Why Does the Torah Prohibit Cursing the Deaf?

April 29 2015

Is it not self-evident that such behavior is wrong? And why not prohibit cursing anyone? Yet, in this week’s Torah reading, the book of Leviticus states specifically, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” Shai Held searches for an answer:

Maimonides interprets the prohibition on cursing the deaf as a signature example of the Torah’s concern with human character and virtue. “We might have thought,” he writes, “that . . . since a deaf person does not hear [the curse] and is not pained by it, there is no sin involved in that case.” [But] our verse works to undercut that line of thought. . . Why? Because the Torah “is concerned not only with the one who is cursed, but also with the one who curses.” The potential character flaw the Torah worries about in this instance, according to Maimonides, is “gearing oneself up for revenge and growing accustomed to being angry.”

[Y]et I am not sure that the character failing the Torah works against here is a proclivity to anger and vengeance. . . . [I]t seems more likely that the Torah’s focus is on the temptation to see people with disabilities (and, perhaps, the vulnerable more generally) as less human than ourselves, and therefore as less deserving of dignity and protection.

In this context, it is important to pay careful attention to the Hebrew word for insult, killel. The root k-l-l also means to be light [in weight]. In its prohibition of verbally abusing the deaf, the Torah is also . . . warning us not to treat the deaf person “lightly,” as if he or she has no importance. The opposite of k-l-l is k-v-d, to treat as weighty, or, more conventionally, to treat with respect. What the Torah seeks to instill, in other words, is kavod, respect, for the deaf, the blind, and those with any one or more of countless other disabilities.

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More about: Jewish ethics, Leviticus, Maimonides, Religion & Holidays, Torah

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

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Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy