Thursday, May 25th, 2017

Parashat Shoftim: Egla Arufa – Forcing an Entire City to Engage in Introspection by Yaakov Bieler

August 20, 2012 by  
Filed under New Posts

Egla Arufa as a Chok.

At the end of Parashat Shoftim (Devarim 21:1-9), we encounter the curious and mysterious ritual of “Egla Arufa” (lit. broken-necked calf). The procedure is required when the body of a murder victim is discovered in an unpopulated area within the land of Israel. The closest Jewish city is notified and its inhabitants perform a ceremony that culminates in a prayer for HaShem to Grant atonement for the crime that has taken place so close to their homes. Some of the components of the ceremony seem to have purely symbolic value, e.g., the killing of a calf that has never been used for any type of work upon a site has never been cultivated, and would therefore appear to qualify as one of the “Chukim” (lit. statutes), laws whose meanings are obscure to the human mind.[1]

The leadership of the city closest to the body must take responsibility for what has occurred.

However, one aspect of the ritual is very comprehensible, and probably quite disconcerting for the city’s leadership. By means of both body language as well as the spoken word, the leaders of the community are commanded to declare their innocence of any wrongdoing in connection to the murdered individual’s demise.

Devarim 21:6-7

And all of the elders of that city closest to the lifeless body will wash their hands[2] over the broken-necked calf in the valley.

And they will recite and say: Our hands did not spill this blood and our eyes did not see.

The Tora-mandated public declaration by these leading personalities of the city, suggesting that some degree of suspicion regarding their complicity in the murder has to be unambiguously refuted, inspires the Mishna (paraphrased by RaShI in his interpretation to Devarim 21:7) to rhetorically ask a pointed question, and then answer its own query with an intriguing hypothesis.

Sota 9:6

…Does it ever occur to us that the elders of the local court are murderers?

But rather (they are declaring) that we were never approached by this individual and we never deliberately sent him away without food;

we never saw him setting out on a journey and are not to be blamed for allowing him to travel without a protective entourage…

The Mishna interprets the elders’ verbal formula associated with “Egla Arufa” as suggesting that rather than focusing upon the murder itself from which the elders hopefully should be able to easily disassociate themselves, reflecting upon and reenacting the series of events that possibly led up to the actual crime is of importance to us all, and that the responsibility for this chain of unfortunate circumstances might have to be laid at the feet of the city’s leadership, however distinguished their reputations. Every grouping of human beings, large and small, contains within it, on the one hand, individuals who are vulnerable and needy, and on the other those who are predatory and predisposed to violence. When the paths of members of these two groups cross under extenuating circumstances, e.g., when food is scarce and extreme poverty is wide-spread, the Tora suggests that blame for violence cannot be confined to the immediate perpetrator of a crime, but rather has to be shared by those mandated to create and enforce a spirit of cooperation, mutual respect and safety within their municipality’s precincts. The implication of the elders’ declaration in the ritual of “Egla Arufa” is that the repair of manifestations of the fraying of the social fabric is the primary responsibility of the political, judicial, military and executive branches of government.

For whom must the leadership take responsibility, the victim or the perpetrator?

The Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds disagree regarding the identity of the individual about whom the elders are declaring their freedom from blame. Bavli Sota 45b-46a understands that the elders are referring to the murder victim concerning whom they claim they did not know that he either lacked food or had felt compelled to travel alone on dangerous roads. Much more intriguingly, the Talmud Yerushalmi takes a different perspective, shifting the focus from the social services offered by the society, to its justice system.

Yerushalmi Sota 9:6

The Rabbis from here (Israel—Jerusalem Talmud) explain the verse in terms of the murderer, while the Rabbis from there (Bavel—Babylonian Talmud) interpret the verse in terms of the murder victim.

The Rabbis from here explain the verse in terms of the murderer: he did not come into our hands and we freed him (without subjecting him to punishment). We did not see him committing the crime, and failed to bring him to justice.[3]

While the Rabbis of the two Talmudical traditions disagree regarding how to understand the focus of the elders’ declaration, from the perspective of considering societal needs, both perspectives are important to consider. Individuals reduced to desperate circumstances in order to be able to survive will feel compelled to engage in risk-taking that can sometimes prove fatal, while unrepentant criminals who are allowed to continue to wreak havoc with impunity will similarly erode the quality of life within the community. R. David Tzvi Hoffmann[4] suggests that the difference in opinion between the Yerushalmi and Bavli revolves around whether a “Beit Din” (Jewish court)’s failure to convict a criminal who subsequently murders someone is tantamount to the judges themselves being guilty or at least accused of spilling blood—according to the Rabbis of Israel “yes”,[5] and the Rabbis of Bavel “no”.[6]

The dialectic between protecting the accused and protecting the society.

