other cases, however, would you refrain from helping it just because you are allowed not to in these two cases?! Rather, you must help the person you hate unload his donkey.53

Truth in Justice, continued

Fifth Reading 6 "You shall not pervert justice for your destitute countryman in his lawsuit.

7 You shall distance yourself from any falsehood. You shall not execute a possibly innocent person: if, in a capital case, someone was convicted in court and then a witness to his innocence appears, you must retry him. On the other hand, you shall not execute an acquitted person: if he was acquitted in court and then a witness to his guilt appears, you must not retry him. Do not worry about justice in such a case, for I will not exonerate the wicked. If he is indeed guilty, I have many ways to make sure he gets the punishment he deserves.

8 You shall not accept a bribe, even from the party who is in the right, for bribery blinds the clear-sighted and distorts the way he applies the Torah's words of righteousness. Someone who accepts bribery will eventually become confused, forget all the Torah he has learned, and lose his eyesight.

Exploitation, continued

9 "You shall not oppress a foreigner who has converted to Judaism; you know the feelings of a foreigner, for you yourselves were foreigners in the land of Egypt. Although I have already said this,54 I repeat it for emphasis. You must be very careful not to oppress converts, because they may be prone to abandon Judaism if they are mistreated.

The Sabbatical Year

10 "For six years you may sow your land and gather in its crops,

11 but during the seventh year you must leave your field untended by not working it and withdraw from it by not taking care of it. Furthermore, as soon as a particular type of produce has been eaten up by undomesticated animals in the field, you must remove whatever of that type of produce you have stored away for your own animals and place it in the field so it becomes available for all animals equally.55 In the Sabbatical year, all of you, even the needy among your people may eat its produce the same way that the beasts of the field eat whatever is left—without obligation to give a tithe (ma'aser)56 to the Levites. You shall do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.

12 Even though the whole year is a 'Sabbatical year'57 and is a reminder that I created the world,58 you must still observe the weekly Sabbath, for the Sabbatical year involves resting only from agricultural work, and its effect is therefore only felt during working hours, and only by farmers, gardeners, and the like.59 Six days you may do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease, so that your ox and your donkey may rest by grazing unfettered in the field. Do not cage them in, for this is painful to them and it is forbidden to cause animals unnecessary pain. In addition, you must cease working on the Sabbath so that your non-Jewish, uncircumcised bondwoman's sonand the resident alien may be refreshed. Normally, all your non-Jewish bondmen must be circumcised.60 However, if you buy an adult non-Jewish bondman, and he hesitates to undergo circumcision, you may wait up to a year for him to consent. If, after this time, he still refuses, you must sell him back to the non-Jew.61 During this interim period, he is not yet termed 'your bondman,' but only 'your bondwoman's son,' whether or not he is actually the son of your bondwoman. According to one opinion, uncircumcised non-Jewish bondmen must observe all the prohibitions against work on the Sabbath a full Jew must observe on a festival, while resident aliens62 must observe only those prohibitions a full Jew must observe on the intermediate days of festivals. According to another opinion, it is exactly the opposite: resident aliens must observe all the prohibitions against work a full Jew must observe on a festival, and uncircumcised non-Jewish bondmen must observe only those prohibitions a full Jew must observe on the intermediate days of festivals.63

Active Commandments and Prohibitions

13 You shall be vigilant in everything I have instructed you. I say this in order to make all 'active' commandments into prohibitions as well: when I tell you to do something, I am at the same time telling you not to refrain from doing it or doing it otherwise.

Idolatry, continued

You shall not mention the names of others' gods; for example, you must not say to someone, 'wait for me next to this or that idol' or 'on the holiday of this or than idol.' Nor shall your mouth cause the names of others' gods to be heard from an idolater: do not engage an idolater in business, for then he will be apt to swear in his idol's name. Serving idols is tantamount to transgressing every command in the Torah and refraining from serving them is tantamount to observing every command in the Torah.

The Sabbatical Year, continued

14 "Just as the Sabbatical year does not render the weekly Sabbath superfluous, neither does it nullify the festivals, even though they are associated with the agricultural cycle and you will not be working the earth this year.64 Thus, even during the Sabbatical year, you shall celebrate a pilgrim festival for Methree times a year by congregating in Jerusalem, offering specified sacrifices, observing specified rites, and partially refraining from work:

15 You shall observe Passover, the Festival of Matzos. For seven days you shall eat matzos as I have commanded you, at the appointed time in Nisan, the month of the beginning of the grain-ripening, for in that season you left Egypt. When you congregate at the Temple for the pilgrim festivals, you shall not appear before Me empty-handed. You must bring an animal and sacrifice it as an ascent-offering.

