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.
Thinkstock
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.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 4)

Eventually I nodded off to sleep on a couch. At one point his wife shyly placed a quilt on me. A bit later, she woke me up and whispered “You’re next,” and I bolted off the couch and grabbed a seat at their bare dining room table.

The Amshinover rebbe took a seat. He was younger than I’d expected, in his 40s with a still-dark beard, and thin like a stick of chewing gum. He leaned forward, his shoulders hunched in his black kapote. There was a tremble about him in his neck and shoulders. I heard it in his voice, too. Didn’t know what to make of that, so I plunged into my question:

The Talmud’s interpretation for “an eye for an eye” — if someone caused another loss of limb, he had to compensate the victim through monetary payment — had never satisfied me. What in the text led the rabbis to money when the verse didn’t mention money at all? It seemed a big leap. Say “shekels for an eye” if that’s what it meant! Really, I was questioning the relationship between the Written Law and the Oral Law — the commentary.

The rebbe shared a brilliant answer of the legendary Vilna Gaon, but it wasn’t what I wanted. I needed proof from the Torah itself that “an eye for an eye” was never meant to be taken literally.

The rebbe rocked gently in his seat and pulled out a verse from Bamidbar, Numbers 35, and another from Leviticus 24:18. “Whoever kills an animal must pay for it — a soul to replace a soul.” “This” — his finger landed on the word “pay” — “proves the Torah understood the eye for an eye verse to be a metaphor.” He spoke in Hebrew. I think he used the word mashal, or parable.

I read it, and the breath went out of me. Clearly, “A soul to replace a soul” meant not death, but financial re-enumeration.

The rebbe brought out more books to illustrate his point, from the Zohar and the Talmud and the Chumash itself, proving that the best commentary on the Torah is the Torah. We studied together. Best chevruta I ever had.

He didn’t look at me, though. Normally I would have felt put off, but when I glanced at him, I saw such goodness concentrated in his eyes that I didn’t feel bad. Strangely, I found it hard to look into his face. Too shiny with truth and goodness. It’s how I imagine Moses’ countenance when he came down from Mount Sinai — so blinding, he had to wear a veil over his face.

Meanwhile, the Hasidic bouncers kept sticking their heads into the dining room, muttering, “Nu, nu….” Apparently I’d been hogging the kabbalists’ time — we’d been studying for nearly half an hour — but the rebbe “latered” them, flicking his wrist. I was moved. Here it was, nearly 2 a.m., but the rebbe kept studying with me as if he had all the time in the world.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.