The tension that is created by recognizing the need to bring evil-doers to justice in order to protect future potential victims, and yet worrying that perhaps an error might be made and an innocent person will be convicted of a crime that s/he did not commit, is reflected in the following Mishnaic debate:

Sanhedrin 1:10

…A Sanhedrin that executes a single person over the course of a seven year period is declared a violent court.

R. Elazar ben Azarya says: A single person over the course of seventy years.

R. Tarfon and R. Akiva say: If we would be seated on a Sanhedrin, no one would ever be executed.[7]

R. Shimon ben Gamliel says: They (R. Tarfon and R. Akiva) will also thereby multiply the murderers among the Jewish people.

One commentator’s view that the most logical scenario is that the person killed was a starving individual engaged in mugging a traveler who killed his attacker in self-defense.

R. S.R. Hirsch (Devarim 21:7) offers a different perspective as to why he prefers the explanation of the Talmud Bavli over that of the Yerushalmi, based upon contrasting a number of different scenarios that could account for how and why the murder victim met his end:

…The words of the text, “Our hands did not spill the blood…” seem to indicate that it refers to clearing themselves from any blame in participation in bringing about the deed, rather than from their having been forgetful of their duty and showing leniency to the murderer after the deed was done (see fn. 3). If we consider further…that the whole “Egla Arufa” institution applies only to cases where the victim has been left lying in the open as if in mocking defiance of the public officials, then there could really only be one case where such scorn could possibly be deserved, and that would be if the officials of the town had really sent a hungry traveling stranger away without giving him any food, and his hunger had driven him to try highway robbery in the course of which the man attacked had killed him in self-defense; a case in which the slayer would be entirely guiltless, the slain one have at least some excuse, and the real blameworthy ones would be the officials of the city who had failed to exercise the Jewish communal duty towards the needs of the slain man. This same eventuality could also refer to the slayer (as the authorities in the Yerushalmi would say), i.e., that the neglect of their duty on the part of the town officials had left him in such dire need that he had to resort to highway robbery and killed the victim of his attack. But the Babylonian Gemora could prefer to take the case primarily to refer to the slain man because then there would be the possibility of complete blamelessness in the actual deed, and also the Babylonian explanation seems more feasible as it puts the allowing to depart without food as the explanation for “Our hands did not spill” accordingly as a possibility of actual participation in the causation of the crime, and not, as the Yerushalmi does, as the explanation of “Our eyes did not see”.

But perhaps the leadership had nothing to do with this particular unfortunate circumstance?

Whereas Mishna Sota understands the confession of the Kohanim and the elders as implying at least the possibility of indirect guilt in the death of the individual whose body has been discovered, Ibn Ezra uncharacteristically[8] proposes a metaphysical approach to the situation that precipitates the “Egla Arufa” ritual by suggesting that nothing at all directly associated with the particular murder in question might have actually taken place in the city whose leaders are now required to profess their innocence.

Ibn Ezra on Devarim 21:7

And it is possible that God Commanded that these actions be performed in the closest city (to the discovered dead body), since had the inhabitants (of that city) not violated a similar transgression (to the sin of murder), it would not have happened that an individual would have been murdered in their proximity. And the Thoughts of HaShem are deep and ethereal without measure viewed from our human perspectives.

It appears that for Ibn Ezra, the assumption that a Jewish city’s leadership could be implicated in any way—directly or indirectly—in the murder of an average non-descript individual is completely preposterous. However that fact does not preclude the engagement in behaviors by the residents of the city in question that are in need of correction. Ibn Ezra insists that the conduct which has attracted God’s Attention at worst merely parallels in some way the crime of murder and while such actions are duly regrettable, they do not necessarily involve any aspect of the criminal taking of life.

Paralleling Ibn Ezra’s approach to “Egla Arufa” with the Rabbinic understanding of manslaughter.

