Stealings and Piercings


We all must discipline our children. One of the most popular methods of the day is the “time-out”. ‎Parenting books suggest that these ‘jail-times’ vary according the age of the child and the severity ‎of the crime. There are tell-tale signs when the sentence is unsuccessful. If a kid emerges from her “cell” grinning from ear to ear, something is wrong. ‎

The child thinks, Ha! It was worth it!‎

In accordance with Jewish law, when a convicted burglar lacks the funds to repay the victim of his ‎robbery, he is sold by the court into slavery. The funds raised from the sale are used to make up for ‎the loss. After six years of labor, the slave is freed. If the slave chooses, and his master agrees, he ‎may remain in servitude after the six years, until the jubilee. However, the court will administer ‎minor surgery before allowing him stay in slavery. His right ear is pierced with an awl. ‎

“Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai said: The ear that heard on Mount Sinai, ‘You shall not ‎steal’ and then went and stole, shall be bored.” ‎ (Rashi Shemos 21:6)

This seems problematic. ‎

First, we puncture his ear after completing his six-year term. At this juncture, he is no longer guilty ‎of theft. He has repaid the debt. Yet, at this point that we pierce his ear that did not heed, “You ‎shall not steal”. ‎

Secondly, if his act of theft is the basis for subjecting him to the awl, then let us bore every thief at ‎the very moment that his guilt is established.‎

As a rule, it is not in the spirit of Jewish law to leave an everlasting physical imprint on one who ‎sins. Jewish law does not advocate marking one as “evil” for an eternity. The court does not ‎brand with fire, tattoo, or body-pierce. ‎

The door to repentance is always open. Hashem wishes to give his children a reason to feel that ‎they can – once again – earn their way back into his nurturing embrace. ‎

Therefore, Beis Din does not implement the awl in the case of rape, heresy, desertion, or ‎manslaughter. ‎

The thief, however, is an exception. And even then, the court only utilizes the awl when the ‎offender desires to remain in servitude past the completion of his sentence. The conscripted slave who wishes to stay beyond his penal duty presents a problem in the moral ‎arena. ‎

Since he finds comfort in his current situation, he will look favorably upon the circumstances that ‎afforded it. He will never regret his earlier crime.‎

Ha, it was worth it!

This is terrible. ‎

The perception that theft is evil will be further dulled. ‎

Therefore, in an effort to reinstate the severity of stealing, the Torah dictates that we “bore the ‎ear of a crook that heard, “You shall not steal”. ‎

The thief who chooses to remain in servitude, past the allotted time dictated by his sentence, is ‎made to live with a constant reminder about his failure to heed one of the Ten Commandments.‎ Not because he should suffer an eternal punishment, but so that he is aware of the moral ‎background of his sin. This will act as a deterrent from committing infractions in the future.‎

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