How the Biblical Conception of Repentance Revolutionized Ethics

Even in our secular age, the Hebrew Bible’s ideas are so deeply rooted in the minds of both Jews and Gentiles that it is hard to see what a stark departure they were from pagan thinking. Jeremiah Unterman shows this to be the case with regard to the Torah’s teachings about penance and forgiveness:

According to the Torah, no remorse or confession is acceptable once a perpetrator has already been apprehended—for the Bible’s innate and wise psychological assumption is that such an expression of regret would be insincere and simply a ruse in order to get a reduced punishment. (Why such expressions are not forbidden in modern criminal trials at the sentencing phase is incomprehensible).

Examining in detail the laws of property theft found in Leviticus, Unterman notes a stepwise restitution process with profound moral meaning:

True repentance requires that the wrongdoer not only confess his or her crime but must make restitution to the victim; repentance mitigates the penalty payable to the victim—from the value of the stolen object plus a 100-percent fine to the value of the stolen object plus a 20-percent fine; . . . a reparation offering is made by the perpetrator at the sanctuary. . . . The reparation offering was an ethical obligation, because in the Torah a crime against a human is a crime against God.

The restitution to the victim precedes the reparation offering at the sanctuary—therefore, compensation to the victim takes precedence over reparation to God! This . . . innovation reverses the sacrificial norm in the ancient world—that offerings to the deity take priority over the needs of humans. Only in the case of repentance in the Torah’s laws do obligations to humans—in the form of restitution to victims—delay the duty to God. For the first time in the ancient world, repentance as an act of social justice is perceived as required by God and sacrifice placed in a secondary position—even though that sacrifice is necessary. . . .

To put it differently, in the case of restitution as part of repentance, one’s ethical responsibility to one’s fellow human takes priority over one’s ethical responsibility to God.

Read more at Center for Hebraic Thought

More about: Ancient Near East, Hebrew Bible, Jewish ethics, Repentance, Sacrifice


An Israeli Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip Doesn’t Violate International Law

 The IDF announced on Thursday that it is safe for residents to return to some of the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip that have been abandoned since October 7. Yet on the same day, rocket sirens sounded in one of those communities, Kibbutz Mefalsim. To help ensure security in the area, Israel is considering the creation of a buffer zone within the Strip that would be closed to Palestinian civilians and buildings. The U.S. has indicated, however, that it would not look favorably on such a step.

Avraham Shalev explains why it’s necessary:

The creation of a security buffer along the Gaza-Israel border serves the purpose of destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminating the threat to Israel. . . . Some Palestinian structures are practically on the border, and only several hundred yards away from Israeli communities such as Kfar Aza, Kerem Shalom, and Sderot. The Palestinian terrorists that carried out the murderous October 7 attacks crossed into Israel from many of these border-adjacent areas. Hamas officials have already vowed that “we will do this again and again. The al-Aqsa Flood [the October 7th massacre] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized mass marches towards the Israeli border with the goal of breaking into Israel. Billed by Palestinians as “the Great March of Return,” its name reveals its purpose—invasion. Although the marches were supposedly non-violent, they featured largescale attacks on Israeli forces as well as arson and damage to Israeli agriculture and civilian communities. Moreover, the October 7 massacre was made possible by Hamas’s prepositioning military hardware along the border under false cover of civilian activity. The security perimeter is intended to prevent a reprise of these events.

Shalev goes on to dismantle the arguments put forth about why international law prohibits Israel from creating the buffer zone. He notes:

By way of comparison, following the defeat of Nazi Germany, France occupied the Saar [River Valley] directly until 1947 and then indirectly until reintegration with Germany in 1957, and the Allied occupation of Berlin continued until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The Allies maintained their occupation long after the fall of the Nazi regime, due to the threat of Soviet invasion and conquest of West Berlin, and by extension Western Europe.

Read more at Kohelet

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, International Law, Israeli Security