Ibn Ezra’s approach to identifying what precipitated the murder that then requires the performance of the “Egla Arufa” ritual, calls to mind the theological explanation associated with the concept of “Rotzeach BeShogeig” (the inadvertent murderer) and God’s Orchestrating[9] his  need to spend time in an “Ihr Miklat” (city of refuge). RaShI presents this very type of theological scenario for “Rotzeach BeShogeig” in a well-known commentary on a verse in Shemot.

Shemot 21:13

And if he did not lie in ambush, and God Made him (the victim) fall into his (the inadvertent murderer’s) hands, and I will Give you a place that he can flee there.

RaShI

What is the circumstance being discussed by the verse? Two individuals, one who had murdered someone inadvertently and another who had murdered deliberately. In both instances there were no witnesses to attest to what had taken place. This one was not executed, and this one was not exiled (to a city of refuge). And the Holy One Blessed be He Orchestrates events so that these two individuals find themselves in the same inn, the one who had previously killed with premeditation sits at the foot of a ladder, and the one who had killed inadvertently climbs up the ladder, and accidentally falls on the one who killed deliberately and kills him, before witnesses who testify against him and he is sentenced to exile. Consequently, the one who originally should have been exiled is exiled, while the one who should have been executed is killed.

Extending the context of the aforementioned RaShI to the case of “Egla Arufa” according to Ibn Ezra, one could suggest that while there may not have been specific errors or insensitivities with respect to the particular murder that is now being dealt with, there may have been other murders which could be attributed to judicial incompetence and/or a lack of concern for the poor and oppressed. In order to finally sensitize the entire city to these long-standing flaws in the municipality’s social makeup, a dramatic event such as the “Egla Arufa” ritual will ideally lead to reflection upon everyone’s part in order to assure that similar regrettable incidents will happen with far less frequency, if at all.

However, it is possible that according to Ibn Ezra, the need for “Egla Arufa” may have nothing at all to do with previous murders, but rather some other sin or moral shortcoming.  Another comment by RaShI implies that an action, or lack thereof, that unfortunately leads to another’s death may have nothing to do with previous murders that have gone unsolved and unpunished.

Devarim 22:8

When you build a new house and you make a fence for your roof, and you will not place blood in your house, “Ki Yipol HaNofeil Mimenu” (lest the faller falls from it).

RaShI

(Addressing the implications of the word “HaNofeil” [the faller]—how can such a person be referred to as a “faller” if he has as yet not fallen, RaShI writes:) This individual is predestined to fall (to his/her death). Nevertheless, do not allow his death to be associated with you, since meritorious actions are connected to those who are worthy, while negative actions are connected to those who have acted improperly in the past.

Accepting Ibn Ezra’s position that “Egla Arufa” might be an indication of some other shortcoming on the part of the nearest city, how could what was wrong be figured out?

Once it is assumed, as apparently does Ibn Ezra, that there is some sort of “cause-and-effect” relationship between the discovery of a dead body resulting in “Egla Arufa” on the one hand, and preexisting negative behavior to which in God’s “Opinion”, insufficient attention has been paid by the city’s leadership on the other, it would seem to be of great importance to identify exactly what type(s) of conduct are in need of rectification. If a “Mida KeNeged Mida” (one attribute in direct correspondence with another) relationship is at work, and a city’s inhabitants are being reminded by means of a murder and its ensuing public ritual, that the murder rate in their community is unacceptable, at least the social problem in need of being addressed has been clearly identified, and hopefully people will attempt to find ways of improving the situation. However, if the relationship between “Egla Arufa” and a society’s shortcomings is no more than conveying to the city that there is something wrong, but it remains patently unclear what the problem may be, one could imagine one of two extreme reactions: 1) the citizenry decides to engage in a general reconsideration and overhaul all of the city’s values, institutions and interpersonal interactions,[10] or 2) due to how elusive and unspecific the indictment of the behavior of the city seems to be, nothing will end up being done.[11] An additional difficulty with Ibn Ezra’s approach would appear to be is how is it to be determined whether the offending behavior has been corrected? Would unidentified bodies continue turning up near the city in question until changes had been made?[12] Would “Egla Arufa” take place only when the shortcoming in need of improvement was so glaring that it left nothing to the imagination, and everyone would immediately recognize what had to be done?

Personalizing “Egla Arufa” to constitute a wake-up call to the populace in general, even during times when the ritual is no longer practiced, rather than only a community’s leadership during a certain period of biblical history.

Finally, since “Egla Arufa” is no longer practiced today (see. fn. 12 for a discussion of the primary source describing why it was discontinued), a homiletic interpretation presented by Chizkuni and Da’at Zekeinim MiBa’alei HaTosafot takes on more than passing interest.

