Rabbi Rachel Miller Solomin is a Jewish educator, writer, life coach, and mother living and working in California’s Silicon Valley. She was ordained from the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in 2001.
Several years ago, on a bright California Sunday, I had a car accident involving pedestrians. By maneuvering my car, I had avoided hitting them head-on. The family involved incurred only minor physical damages, but they were traumatized.
Since then, I have been struck by the relationship of these events to the Jewish laws of monetary damages. This week’s Torah portion, Emor, contains the biblical origins of these laws: “If anyone maims his fellow, as he has done so shall it be done to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The injury he inflicted on another shall be inflicted on him” (Leviticus 24:19-20, my emphasis). This formula, known variously as the lex talionis, reciprocal or retributive justice, assigns penalties appropriate to the injury. In the Torah, “an eye for an eye” is intended to limit consequences to proportional justice rather than permitting vengeance killings in response to minor injuries. When the accident happened, I ran out of my car and collapsed, sobbing apologies, beside scared, crying children in their stroller. The children’s mother suggested I move away from the kids -- ”If my husband sees you, he’ll kill you.”