Project Genesis

Advice for a Prosecutor

Question: What advice does the Talmud have for a prosecutor?

Answer: The Talmud’s statements about prosecution were made in the context of a legal system rather different from ours; they dealt with a judge who is arguing for conviction before his fellow-judges, not with a prosecuting attorney who is arguing before a court. A judge must try to determine the truth, and must take all the available information into account, even information that is not admissible as evidence; he must not suppress or ignore such information.

A classical quote on this subject can be found in the Talmud, Shevuos 30b: “How do we know that a judge must not defend his own view? Because it says ‘You shall distance yourself from falsehood.’ (Rashi: If he is judging a case, and in his heart he feels that he may be mistaken, he should not give arguments in support of his view because he is ashamed to retract it; rather, he should investigate all aspects in order to arrive at a true judgment.) And how do we know if a judge knows that a case is fraudulent (Rashi: He deduces from the words of the witnesses that their testimony is not true), he should not say ‘I will rule on this case, and the guilt will be on the witnesses’? Because it says ‘You shall distance yourself from falsehood.’” These statements are codified by the Rambam (Sanhedrin, Chs. 21-24) and the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat, Chs. 15-17).

Fetus vs. Newborn

Filed under: Abortion

Question: In Mishpatim, 21:22, we are shown that if a man injures a pregnant woman and she miscarries the crime is treated as bodily harm to the woman and not murder of the fetus. The guilty party is to be fined and not sentenced to death. Only if the injury leads to the death of the woman is this crime murder. Would it be correct to infer from this that the pro-choice argument that the fetus is not to be considered as a humanbeing is essentially correct according to Torah?

Answer: Your inference is used as a proof by the ‘Meirat Einayim’ (one of the commentators on the Shulchan Aruch) that there is a legal difference between a fetus in the womb and a new-born baby. The law he is referring to in the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat, Siman 425:8) states that one is permitted to kill a fetus in order to save the life of the mother. However, once just the baby’s head has exited the body, it would be prohibited to kill it, even to save the mothers life. Thus, it is clear that once the head has exited the body, it acquires a new legal status.

However, the fact that there is a difference between a fetus and a new-born is in no way a proof that it is morally acceptable to perform an abortion. There is a verse in the Torah specifically prohibiting the killing of a fetus:

” Shofech Dam HaAdam, BaAdam Damo Yishofech” (Genesis 9:6)

The simple translation of this verse is “He who spills human blood shall have his own blood spilled by man”; however, the Talmud states that this verse can be read another way – the letter ‘Bet’ in Hebrew can either mean ‘by means of’ or ‘in’ and thus, says the Talmud, we can read the verse as “He who spills human blood IN a human” – the Talmud asks: ‘what human is IN a human’ – and answers that it must be referring to a fetus; thus we see that the Torah does refer to a fetus as a ‘human being’.

Yours sincerely,
Ari Lobel

Torah Sanctioned Slavery and Morality

Question: Why did the Torah permit slavery even if the system was better than the prevailing practice?

Answer: Forgive me for writing so briefly about such an important issue. I have, by the way, dealt with a similar question in an essay available at my website here.

First of all, I would point out that our society is far from perfect in the matter of slavery: while we may not give it that name (to avoid guilty feelings) I suspect that illegal immigrants working (and often suffering abuse) as domestics etc., or children in the 3rd world who manufacture our cheap consumer goods (not to mention, If you’ll excuse me, prostitutes in every city) are as much hired against their will at proportionately lower wages than blacks in early 19th Century America (after all, the black slaves were fed and clothed). It’s not that I’m justifying slavery in any context, but I’m simply stating that it’s alive and well in our society and actively supported by all of us.

So, assuming that it’s somehow an inseparable part of the human condition, channeling slavery towards something productive is the best one can expect. For example, Hagar and Eliezer (the slaves of Abraham) were refined individuals with a thirst for spiritual greatness who would, nonetheless, have had no access to the mentoring and heights they both achieved without being slaves. Similarly with Tavi, a brilliant and beloved slave of Rabbi Gamliel of the Talmud (who is quoted a number of times through the Talmud). (more…)

Two Types of Slaves

Question: My professor pointed out that many people who have been slaves, often became slave owners themselves, and to illustrate this he cited Deuteronomy where Jews who were slaves in Egypt, and upon reaching the Promised Land became slave owners. I questioned this, saying that as I understood it, Jews could not own slaves, having been slaves, and the translation is man-servant or maid servant, as indentured, for 7 years, after which time the servant could take payment and leave, or choose to stay with the “master” and would get their ear marked and could then even marry within the family. Unlike slavery in which the human is considered chattel.

Answer: The fact is that both you and your professor are correct – at least in part. In Exodus 21 the Torah describes a slave/master relationship that is indeed most amenable to the slave; making him little more than an indentured servant. That, however, is only talking about a native-born Jew who entered this limited (normally for a maximum of six years) term of employment and enjoyed wonderful treatment. See also Levit. 25; 42 for the source that we may only be slaves to God and not to other masters – but that, again, is only speaking about Jewish slaves. On the other hand, however, in verse 44 of that chapter, the Torah turns its attention to slaves acquired from among the non-Jews. These were, in fact, chattel and did not have all of the same protections as their Jewish counterparts. That’s not to say that they had no protections whatsoever…see Deut. 23; 16-17 for an example, but there is no question that they were treated differently. You might like to see my essay on the general subject.