Chizkuni, Da’at Zekeinim on Devarim 21:7

“Our hands did not ‘Shafchu’ (spill)”—the word pronounced “Shafchu” is written: “Shin” “Phey” “Chaf” “Heh” (instead of the more appropriate “Vav”), as if it is to be pronounced “Shafcha”, making this a case of “Ktiv VeKeri” (lit. writing and reading, i.e., where the pronunciation and the spelling of a particular word are at odds with one another; such inconsistencies are invariably the subject of homiletical and sometimes even Halachic interpretations by the Rabbis.)

It is written with a “Heh”, to teach that the “Ba’al HaBayit” (householder) is obligated to extend to his guest five (the numerical value of the letter “Heh”) things: 1) food, 2) drink, 3) accompaniment on his journeys, 4) a place to sleep, and 5) a gift, whether large or small…

Perhaps even during the period when “Egla Arufa” was carried out, it was too easy for the average inhabitant of a city to conclude that it is only the leadership, the elders, who are responsible to see to the needs of the poor. The interpretation of the “Heh” in “Shafchu” not only equates the average “Ba’al HaBayit” with the elder of the city, it further implies that his  home is tantamount to a city, and the guest that he welcomes into it are comparable to those in need within a large metropolis. Refusing to receive a guest, or not offering generous and appropriate hospitality to one’s guest during the time that he is visiting your home, is viewed as a serious shortcoming, and potentially will require a public accounting should something untoward happen to one’s guest. It would seem that just as Sanhedrin 71a states with regard to “Ben Sorer U’Moreh” (the stubborn and rebellious son), “Ihr HaNidachat” (lit. a city that has been pushed aside, i.e., a locale where at least 51% of the population has engaged in idolatry, causing a decree to be issued that the entire city including its inhabitants are to be destroyed), and “Beit HaMenuga” (a house that has developed the spiritual fungus “Tzora’at”), that even if these situations never practically took place, “Derosh VeKabel Sechar” (interpret and explore these topics and it will prove rewarding), the same is true of a Mitzva that is no longer carried out such as “Egla Arufa”. In the case of the latter in light of Chizkuni’s and Da’at Zekeinim’s interpretation, we are enjoined to treat all guests with a high level of concern and respect. Rather than viewing the virtue of “Hachnasat Orchim” (bringing guests in) as a favor that we are extending to those we invite, we should perceive it as a great responsibility, that must be carried out as carefully as any other Mitzva, and for which we ultimately will have to give an accounting.


[1] RaMBaM in Guide for the Perplexed, III:40, suggests an extremely logical rationale for “Egla Arufa”:

It is the city that is closest to the slain person that brings the calf, and in most cases the murderer comes from that place…As a rule the investigation, the procession of the elders, the measuring, and the taking of the calf make people talk about it, and by making the event public, the murderer may be found out, and he who knows of him, or has heard of him, or has discovered him by any clue, will now name the person who is the murderer, and as soon as  a man, or even a woman or handmaiden rises up and names a certain person as having committed the murder, the calf is not killed. It is well-known that it is considered great guilt and wickedness on the part of a person who knows the murderer, and is silent about him while the elders call upon God as witness that they know nothing about the murderer. Even a woman will, therefore, communicate whatever knowledge she has of him. When the murderer is discovered, the benefit of the law is apparent…Force is added to the law by the rule that the place in which the neck of the calf is broken is never to be cultivated or sown. The owner of the land will therefore use all means in his power to search and to find the murderer, in order that the calf be not killed and the land be not made useless to him.

RaMBaN on Devarim 21:7 opines that breaking the calf’s neck is not a “pleasing act” and he quibbles with regard to the choice of land when  he states that there would be in his opinion greater incentive for the land owner to find the perpetrator of the crime if the piece of land utilized for the site of the killing of the calf had been cultivated productively in the past and therefore the implications of its loss were already objectively apparent, as opposed to land whose fertility was still in question, and which people might think was chosen because there was no other use for it. But these do not appear to be objections that dismiss RaMBaM’s approach out of hand.  If there is a caveat to RaMBaM’s explanation for “Egla Arufa”, it would be that since the Guide for the Perplexed clearly contains apologetics aimed at those who are skeptical about the laws of Judaism, is RaMBaM’s interpretation what he himself truly believes about this practice, or are his speculations intended exclusively for popular consumption by those in need of convincing concerning Judaism’s veracity and relevance?

