By Jeremy Werbow
In this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, 53 commandments are given to the Jewish people. 23 of them are imperative, or crucial, to the Jews. While the other 30 are prohibitions, or something that is forbidden.
One example of an imperative commandment is “if there is a fatality, you shall give a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot, a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise.” What this means is that if you do something bad to another human, the exact action is then done to you.
My question is not why we were given this commandment but why the laws of our American society do not reflect this commandment. If you look at the United States Constitution the 8th amendment states that there should be no cruel or unusual punishment imposed onto someone.
Why did this change occur? I believe when this commandment was given people were more out of control then they are today. The Jewish people that were first seen with G-d and Moses had no prior experience with what laws and rules they have to follow. In response G-d had to have harsh rules and regulations for the Jews to follow.
The people who wrote the constitution had prior experience with discipline because they were formally under the control of England. After years of being ruled by British law they figured out what laws worked and which laws did not work. This philosophy led them to the idea of outlawing cruel and unusual punishment.
The founding fathers created laws based on their experience under British rule and not the imperative commandment in this week’s Torah portion due to their belief that the people could handle a less strict law.
Jeremy Werbow is a Senior at Amherst High School. He is currently the Regional Membership/Kadimah Vice President of Tzafon USY and is a member of Temple Beth Tzedek.