Monday, August 31, 2009

Deuteronomy and the Jacee Dugard case

I always find the Torah relevant. Heck, that's my job. But there are times when I'm reading the Torah portion on a Shabbat morning and it's as it were that morning's newspaper. it just jumps out at you. Such a moment happened last Shabbat, when I got to Deuteronomy 24:7 and immediately thought of the Jacee Dugard kidnapping case. People are fascinated about how someone could be abducted 18 years ago and never be given the opportunity to escape. The fact that she may have in fact become attached to her abductors is nothing new. So now we are reading about the Stockholm Syndrome (see Hearst: Patty). We're all so curious about how that could happen.

But it shouldn't reduce by one iota our outrage. Rather than being fascinated by the psychology of the criminal and victim, we need to focus on the morality of the crime itself. Deuteronomy brings us right back to those moral basics:

If a man kidnaps a fellow Israelite, forces him to serve and then sells him, when the kidnapper is caught, he shall be put to death. You shall thus rid yourself of the evil in your midst.

Rashi and the Talmud note that "forces to serve" "hitamer" means "does business." Sifre makes it clear that it is not the kidnapping alone that makes this a capital crime, it is the enslavement of the individual - using that person as an object, for monetary gain.

All this happened with this child - and then add what likely would be considered rape to the mix. The message of this verse is clear:


But Jewish law also makes it nearly impossible that the penalty would ever be able to be carried out. What appears as a capital crime in the Torah is almost never carried out in post-biblical sources. The rabbis were careful not to treat human life as callously as these monsters do, even when it meant - and means - keeping most of them alive. These days, as DNA evidence is clearing many death row inmates many years after their convictions, we are discovering how right the rabbis were in their caution.

Still, it is reassuring that such a crime is on the books, (on THE book, as it were) as something akin to murder. Jaycee may get her life back at some point, but her childhood and innocence were ruthlessly taken from her.

I read that verse and nodded. Yes, Phillip Garrido deserves the chair. But we're going to confound him even more by forcing him to bend to a moral code that is far more humane than any that he has ever considered.

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