Life in Prison

The Torah Outlook to Criminal Justice
By Rav Moshe Shternbuch

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos tells us that were it not for fear of the government, people would eat each other alive. Law and order is crucial; without it, chaos would prevail. However, man-made layim. secular law can never reach the infinite depths ••••• that the Torah touches in its mishpatim. The parsha of eved ivri is just one example of PONZI SCHEMES the infinite wisdom that the Torah exhibits via “If you purchase a Jewish slave, he shall work its methods of jurisdiction. Instead of offering for six years and the seventh year he goes free” an arbitrary, man-made punishment, each one of HARD OF HEARING (Shemos 21:2). the mishpatim penetrates deep into the human Recently, Ponzi schemes and other similar As clear as this message is, some slaves might personality and identifies the root of what went business frauds have taken center stage in world not be able to internalize the message that the To- wrong. The Torah cuts through to the cause of news, and unfortunately, Jews have been some of rah is conveying to them. They might enjoy their that problem and rectifies the issue on all sides. the key figures behind these frauds. Generally, stay with this family and the relationship with At times, it seems as if Torah law is not able after the masterminds behind to deal with a particular probthese plans are convicted, the lem. Sometimes, we might rest of their lives are spent be missing witnesses or suffiIn His infinite wisdom, Hashem designed a radically in jail. Nobody benefits from cient proof to prosecute somedifferent penal system. Criminals are not allowed this, as the victims are forced one with a monetary or physito swallow the losses, and the cal punishment. Seemingly, to run away from the loss they caused to the people they stole from. criminal is not in a situation in these circumstances, true where he will change. justice cannot be carried out. In His infinite wisdom, Hashem designed a rad- the non-Jewish maidservant. After his stay has Not so. On the verse, “These are the mishpaically different penal system. Criminals are not concluded, an eved ivri may request to stay with tim,” the Zohar writes that “these are the laws of allowed to run away from the loss they caused to his newfound family. gilgul.” In a case where we lack sufficient proof We dramatically show such a slave the error to decide the case, Hashem will set up circumthe people they stole from. They must sell themselves as slaves and pay back the money they in his way of thinking. The Torah commands stances that cause justice to be achieved. his master to put an awl through his ear to the stole. The appearance of new fraud cases every day is Instead of being locked up with other hard- doorpost - reminiscent of the very doorposts that the clearest proof of the failure of the secular peened criminals, the thief finds himself in an en- acted as witness to the freedom of the Jewish peo- nal system. Only Hashem’s wisdom, as embodied vironment that gives him an opportunity to see ple from their slavery in Mitzrayim. It should be by the mishpatim, can rectify these issues. May healthy Jewish living. Even though he is a slave, clear to everyone that this Jew did not understand the day come quickly when the Torah law is the we treat him like an equal, and further, at times what the Torah was trying to teach him by this only deciding factor in all judicial issues of Klal when there is not enough for everyone, we give stay with this family. Yisroel. ••••• Rashi tells us that the reason behind this prachim priority over other members of the houseRabbi Travis is a rosh kollel of Kollel Toras hold. The Talmud Yerushalmi, in fact, rules that tice is to punish the very same ear that heard on if the master only has one pillow, he must give Har Sinai, “You should be slaves to Hashem.” Yet, Chaim in Yerushalayim, and is the author of we only heard the first two of the Aseres Hadi- Shaylos U’Teshuvos Toras Chaim and “Praying it to the slave to use and do without for himself. If the thief is married and has children, the new bros on Har Sinai, and Hashem did not explicitly With Joy - A Daily Tefilla Companion,” a practimaster must provide for his family as well. We tell us not to be slaves. Furthermore, the mitzvah cal daily guide to improving one’s prayers, availare so concerned with this robber’s welfare that to be sold as a slave to pay for one’s crime applies able from Feldheim Publishers. He will soon be we treat him like any other husband: any money to all generations, even those who did not stand publishing Rav Shternbuch’s weekly shiurim on the parsha as a sefer entitled “A Voice in the that his wife earns goes to him, in order not to at Har Sinai. When the Jewish people said, “Na’aseh ven- Darkness.” For more information about his work, belittle his honor more than necessary. The Toishmah - We will hear and we will do,” they ac- contact rah hopes that during his stay with this family, he will absorb what a proper home should look like and turn to other, more acceptable means to support himself. The Torah chooses a punishment that is perfectly measured for this person’s crime. He chose a career in theft and deceit, as it seemed like the easiest, most fruitful way to support himself. For six years, we make him engage in honest labor to drive home the fact that there are other, more elevated ways to earn a living.

The following was written by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis based on a drasha given on leil Shabbos by Rav Moshe Shternbuch, Rosh Av Beis Din of the Eidah Hachareidis of Yerusha-

years living with this family, we do not let him forget that he is here because he transgressed the prohibition not to steal. Thus, we see that on one hand, we give the slave equal treatment and boost his sense of self, hoping that this will change his criminal mentality. On the other hand, the degradation of living with a non-Jewish maidservant should make it clear to him that he did not act according to the elevated ways of the Torah. We hope that by the time his stay with this family ends, the slave will have internalized both of these outlooks and be able to reenter society as an honest person. This outlook that the Torah teaches is crucial for those involved with bringing non-religious Jews closer to Torah observance. We have to elevate them so they can recognize their true greatness as Jews. At the same time, we have to help them see the baseness of a non-observant life and make sure that we do not learn from their ways.

cepted for all generations that they would live the commandments of the Torah. The experience of hearing these words directly made a strong impact on their neshamos. Although they practically only heard the first two commandments directly from Hashem, it was as if they had heard everything directly from Him. This impression stayed imbedded in every Jewish neshama for all generations.


While this setup is certainly superior to the secular penal system, at first glance there seems to be a catch. Having a felon as part of one’s household might not be the best situation for the rest of the members of one’s family. How can we make sure that this criminal’s influence will not cause negative repercussions in one’s own home? The Torah brilliantly solves this problem by allowing the master to force his newly acquired slave to marry a non-Jewish maidservant. For a religious Jew, there could be no greater disgrace than living with a non-Jewish wife. This will inevitably cause the master’s family to look down at him and prevent them from learning from his actions. For this reason, the Torah calls him an eved ivri. The word ivri comes from the root over, which means to transgress. During his six 5 Adar 5770 • February 19 2010 YATED NE’EMAN Page 67