16 You shall also observe Shavuot, the Festival of the Harvest, by offering two loaves of wheat bread.65 This is the first produce of your labors that you sow in the field that may be offered in the Temple. Only from this point on may you use the new crop for grain-offerings and bring your first-fruit offerings. You shall also observe Sukot, the Festival of the Ingathering of your produce at the end of the year, when you gather in your produce from the field, where it has been drying all summer, to the barns, to protect it from the coming rains.

17 Three times a year all your menfolk shall appear before Me, God, the Master of the World—even during the Sabbatical year.

18 You shall not sacrifice My Passover blood-sacrifice in the presence of leavened bread, i.e., before you have removed all the leavened bread from your possession. The fat portions of My festival offering that must be burned on the altar must at least have begun to be burned during the night following the day the sacrifice was offered. They may not be left off the altar overnight until morning, for if they are, they invalidate the entire sacrifice.

19 "Even though you must rest from working the earth during the Sabbatical year, you shall still bring the first-ripened fruits and produce of your land to the House of God, your God, as you do every year. This obligation applies only to the seven types of produce by which the Land of Israel is distinguished: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates.66

Mixing Milk and Meat

You shall not eat67 a young animal of the goats, sheep, or cows that has been cooked in its mother's milk, nor in the milk of any other any animal it is permitted to eat. This is an act of cruelty, and it is forbidden to be cruel to animals."68

The Conquest of the Land of Israel

Sixth Reading 20 "You are presently free from sin and therefore My presence can abide with you and accompany you wherever you go. If, in the future, however, you will sin, My presence will not be able to dwell with you openly. When that happens, I am going to send the angel Metatron69 before you to protect you on the way, and to bring you to the Land of Israel, the place that I have designated70 for you to occupy and settle in order to fulfill your mission of raising the world's Divine consciousness, and, in particular, to the special, central place that I have long ago prepared for revealing Myself—by situating the site of the heavenly Temple directly above the site where you will build the earthly Temple.71 This means that the Land of Israel in general and the future site of the Temple in particular are the locales most receptive to the spiritual consciousness of the higher worlds.

21 Even though I will send you this angel because your spiritual level will have fallen, you should still be watchful in his presence—heed his voice and do not rebel against him, for he will not overlook your iniquity. He, being an angel, does not understand disobedience to My will and is not authorized to pardon you, so he will punish you.72 Regardless of this, however, you should heed his voice since My Name is with him; whatever he does, he does in My Name. This is indicated by the fact that the numerical value of his name (מטטרון, 314) is the same as that of My Name Shakai (שדי).

22 For if you will diligently obey him and thus do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and persecute your persecutors.

23 For My angel will go before you and bring you to the land of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizites, the Canaanites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, and I will annihilate them. The Girgashites, in contrast, will flee of their own accord,73 so I will not have to annihilate them.

24 You shall not prostrate yourselves to their gods nor serve them, nor shall you follow their practices; rather, you must shatter their idols and demolish the pillars they have set up to worship as idols.74

25 Rather, you shall serve Me, God, your God, and in reward for not serving idols, I will bless your bread and your water, and I will also remove illness from your midst.

Seventh Reading 26 "In reward for doing all that I say,75 I will not only drive out the inhabitants of the Land of Israel, allowing you to settle it; In addition, I will grant the land a unique quality: no woman in your land will miscarry, or outlive her children, or be barren. Outside the land, these blessings will accrue only to the individual who fulfills My will, not to the whole populace. Similarly, if you fulfill My will anywhere in the world, I will grant you the full count of your days; you will not die prematurely.76

27 I will send forth a dread of Me before you, and I will throw confusion among all the people into whose midst you are coming, and I will make all your enemies flee from you.

28 I will send supernatural hornets ahead of you that will wound their eyes and inject deadly poison into them. These hornets inhabit the east bank of the Jordan river and will not cross it westward, so they will only be able to drive out before you the Hivites, who live close to the west bank of the river so they can fire their poison at them, and the Canaanites and the Hittites, who live on the east bank of the river.

29 I will not drive the inhabitants of the Land of Israel out in a single year, lest the land become desolate and the wild animals outnumber you, for at this point, there are not enough of you to populate the whole land.

30 Rather, little by little will I drive them out before you, until you increase and are able to occupy the whole land.

31 Even though I postponed My original promise to Abraham of the territories of the Amonites, Moabites, and Edomites,77 I am now reinstating this promise. Thus, when you enter the land, I will set your borders from the Sea of Reeds to the Philistine [i.e., Mediterranean] Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River,78 for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hands, and you will drive them out from before you.

