Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 21:10 to 25:19
Haftarah: Isaiah 54: 1-10 (5th of 7 Haftarahs of consolation)
This week's parshah is the last of three weeks of parshahs that enumerate the laws that Moses gave shortly before his death, and this week's parshah contains more laws than any other parshah in the Torah. However, I am going to focus on just one of these laws contained in a mere two sentences.
Last May I wrote the D'var Torah diary for the end of Leviticus, commenting on the remarkable social legislation contained in chapter 25 of Leviticus:
Every 50 years all land is restored to its original owners, and those who have sold themselves into a form of slavery to pay off their debts are freed. Those buying and selling land do not buy and sell in perpetuity, rather, the land is merely leased until the next Jubilee year, with the price adjusted accordingly. We are commanded to lend money to the needy to provide for their basic necessities, and not to charge them interest. These debts are forgiven every seven years.And I discussed several rabbinical sources, including from Leviticus Rabbah:
God will punish those who have money who ask the needy, "Why don't you go out and find a job, make some money, and put your own bread on your table?" Or who say, "Look at those hips, look at those legs, look at that fat body. This person can work. Let him work and take care of himself." These people who mock the poor will bring evil on themselves, because they do not honor others who likewise are made in the image of God.But the first comment made after the tip jar was:
Verses 44 - 46 are pretty hard to take. (6+ / 0-)And my response:
44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.
Agreed (8+ / 0-)I have regretted my response ever since, and now is the chance to provide the response I should have given last May!
Hence the need for later authorities to smooth out these rough edges. These verses were used during the Civil War by some Southern rabbis, and even one northern one, to justify slavery.
The traditional, fundamentalist if you will, Jewish view is that the Torah, the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, was dictated by God to Moses, who faithfully took the dictation. (The rabbis debated whether Moses or Joshua was the stenographer for the final sentences of Deuteronomy, which recounts the death of Moses.) The modern view is that Deuteronomy was written separately, and later, than the four previous books of the Torah; however, the rabbis who compiled the Talmud obviously knew nothing of such theories. For them, the entire Torah was a single unit, the words of God to Moses, and any law in Leviticus had to be read in conjunction with a similar law in Deuteronomy. Thus, Leviticus 25: 44-46 must, under traditional Jewish theology, be read in concert with Deuteronomy 23: 16-17:
You shall not turn over to his master a slave who seeks refuge with you from his master. He shall live with you in any place he may chose among the settlements in your midst, wherever he pleases, you must not ill-treat him.Thus, the Israelites were commanded that although they could buy and sell and bequeath slaves, and treat them as mere property, when a slave ran away, he or she must not be returned to their master, but, instead, be allowed to join the Israelite community, living wherever he or she pleased, with no mistreatment.
Unlike the Bible, the United States Constitution does not specifically mention slavery, but three clauses deal specifically with slavery, although not by name. A majority of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention did not approve of slavery, but slavery was not their primary concern - forging a union was, and, to do so, they had to compromise, particularly with the delegates from South Carolina and Georgia who, according to a letter that Madison wrote to Thomas Jefferson, serving as ambassador to France, "were inflexible on the point of slaves." So, to secure the agreement of the delegates from South Carolina and Georgia, a majority of the delegates agreed to the following three clauses:
Representation and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three-fifths of all other persons. Article I section 2, paragraph 3.This was the infamous 3/5 clause. The "direct taxes" language was meaningless - there were no "direct taxes" in 1787. Representation was to be determined on the basis of the population of "free persons", including indentured servants - "those bound to service for a term of years." "All other persons" meant slaves. This did not mean that a black slave was 3/5 of a person. Delegates from free states did not want slaves to count at all; the southern aristocracy represented at the Constitutional Convention wanted them to count as whole people to augment their power in the new Congress. The 3/5 Compromise was the result.
The second place slavery appears is at Article I Section 9:
The migration or importation of such person as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person.This was the infamous African slave trade, the legal kidnapping of men, women and children out of Africa, cramming them onto slave ships on which so many died, those who survived became slaves in America and would never see their families in Africa again. The Georgians and South Carolinians wanted this crime against humanity to remain legal forever, the other delegates did not, and this compromise was the result - it would be protected in the Constitution for 20 years, then Congress may outlaw it. President Thomas Jefferson, to his everlasting credit, asked Congress to outlaw this obscenity effective the very day it would become constitutional to do so, and Congress did so.
The final place in the Constitution where slavery was euphemistically mentioned was the Fugitive Slave Clause, Article IV, Section 2, Para. 3:
No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.The total opposite of Deuteronomy 23: 16-17, which prohibits the runaway slave from being returned to his or her master. If we accept the belief of the three Abrahamic faiths that Deuteronomy was a Divinely inspired writing, then we cannot accept the rantings of some Tea Baggers that the Constitution is as well, or, if both are Divinely inspired, then God must have changed His or Her mind during the three or however many millennia between Deuteronomy and the Constitution!
