Manslaughter vs. Murder and False Witnesses

Aug 16, 2015

כִּי־יַכְרִית יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת־הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ אֶת־אַרְצָם וִירִשְׁתָּם וְיָשַׁבְתָּ בְעָרֵיהֶם וּבְבָתֵּיהֶם׃

When Hashem your God has cut down the nations whose land Hashem your God is assigning to you, and you have dispossessed them and settled in their towns and homes,

Deuteronomy 19:1

וְלֹא תָחוֹס עֵינֶךָ נֶפֶשׁ בְּנֶפֶשׁ עַיִן בְּעַיִן שֵׁן בְּשֵׁן יָד בְּיָד רֶגֶל בְּרָגֶל׃

Nor must you show pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

Deuteronomy 19:21

This brief passage deals with the establishment of the cities of refuge first mentioned in Numbers 35 and the laws of those who may or may not seek sanctuary there. Three cities must be established first. Then, as Israel’s borders expand, three more.


Moses identifies who may flee there: only one who has killed by accident in a case where there was no previous animosity between the victim and the manslayer. Within the city limits, the manslayer is safe from the avenger, who might otherwise seek revenge in the heat of the moment.


On the other hand, if the killer had a long-standing feud with the victim and murders him, the murderer will not be kept safe within the city of refuge. The elders of the city are to put him out of city limits, turning him over to the avenger.


The passage continues with a brief law forbidding one from infringing upon the property of a neighbor. As the Israel Bible points out, God gave the Children of Israel the land, but he expects them to live fairly and justly within it. God forbids the people from taking advantage of one another. This behavior would be unacceptable anywhere, but is especially so in the Holy Land.


The final topic in the portion of the week is court witnesses. Mentioned earlier, two witnesses are required at minimum for capital cases. In case witnesses conspire against a defendant, however, the Torah requires the judges to question them thoroughly and determine the reliability of their testimony. If they are found to be conspirators, they receive the punishment they sought for their intended victim.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

Why do you think God allows those who kill out of negligence to flee to safety and avoid prosecution?

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