With my best regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

Two Sets of Tablets, Aaron and the Golden Calf

Question: How long was it between the first and second tablets? Was Aron punished for the golden calf?

Answer: Moshe went up to receive the first tablets on 7 Sivan and broke them on 17 tamuz. He prayed until 1 Elul and received the second tablets on Yom Kippur, 10 tishrei, so there was a total of around 120 days.

Question: Was Aron punished for the golden calf?

Answer: Some commentaries say that Nadav and Avihu, his sons were killed in part as a punishment to Aron. G-d did spare his 2 younger sons.

All the Best,
Rabbi Meir Goldberg

Calculating the Years Since Mt. Sinai

Filed under: G-d and Torah

Question: When was the Torah written? By whom?

Answer: The Torah was shown in its entirety to Moses at Sinai, who wrote it precisely as shown. G-d himself penned the “Ten Statements” on the two Tablets. All this occurred 3,321 years ago.

Eliahu Levenson

Question: On what evidence do you calculate 3321 years?

Answer: Since you asked, what is written below is from other work I have committed to writing on the subject:

The following are the calculations up until the Flood, using the information found in Genesis, Chapter 5:

1) Born Hebrew Year 1 – Adam

2) Born Year 130 – Shais (Seth)

3) Born Year 235 – Enosh

4) Born Year 325 – Kaynon (Kenan)

5) Born Year 395 – Mahalalail (Mahalalel)

6) Born Year 460 – Yared (Jered)

7) Born Year 622 – Chanoach (Enoch)

8) Born Year 687 – Mesushalach (Methuselah)

9) Born Year 874 – Lamech

10) Born Year 1,056 Noach (Noah)

To continue our time-line, we turn to Genesis 7:11 – “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life…the windows of the Heavens were opened.”

Noah was born in 1,056. Exactly 600 years later the Heavens opened and flooded the Earth for 40 days and 40 nights.

1,056 + 600 = 1,656, the year of the Flood. Using our present day Gregorian calendar, subtracting 1,656 from the current Hebrew year, 5,769, we have the result that the flood waters began falling 4,113 years ago. That’s not so very long a time. In God’s way of viewing time, the entire history of Man will seemingly move from beginning to end in the blink of an eye.

Note that God’s Hebrew Scriptures tell us that Methuselah lived 969 years. Born year 687 and adding 969, we get 1,656 as Methuselah last year, the year of the Flood. Lamech died five years prior to the Flood.

We step back to begin part two of this Godly time-line.

Noach was born in year 1,056.

Genesis 7:6 says, “Noach was six hundred years old when the Mabul was upon the earth.”

Again, we therefore determine the Flood to have occurred in 1,656.

Genesis 7:13-16 – “ the 601st year…in the second month, the 27th day of the month, the earth was completely dry. God spoke to Noach, saying, leave the Teiva (Ark).”


When was the Torah taught to Moshe and the Jewish People?

Filed under: Miscellaneous

Question: When did Hashem (G-d) teach Moshe (Moses) the laws, and when did He teach them to the Jewish People.

Answer: Moshe learned the entire Torah at Sinai, and when he came down he taught it to the Jewish People. By the entire Torah, we are referring to all the laws of the Torah.

As for the written Torah, there is a Debate (See Talmud Gitin 60) as to whether that was dictated to Moshe throughout the 40 years, or all given at the end of the 40 years.

All the best,
Rabbi Lewis

Lamb Blood on the Door Posts

Filed under: Passover

Question: Why is the blood of the lamb (and not the blood of any other animal) used to make the mark on the door posts of Jewish homes for the angel of death to pass over in the story of the Exodus?

Answer: The smearing of the blood on the door posts was done one time in history when the Jews were still in Egypt. The blood was taken from the sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb. One of the reasons given for why a lamb was used is that since the Egyptians worshiped the lamb as part of their pantheon, the Jews were instructed to make the sacrifice specifically from that animal. It was to be a sign to the Egyptians – and to the Jews – that the Jews were completely free of the Egyptian culture of which the lamb played a central role.

Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein

Plague of Darkness

Question: I read Rabbi Kirshblums article (questions to ponder) where he writes about 2,400,000 jews dying during the plague of darkness. I cant find this in the bible. Please help me to understand why G-d would kill four fifths of his chosen people before he sets them free? thank you
Answer: This is a comment found in the Midrash.

Basically, the Egyptian society was filled with immorality and impurity—the antithesis of G-dliness. Most of Israel had sunk to such a degree that they could not be redeemed.

Therefore G-d decreed that they should pass into the next world rather than being left behind. He made this happen during the Plague of Darkness in order that the Egyptians not see this and misconstrue it as their own victory over the Jews.

It is said that before the Messianic Age something similar will happen. If we look around us—it is happening now. Today there are countless Jews who have been lost to the Jewish people, who no longer consider themselves Jewish! So perhaps this is the decree we learned about so many years ago…

Best, Rabbi Azriel Schreiber 

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