Four years after the ratification of the Constitution, Congress enacted the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, which authorized slave owners and their agents - slave catchers - to seize persons of color in a free state and haul them before a U.S. court, which would decide if the seized person was a runaway slave owned by the claimant. A $500 fine, payable to the slave owner, was assessed against anyone harboring a runaway. Thousands of bounty hunters earned their living catching alleged runaway slaves in free states. Many states, including Pennsylvania, possibly motivated by Deuteronomy 23: 16-17, a "Higher Law" than the Constitution, enacted personal liberty laws making it a state crime to seize or attempt to remove a person of color, regardless of previous status, from the state back to slavery. One person convicted of this crime was Edward Prigg, who seized an escaped slave, Margaret Morgan, and returned her to her owner in Maryland. Prigg appealed his conviction, and the Supreme Court, in Prigg v. Pennsylvania, reversed the conviction and held state personal liberty laws to be unconstitutional. Justice Joseph Story, writing for the court, noted however that a state may forbid state officers and judges from assisting in the kidnapping, leaving the job solely to federal agents and federal judges.
Growing Northern resistance to cooperating with slave owners and bounty hunters led to calls for Secession. Southerners knew that if the North became a sanctuary for slaves seeking freedom, slaves would continue to flee north and slavery would be doomed. The result of these Southern demands and threats was the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, part of the Compromise of 1850, which exponentially "strengthened" the 1793 law. Any federal marshal who did not arrest an alleged runaway on demand was to be fined $1,000. If the alleged slave escaped after arrest, the marshal became personally liable to the alleged owner for the value of the slave. Federal magistrates were appointed all over the North just to hear these cases. The law banned jury trials, and the alleged slave was not permitted to testify. The magistrates were paid $10 for each alleged slave they ordered sent south, but only $5 if the magistrate denied the slave owner's claim. The magistrates were also authorized to appoint posses to make sure the alleged slave was returned to the slave states.
Northerners saw the law as oppressive and unconscionable, and many who had been on the fence as to abolition were now willing to assist slaves in their escapes - they were no longer safe in the Free States - they now had to flee all the way to Canada. Nothing aroused the North more towards hatred of slavery and determination to resist the slave aristocracy than this law. No incident more illustrated the incitement of the North than the successful attempt to kidnap Anthony Burns off the streets of Boston and return him to his owner in Virginia. Riots broke out in a vain attempt to rescue Burns before a shackled Burns could be put onto a ship bound for Virginia and slavery. President Millard Fillmore sent 8,000 soldiers - one-half of the entire United States Army which then numbered only 16,000 - to Boston so that this one man could be returned to slavery.
When secession came, a number of the Southern States offered Declarations of the Causes of Secession. These declarations stand as irrefutable refutation of the current drive of Teabaggers to rewrite history. From the Georgia Declaration:
The Constitution declares that persons charged with crimes in one State and fleeing to another shall be delivered up on the demand of the executive authority of the State from which they may flee, to be tried in the jurisdiction where the crime was committed . . . yet for above twenty years the non-slave-holding States generally have wholly refused to deliver up to us persons charged with crimes affecting slave property. Our confederates, with punic faith, shield and give sanctuary to all criminals who seek to deprive us of this property or who use it to destroy us. . . .Imagine that, instead of the Fugitive Slave Clause, the Constitution contained the words of Deuteronomy 23: 16-17. Imagine that the Constitution, rather than requiring slaves escaping into Free States be returned to their owners, instead required that no American be permitted to:
A similar provision of the Constitution requires them to surrender fugitives from labor. This provision and the one last referred to were our main inducements for confederating with the Northern States. Without them it is historically true that we would have rejected the Constitution. In the fourth year of the Republic Congress passed a law to give full vigor and efficiency to this important provision. This act depended to a considerable degree upon the local magistrates in the several States for its efficiency. The non-slave-holding States generally repealed all laws intended to aid the execution of that act, and imposed penalties upon those citizens whose loyalty to the Constitution and their oaths might induce them to discharge their duty. Congress then passed the act of 1850, providing for the complete execution of this duty by Federal officers. This law, which their own bad faith rendered absolutely indispensible for the protection of constitutional rights, was instantly met with ferocious revilings and all conceivable modes of hostility. . . . [I]t stands to-day a dead letter for all practicable purposes in every non-slave-holding State in the Union. . . [T]he unfortunate claimant, even accompanied by a Federal officer with the mandate of the highest judicial authority in his hands, is everywhere met with fraud, with force, and with legislative enactments to elude, to resist, and defeat him. Claimants are murdered with impunity; officers of the law are beaten by frantic mobs instigated by inflammatory appeals from persons holding the highest public employment in these States, and supported by legislation in conflict with the clearest provisions of the Constitution, and even the ordinary principles of humanity. . . . It is difficult to perceive how we could suffer more by the hostility than by the fraternity of such brethren.
turn over to his master a slave who seeks refuge . . . from his master. He shall live with you in any place he may choose . . . wherever he pleases, he must not be ill-treated.Yes, slavery would have been enshrined in the Constitution, just as it is enshrined in other parts of the Torah, but how long would slavery have lasted? The South knew this; it was one of the reasons they launched the Civil War.