How Hammurabi Got Under the Skin of One Orthodox Talmudist

Why Did Babylonian King Have Same Teachings as Torah?

Eye for an Eye: The Code of Hammurabi, created by the Babylonian king in ancient Iraq, and some Torah laws share stunning similarities.
Eye for an Eye: The Code of Hammurabi, created by the Babylonian king in ancient Iraq, and some Torah laws share stunning similarities.

By Ruchama King Feuerman

Published May 11, 2014, issue of May 16, 2014.
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I was furious! “I want to know the answers,” I shot back. He said, “Okay,” and loaded me down with scholarly tomes. I’ll show him, I thought, as I went home to my apartment.

My roommates were out on dates. Me, I was still recovering from a horrendous break-up. Haim was brilliant, spiritual and good-looking, but over time he found ingenious ways to say how shamelessly self-centered I was and how my neediness went miles and miles deep. By the time the “relationship” ended, my identity was in shreds. I tried to dismiss him as a pathetic jerk, but his ideas had already taken root. Was I really one aching raw need? Oy, who would ever want to marry me?! Not long after this I was struck by the Hammurabi episode.

So yeah, the dean was right. I was sad no, deeply depressed, now that I thought about it. But did that mean my theological questions weren’t real? They were coming from my marrow!

I kept those books for months, until one day I returned them all, each one hardly paged through. Too dry, too academic and antiseptic. They seemed to have nothing to do with my passionate quest, or with life itself.

Meanwhile, I continued to go to my teachers for Shabbat, participating in all the Torah discussions (but never revealing the blasphemous thoughts festering inside me), feeling like some puppet in a show.

Out of this state of anomie, of utter bleakness, I sought out a kabbalist. Maybe, I figured, the answer lay not with an academic, an intellectual, but with someone in touch with the secrets of the universe. Brain and soul.

I saw a few. Not all kabbalists are created equal, I discovered. Then I found the Amshinover rebbe, who came with excellent recommendations. There was one caveat: He lived according to a different concept of time. His morning prayers bled into the afternoon, I think, and the Sabbath ended on Tuesday, I’m pretty sure. I was told the wait could be very long.

I came at 11 p.m., and the place was hopping. At first his Hasidic bouncers didn’t want to let me in. “Did you come here for a blessing?” the shorter one asked bluntly. I said no. I feared I’d said the wrong thing, but he responded: “Good. You can come in.”

I walked into the rebbe’s very plain living room. People were coming and going, and here it was, nearly midnight. Not knowing how much time I’d receive, I decided to focus on my old bugaboo, “An eye for an eye” — a verse I felt had been misused throughout the centuries to justify lynchings and brutal slayings. A very dangerous verse, as far as I was concerned.

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