Talmud for Trayvon

The dapim of the last few days may be hundreds and hundreds of years old, but even so, reading them now, one could come away with the sense that they were ripped from the headlines. Both the Talmud and the law of the state of Florida agree that the intended victim of murder may save himself or be saved even if it means taking the life of the would-be murderer. They differ, however, in the case where the “victim” put his own life in danger. The gemara asks, “What do you see to assume your blood is redder than that of your victim?”

George Zimmerman saw no crime being committed. No one was in immediate danger. The police advised him to stay in his vehicle. He unnecessarily created a situation for himself and Trayvon Martin in which each would fear for his life and only one would get out of it alive. Was George Zimmerman’s blood redder than that of his victim?

In the same sugya, the rabbis seek to determine if one may benefit from a forbidden act that was not intended. Again, the headlines present a case in point.Of three sprinters discovered to have used forbidden substances, one fell into the category of seeking a benefit from an intended forbidden act (Tyson Gay, who declared, “I don’t have anything to say to make this seem like it was a mistake”); one still insists that the violation was unintentional (Sherone Simpson, who declared he has never “knowingly or willfully taken any substances that break any rules”). Should the latter one be permitted to benefit from his unintentional violation?

Daf 347 (Pesachim 24a-24b)

 The gemara seeks to determine which prohibited items must be eliminated through burning; also, whether the apparent establishment in the Torah of multiple prohibitions for a single forbidden act would ever result in liability for multiple sets of lashes. The first inquiry is suggested by the search for a clear ruling on when to burn chametz; the second inquiry is the flip side of deriving benefits from forbidden objects. (Thus, although these topics are digressions from the main topic, they are not arbitrary digressions.)

Daf 348 (Pesachim 25a-25b)

Can one derive benefit from a forbidden material so long as one does not enjoy it in a “usual” manner? Can the case of meat cooked in milk speak to this point? (The latter question is raised because, although the combination is forbidden, neither substance alone is forbidden.) Can the case of employing forbidden substances to save a life speak to this point? Answer: No, since the forbidden substance, if “sanctified by idolaters,” may not be used even to save a life: “A person may be healed with anything except a cure that involves idol worship, illicit relations, or murder.”

In expounding the reason why murder is included, a baraisa notes that “in the case of a would-be murderer, his intended victim should be saved at the cost of the would-be murderer’s life.” This applies even in the case of one who is ordered to commit murder (i.e., he should die rather than obey the order to kill another): “What do you see to assume your blood is redder than that of your victim?”

Daf 349 (Pesachim 26a-26b)

May one benefit from a forbidden act that was not intended? from a forbidden act that was unavoidable but intended? from a forbidden act that was intended but not for the (unanticipated) benefit?

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