At the end of this week’s portion of the Torah, Emor, we are confronted with an interesting story that appears after a variety of commandments. And so the story goes, “Now the son of an Israelite woman, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the sons of Israel; and the Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel struggled with each other in the camp. The son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name and cursed. So they brought him to Moses. Now his mother’s name was Shelomith, the daughter of Dibri, of the tribe of Dan. They put him in custody so that the command of the Lord might be made clear to them.” Obviously this is a case where the son of a couple from a mixed marriage had a dispute of sorts with another Jewish person and that mixed marriage son speaks badly about God. The solution to this case is not clear and therefore that man is put into custody so as to find out what it the right thing to do.
Refugees from Sudan's Darfur region in Jerusalem
An answer is provided, of course, “Bring the one who has cursed outside the camp, and let all who heard him lay their hands on his head; then let all the congregation stone him. You shall speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘If anyone curses his God, then he will bear his sin. Moreover, the one who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall certainly stone him. The alien as well as the native, when he blasphemes the Name, shall be put to death.” We therefore now understand the context to the reason for putting that person under arrest. It was not clear what the law was when the man was just half Jewish, having a Jewish mother but a gentile father. The answer comes back clearly, “If anyone curses his God, then he will bear his sin”, that is these sins are completely personal and so is the punishment. Nevertheless it is emphasized that the sentence shall be the same for the alien and the native, the gentile and the Jew.
I guess that this was not clear enough and the scripture goes back to details several more laws. “If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death. The one who takes the life of an animal shall make it good, life for life. If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him. Thus the one who kills an animal shall make it good, but the one who kills a man shall be put to death.” This does not seem to connect with the theme discussed in the immediately previous sentences. However, immediately after these law the scripture states once more “There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native, for I am the Lord your God.” And only then it is told that Moses went on to sentence that person.
The importance of having a law that is applied in the same way to everyone this is the basis of what we are dealing with here. Today the result of executing a person for cursing may not be a comforting thought to us, however, it does give us a sense of direction if properly applied to cases today. The law has to be applied equally on all. It is unacceptable to enact law or to apply the law in different ways on different people. The application of law has to be on an equal basis because for Jews, the standard for the application of the law is “There shall be one standard for you; it shall be for the stranger as well as the native”.
It is especially concerning these days when the government attempts time and time again to enact laws that may fit one part of the population at the expense of another, will prevent some from filing for a refugee status, or allow certain groups of society to avoid burdens applied to other groups. These words from yesteryear come to remind us that this may not happen, this kind of application of the law is wrong, and it is fundamentally non-Jewish. The basis for the Jewish law is that it is one standard which is indivisible. It applies on both the obligations of people towards the state as well as of the state’s obligations towards its citizens. Israel, as a democratic and Jewish state is compelled to equally and justly apply its laws to its citizens and all who come by its gates. In the Reform Movement we have stated over and over again that we believe that the State of Israel has the right and obligation to apply laws and control those who enter it. It may further deny access for good reason from those who it was determined that are not allowed to enter. Our demand is to allow asylum seekers a fair opportunity to file requests for asylum and that the process of handling such request be both quick and blind to anything which is irrelevant to such requests. This is also true for all laws applied to citizens of the country – they should be applied equally on all. My advice to those who try to enact or apply the law discriminately that they read many times more this portion of the Torah so that they get better standards on how the law shoud be applied.
Reuven Marko, 27 April 2018, 13 Eyar, 5778