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How the Talmud Deals with Cases Where Evidentiary Standards Interfere with Justice

March 22 2018

In the talmudic system of criminal justice—which had ceased to be operative by the time the Talmud was redacted—the standards of evidence for a capital conviction are extremely high. Thus, in one case, a rabbi reports having seen one man chase another into a building while waving a sword; when the rabbi entered, he found the first holding a bloody sword, standing over the other’s corpse. The rabbi lamented that there were no grounds for convicting the murderer. Sarah Zager comments on how the talmudic sages addressed what they saw as a flaw in their own system:

Though many contemporary readers of the rabbinic tradition champion the rabbis’ strict legal procedures, the rabbis themselves also criticize it harshly. . . . The rabbis explicitly describe what is supposed to happen when it is clear that a murder has been committed, but the legal requirements for conviction cannot be met. “Someone who murders a person without witnesses is taken into the domed chamber and is fed meager bread and scant water.” [Then], the criminal should be . . . “fed barley until his intestines explode.” . . .

This is a strange . . . kind of judicial self-restraint indeed. But that doesn’t mean that it is devoid of all ethical insight; nor does it undermine the conventional reading of rabbinic legal procedure. Instead, the text gives voice to a powerful moral impulse. . . . The rabbis have seen someone shed blood, and, with their hands tied, they imagine (it’s unclear that they ever actually carried out this procedure) what they would want to happen to the person who so brazenly transgressed a deeply held moral norm. . . .

Just as we can learn from the Talmud’s demand for moral outrage, we can also learn something from the form that it takes. The possibilities that the Talmud explores for extrajudicial punishment are extraordinarily violent, perhaps even more violent than the ones that rabbinic law sanctions explicitly. . . .

The rabbis’ response to [their sense of outrage at the thought that the guilty would go unpunished] was to use their rich imaginations to devise a form of revenge that would settle the moral accounts and to include those narratives alongside their legal discussions. We can follow their example by making space for moral disgust in our public discourse, even if that disgust is [part of] a shared public discourse that occurs outside the courtroom.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Halakhah, Judaism, Morality, Religion & Holidays, Talmud

What U.S. Success in Syria Should Look Like

April 26 2018

Surveying the history of the Syrian civil war, Jack Keane and Danielle Pletka explain that Bashar al-Assad’s brutal rule and vicious tactics have led to the presence in his country of both Shiite terrorists, led by Hizballah and backed by Iran and Russia, and Sunni jihadist groups like Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda. Any American strategy, they argue, must bear this in mind:

The best option is a Syria without Assad, committed to a future without Iranian or Russian influence. This is not a Pollyanna-like prescription; there are substantial obstacles in the way, not least those we have encountered in Iraq. . . . [But] only such a Syria can guarantee an end to Iranian interference, to the transshipment of weapons for Hizballah, and to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction of the kind we saw used at Douma. (Iran has been instrumental in Syria’s chemical-weapons program for many years.) And, most importantly, only such a Syria can disenfranchise the al-Qaeda and IS affiliates that have found a foothold by exploiting the Syrian people’s desperation.

How do we get there? The United States must first consolidate and strengthen its position in eastern Syria from the Euphrates river to the eastern Syrian border. This involves clearing out the remnants of Islamic State, some several thousand, and ultimately eliminating pockets controlled by the Assad regime and Iranian forces in northeastern Syria. This would enable the creation of a control zone in the eastern part of the country as a base from which to build a credible and capable partner that is not subordinate to the Kurdish chain of command, while effectively shutting down Iran’s strategic land bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean. A regional Arab force, reportedly suggested by President Trump’s new national-security adviser, would be a welcome addition. But we should seriously doubt [the Arabs] will participate without American ground leadership and air support.

In western Syria, the United States should rebuild a Syrian opposition force with advisers, weapons, and air power while upping the pressure on Assad and his cronies to select a pathway to a negotiated peace. Pursuing a settlement in Geneva without such leverage over the Assad regime is pure fantasy. Finally, the United States and other Western powers must impede Iran’s and Russia’s ability to be resupplied. Syria’s airfields must be destroyed, and Syria’s airspace must remain clear.

Read more at National Interest

More about: Hizballah, Iran, ISIS, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy