Biblical Study:
An Eye for an Eye in the Bible?

Lex Talionis?
[Based on an article by Matan Gringer (Mekor Rishon, 17 February 2012, Shabat).

We are all familiar with the Biblical expression "an eye for an eye".  We usually automatically assume that it should mean that if someone pokes out the eye of another then they should have their own eye poked out. The Rabbis said it meant just the opposite: If you poke out the eye of someone else you should pay monetary compensation. They said they were relying on an Oral Instruction explicitly given  by Moses himself. The technical term for  this and similar cases falls under the category of Haleca me-Moshe Rabbeinu i.e. Law from Moses our Teacher. Even so, the Hebrew Bible supports such an interpretation! in other words the Rabbis were not changing or twisting the simple literal meaning of the Hebrew text but rather clarifying what it actually said!
 In the Literature one may well find several different though complementary explanations as to how the Hebrew text indicates what the Rabbis say.
Recently we came across an article on this subject in an Israeli Hebrew-language newspaper whose insights we consider worth recording.

This is not our normal field of specialization but rather an exception. It is however of interest to Biblical Study in general and therefore worthy of interest.

It should be noted that the argument is not that a plus b = c. We already have c. The question is: Do we also have a and b and do these add up to c and thus explain what c is doing there.
The answer already exists. We may have found indications that support the answer but if these should be considered insufficient then other explanations need to be found. The answer will not be affected!
An eye for an eye means monetary compensation according to the Law. 
We may have found intonations in the text supporting this interpretation but the interpretation itself is not dependent on how right or wrong we are!

Matan Gringer (Mekor Rishon, 17 February 2012, Shabat) discussed the subject of eye for eye.

Exodus 21:
22 'If men fight, and hurt a woman with child, so that she gives birth prematurely, yet no harm follows, he shall surely be punished accordingly as the woman's husband imposes on him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

This section is part of the Judgements Section of the Book of Exodus.
In the Synagogue the section from Exodus 21:1 to 24:18 is one unit of the weekly reading, known as "Mishpatim" meaning "Judgements".

It is a continuation from the section dealing with the Ten Commandments.

Exodus 20:
1 And God spoke all these words, saying:

2 'I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3 'You shall have no other gods before Me.

4 'You shall not make for yourself a carved image, any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 5 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

7 'You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

8 'Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

12 'Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

13 'You shall not murder.

14 'You shall not commit adultery.

15 'You shall not steal.

16 'You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 'You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor's.'

The Judgments section is an expansion on the Ten Commandments. It adds to and clarifies the Ten Commandments by either giving additional laws and injunctions of a similar nature or by elaborating more about the laws already given.

Each of the Ten Commandments as well as being an injunction in its own right also represents a section of the Laws given later in more detail.

The First Commandment is to believe in God who took you out of Egypt.
The Judgments section has an injunction not to oppress the sojourning stranger, Exodus 23:
9 'Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Both the First Commandment and the warning not to oppress the stranger are linked to the Redemption from Egypt. We may therefore take them as making a section of their own.

Similarly we are commanded to honor our father and mother (Exodus 20:12). This relates to the Judgements section condemning whoever curses their father or mother (Exodus 21:17).

The injunction against a witch (22:17) relates to the Commandment forbidding idolatry (20:3,4). The injunctions against cursing the judge and/or a prince (22:27) relate to the Commandment not to take the Name of God in vain (20:7).

The injunctions to keep the Festivals and the Sabbatical Year (23:10-19) relate to the Commandment to keep the Sabbath Day (20:8).

The injunctions concerning homicide and manslaughter and death caused by a goring bull (Exodus 21:28-36) relate to the Commandment not to murder (20:13).

Injunctions concerning seduction (22:15) and bestiality relate to the Commandment not to commit adultery (20:14).

The laws of theft (22:1-4) relate to the Commandment not to steal (20:15).

The laws to return a lost object and the prohibition against cheating the orphan and widow (22:21) relate to the commandment not to covet what belongs to your neighbor (20:17).