32 You shall not make a covenant with them nor with their gods.

33 They shall not dwell in your land lest they cause you to sin against Me, for you might serve their gods, and that would prove a snare to you."

The Giving of the Torah, continued

24:1 Having now finished its account of the rational, contractual side of the relationship between God and the people forged at the Giving of the Torah, the Torah now backtracks to fill in the details of the narrative pertinent to the essential, covenantal side of this relationship.79 On the 4th of Sivan, God had said to Moses, "On the 6th of Sivan, when I will give the Torah, go partway up Mount Sinai to God—you and Aaron, Nadav, and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel—and prostrate yourselves from afar.

2 After this, Moses alone shall then draw near to God by entering the cloud surrounding the top of the mountain.80 The others may not draw near, nor may the people go up to the top of the mountain with him."

3 The first stage in establishing the covenantal relationship was that the people commit themselves to perform God's commandments. Thus, on that same day, the 4th of Sivan, Moses came and told the people all of God's words regarding married couples keeping separate and fencing off the mountain,81 and he reviewed all the laws God had given them so far: the seven basic commandments given to all humanity82 and the commandments He gave them at Marah.83 The entire people responded with one voice and said, "All the words that God has spoken we will do." They committed themselves to perform all of God's commandments.84

4 The second stage in establishing the covenant was that the people commit themselves to study the Torah. Therefore, Moses then wrote down all the words of God: he wrote down the text of the Torah from the story of Creation up to and including the events of the previous day85 as formal Torah-passages, and he wrote down the sections containing the commandments God gave at Marah as expositions of the content of these laws.86 Thus, by accepting the covenant as embodied in this scroll, the people would be committing themselves both to studying the Torah (as exemplified by the formal Torah-passages in it) and to fulfilling the commandments (as exemplified by the parts of it that were just expositions of the legal material that had not yet been formally given as in their final form).87 Now, the usual way a covenant is made is by cutting an animal in half and having the two parties to the covenant pass between the two halves. This signifies that both parties are part of one, inseparable whole.88 Here, this process was simulated by a sacrificial rite, as will be presently seen. In the morning of the following day, the 5th of Sivan, Moses rose early and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve monuments for the twelve tribes of Israel.

5 He had the people ritually immerse themselves in water,,89 in preparation for being sprinkled with sacrificial blood. He then dispatched the firstborn young men of the Israelites and they offered up ascent-offerings, and sacrificed bulls as peace-offerings to God on this altar. An "ascent-offering" is one in which all the meat is burned (and thus ascends to heaven) on the altar.90 A "peace-offering" is one in which part of the meat is burned on the altar, part is given to the owners to eat, and part is given to the priests (here: the firstborn) to eat. (It thus unites God, the priests, and the laymen in one rite and thereby promotes "peace" between all three.)91 Since the meat of the ascent-offerings all ascended to heaven, they represented God; since the meat of the peace-offerings was partially eaten, they represented the people. As the firstborn slaughtered the animals, they collected the animals' blood in basins.

6 In order to express the fact that this covenant bound God and the people as two halves of a whole, God planned to have Moses sprinkle half of the blood of each type of sacrifice on the people; this would be equivalent to the passing between the two types of blood. But first it was necessary to divide this blood exactly in half.92 Since this could not be done by a human being, God sent an angel to do it. Moses took half the blood and put it into two large bowls, one containing half the blood of the ascent-offerings and one containing half the blood of the peace-offerings. The other half of the blood he threw against the altar directly from the basins in which the firstborn collected it when they slaughtered the animals.93 Completing the sacrificial rites with the blood in the basins officially made the other blood (that remained in the two large bowls) into ascent-offering blood and peace-offering blood, as well.

7 Moses then took the scroll he wrote the previous day, and which now became known as the Book of the Covenant, and read it aloud to the people. He read the scroll as he had written it: first the history of the world from Creation until the events of the previous day, which he had written as formal Torah-passages, and then the laws that God had already given, which he had written as simple expositions of the content of these laws. The section exemplifying Torah-study thus preceded the section exemplifying upholding God's commandments. Nonetheless, after Moses finished, the people responded, "We will do and we will learn everything that God has spoken." By saying "we will do" before "we will learn" they not only committed themselves to studying the Torah in addition to performing God's commandments; at the same time, they gave precedence to upholding the commandments over studying the Torah, implying that they were prepared to fulfill God's will unconditionally—even before they know what it is.94 When the Ministering Angels heard this, they descended from heaven and placed two crowns on the head of each Jew: one for saying "we will do" and one for saying "we will learn."95

