Thursday, August 16, 2007

Torture in the Torah

Ethicists routinely deal with if and when torture is permissible. YU's Center for Ethics had Michael Walzer discuss this topic a few months ago (link) and see this post about an article by R. J. David Bleich on the "ticking bomb" scenario.

I was thinking that there is a precedent in the Torah for a mild form of torture -- exhausting someone to the point of confession. The Mishnah (Sotah 7a) states that a Sotah was taken to the high court in the Temple in Jerusalem and was examined/interrogated with threats intended to scare her to confess to being unfaithful to her husband. If she insisted on her innocence, she was then taken up to the Temple. The Gemara (7b-8a) asks that she was already in the Temple so why would she have to be taken up to it? It answers that she was taken to the bottom of the Temple Mount and then back up in order to tire her (so she will be more scared and will confess - Rashi).

The Mishnah (14a) further states that she would have to carry a basket with her minchah offering in it in order to tire her. Why? asks the Gemara. So she will confess.

In other words, the Torah not only allows but requires trying to exhaust a woman into confessing to infidelity.

Is this exactly similar to contemporary situations? No. A woman who confesses is not punished, although she is forced to divorce her husband and loses financial support. And if she refuses to confess she is not continuously tortured. Rather, there is a clear end to the ordeal. Nevertheless...

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More