And so on.

Matan Gringer points out that we can categorize all the injunctions in the Judgements sections very nicely each one under an appropriate  heading regarding the Commandment they directly pertain to.
There is however one group that appears to be exceptional..
This groups encompasses the injunctions not to take bribes, and twisting court cases such as swearing not to have misappropriated that was deposited for safekeeping (22:6-15). These relate to the Commandment not to bear false witness (20:16). There are quite a few  injunctions in this category. They all concern monetary matters and the payment of compensation.
The case regarding  an eye for an eye also fits under this heading.
The expression in Hebrew for "An Eye for an Eye" is "ayin tachat ayin". Literally this means "an eye [ayin] under [tachat] an eye [ayin]". This use of the adjective "under" in place of the preposition "for" is not the usual usage.
The word "tachat" meaning under connotes here in place of. Whatever is given is meant to be in place of that which was lost.
Maimonides says:
# How do we know concerning the loss of limbs that the expression "an eye for an eye" involves monetary compensation?
It says [just before this verse]
"If men contend with each other, and one strikes the other with a stone or with his fist,...He shall only pay for the loss of his time, and shall provide for him to be thoroughly healed (Exodus 21:18-19)". We learn for this that "tachat" (under, in place of) as recompense for wounding involves payment of money.  The same applies concerning "tachat" (under, in place of) regarding the loss of an eye or any other limb #
[Rambam, Hilchot Chovel veMazik, 1;5).

The logic of this conclusion states that in the one verse we have the case of one man striking another and cause him injury. In this case it is EXPRESSLY stated that monetary compensation must be given.
In the next case (two lines down) we have men fighting and a pregnant woman giving birth prematurely. There it is stated that the punishment should be an eye for an eye. BUT the context in which the ruling an eye for an eye is given involves monetary compensation and the verse could even be so understood as literally meaning it. In other words monetary compensation is not a twisting of the simple meaning but rather an optional way of interpreting it and it fits better into the overall context!

Leviticus 24:
 18 Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, animal for [tachat] animal.
19 'If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him? 20 fracture for [tachat]  fracture, eye for [tachat]  eye, tooth for [tachat]  tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him.

The expression "so shall it be done to him" is from Hebrew [cain Yinatayn bo] meaning, "So shall be put on him" i.e. so he will be charged to make compensation.
Here we say again the usage of the expression "tachat". In the same way if one kills the animal of another then restitution of the animal must be made.
The offender does not have his own animal killed but rather pays the value of the dead animal of his neighbor. So too, if he causes injury, he pays the value of whatever loss he is responsible for.

The upshot is that the ORAL Tradition of the Sages upon examination is found to accord with the LITERAL import of the Biblical Text.

An additional note is pertinent concerning the expression "tachat" meaning literally "under" but also understood in implying "in replace of".
 "An Eye for an Eye" could be translated from the Hebrew as "An eye in replace of an eye".
This is illustrated by a discussion in the Talmud (Temurah 27;a) on another matter.

The Talmud quotes from the Prophet Isaiah where the word "tachat" is used in a similar context.

Isaiah 60:
17 Instead
[tachat] of bronze I will bring gold,
[tachat] of iron I will bring silver,
[tachat] of wood, bronze,
And instead
[tachat] of stones, iron.
I will also make your officers peace,
And your magistrates righteousness.

The Talmud declares that legally the expression "tachat" means in replace of.

This is also the simple and correct meaning of the Hebrew text!!!
The expression "an eye for an eye" should therefore be rendered as:
"An eye in replace of an eye" (Exodus 21:24).
This does not mean that if one poked out the eye of another (by accident or intent) then their own eye should be poked out.
It means that (apart from any other punishment that the court may impose) the guilty party should by rights provide the use of an eye in place of that which he had caused loss of. Since they cannot do that then it stands to reason that they should make an equivalent monetary compensation for the damage they had caused.
One thing in place of another.
This is NOT stretching the Literal Meaning. It is the correct application of it!!!

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