8 The people having thus bound themselves to God, Moses could the complete the rite that sealed the covenant. Moses took the blood that he had put in the two large bowls, and sprinkled it on the people, thus effectively having them pass between the two types of blood. (According to another opinion, Moses sprinkled the blood from these two bowls on the altar, to atone for the people. Accordingly, rather than "passing between" ascent-offering blood and peace-offering blood, the people "passed between" blood that was thrown on the altar as part of the sacrificial rite [i.e., for God], and blood that was thrown on the altar to effect atonement [i.e., for the people].)96 Moses then said, "This is the blood of the covenant that God has made with you regarding all these words." Thus, all three requirements necessary in establishing the covenantal relationship were satisfied: circumcision (since all the males had been circumcised in Egypt97), unconditional acceptance of God's will, and the covenantal passage (effected by sprinkling half the blood and the immersion that preceded it).98 God and the people were now bound by a covenant to the greatest extent possible before the actual Giving of the Torah. This covenant included the descendants of the people who stood at Mount Sinai, as well.99 This set the stage for the change in reality that would occur the next day, when God would give the Torah formally.100

9 On the following day, the 6th of Sivan, whatever women still needed to, ritually immersed themselves.101 Moses went partway up the mountain, and also Aaron, Nadav, and Avihu, and seventy of Israel's elders, to prostrate themselves from afar, as God had told them to.102

10 But after Moses entered the cloud, Nadav, Avihu, and the elders attempted to follow him with their sight—which they did not have permission to do—and they had a vision of the God of Israel. They saw, figuratively, that beneath God's feet there was the likeness of a brick of sapphire, which had reminded Him of the people's slavery as brick makers, while around Him was an appearance like the clearness of the heavens, for when the people were redeemed from slavery God rejoiced.

11 Yet God did not raise His hand against the nobles of the Israelites to punish them, even though they were liable to the death penalty because they gazed upon the Divine vision selfishly, as if doing so while they ate and drank. God did not kill them immediately because He did not want to upset the joyous mood surrounding the Giving of the Torah. Instead, He waited until they committed another sin—in the case of Nadav and Avihu, over nine months later,103 and in the case of the elders, over a year later104—and punished them for both sins at the same time.

The First Forty Days

12 Following the Giving of the Torah, on the 7th of Sivan,105 God said to Moses, "Come up to Me, to the mountain, and remain there for forty days and nights. I will give you the tablets of stone, on which are engraved the Ten Commandments, which allude to the entire Torah and all its commandments,106 which I have written down for the people's instruction." These tablets were known as "the Tablets of the Testimony"107 and "the Tablets of the Covenant,"108 for they served as testimony of the covenant that had now been made between God and the people.109

13 Moses then arose, with Joshua, his attendant, and Moses ascended the Mountain of God. Joshua accompanied Moses as far as he was permitted, i.e., up to the fence surrounding the mountain. He pitched his tent there and stayed there for the entire forty days, awaiting Moses' return.

14 Before he left the camp, Moses said to the elders, "We will return on the fortieth day from now, before noon.110 Until then, wait for us here, with the rest of the people, and settle any of disputes they might have, until we return to you. Aaron and his nephew Hur, Caleb and Miriam's son,111 are here with you; whoever has a lawsuit should approach you, or if you cannot decide, they should approach them."

Maftir 15 Moses ascended partway up the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain.

16 The glory of God rested on Mount Sinai, which the cloud covered for six days, and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. These were the first seven days of the forty-day period of Moses' stay on the mountain.

17 In the eyes of the Israelites, the appearance of the glory of God during these forty days was like a consuming fire on the mountaintop. This fire, consuming the rocks and dirt on the mountain, produced a cloud of smoke in addition to the regular water-vapor cloud that already covered the mountain.

18 Since smoke clouds are sooty, God made a path for Moses in this cloud so his face and clothing would not become soiled by passing through it.112 Thus Moses entered the second cloud and ascended to the top of the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights. As mentioned above,113 during these 40 days God taught Moses the general outline of all the Torah's commandments and the details of the laws found at the end of parashat Yitro114 and the beginning of parashat Mishpatim,115 enabling him to miraculously absorb all this in this short period of time.116 God also inscribed the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets for Moses to bring to the people upon his descent from the mountain.117 During the 40 days, God sustained Moses miraculously;118 he neither ate nor drank physical food.119