Two passages in the Talmud explain the symbolism of “Egla Arufa” in accordance with the two possible interpretations of 21:7 that are discussed below in this essay, i.e., are the elders protesting their innocence with regard to how they treated the victim of the crime, or its perpetrator?:

Sota 46a (cited by RaShI on Devarim 21:4)

Why does the Tora say “Bring a calf that has as yet not provided useful work to a place that has not been productive”? Said the Holy One, Blessed be He: An animal that has not yet been productive should come to place that has not yet been productive, and to atone for one who has been robbed of the possibility of becoming productive by doing good deeds. à the ritual focuses upon the victim.

Sanhedrin 52b

All shedders of blood are compared to the “Egla Arufa”. Just as it is killed by the sword and at the neck, so are those to be killed by the sword and at the neck. à the ritual focuses upon the criminal.

R. S.R. Hirsch on Devarim 21:8 attempts to reconcile these two Talmudic sources:

If atonement is made for one who has been bereft of his future, such atonement lies not so much in realizing what he has done to his fellow man, but in realizing that at the same moment that he robbed his victim of his future, he robs himself of any claim to that of which he has bereft the other. He who bereaves a man of his earthly future, for him himself there is no earthly future anymore, and even if he does not fall into the hands of human retributory justice, God Brings about that which the arm of human justice had not been able to accomplish. Without a future he finds his end on soil without a future…This is similar to the words spoken to the first murderer (Kayin) in Beraishit 4:12 “When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; unsettled and friendless shall you be on the earth.

[2] One of the most memorable literary presentations of the association between hand-washing and attempting to assuage guilt, is in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Act II Scene 2.

What hands are here? Ha! They pluck out mine eyes.
Will all great Neptune‘s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas in incarnadine,
Making the green one red
.

Re-enter LADY MACBETH

My hands are of your color; but I shame
To wear a heart so white.

Knocking within

I hear a knocking
At the south entry: retire we to our chamber;
A little water clears us of this deed:
How easy is it, then!

[3] The Yerushalmi’s interpretation of the declaration of the elders is ambiguous regarding the crime to which they are referring: Are they denying that the murderer had been in their custody as a result of some previous crime, and their failure to either imprison or punish him gave him the opportunity to carry out the present atrocity, or are they stating that they have not improperly freed the perpetrator after ascertaining that he was responsible for the present murder under investigation. One problem with the first view would be whether the “slippery slope” concept should be applied in this connection. Must we assume that failure to bring a criminal to justice for one thing that he did will inevitably result in another crime? Is it not possible for the individual to repent and decide not to pursue any further a life of criminality? R. S.R. Hirsch on Devarim 21:7 assumes the latter position, i.e., the elders had had in custody the murderer of the person whose body was discovered in the field. But this view would seem to be logically difficult.  Once the victim is dead, why would freeing the murderer be tantamount to spilling blood? The blood of the murdered individual has been irrevocably spilled; the only question remaining is the manner in which the criminal should be brought to justice, and ultimately whether his own blood deserves to be comparably spilled for what he has done. Unless what is feared is that if he has murdered this time, perhaps we must fear that he will murder again.

[4] Sefer Devarim, Netzach, Tel Aviv, 5721, pp. 409-11.

[5] Since they may have been derelict in their responsibility to remand and punish the individual who then proceeds to murder someone, they are to be viewed as accomplices to the crime.

[6] One crime cannot be linked to the other, but each must be viewed independently. Consequently, just because someone is not convicted for an earlier infraction, cannot be cited as a direct cause to what he may do subsequently. However, if the leaders of the society failed to provide food and support to a poor individual to the point where he either had to become a thief himself—the explanation of some commentators as to how the individual was killed, i.e., during the course of trying to rob someone, the potential victim resisted and killed his attacker—or wander about on unsafe roads, thereby exposing himself to the attacks of other criminals, they would then be considered “shedders of blood”. A Mishnaic support to the latter concept would be suggested by the following Mishna and its commentary:

Peah 8:7

…A town’s charity collection is collected by two individuals and distributed by three.

RaMBaM, RA”V, Tosafot Yom Tov

Three are needed for distribution, because this constitutes a Beit Din (a Jewish court), and money matters must be adjudicated by three.

The assumption that Tzedaka distribution is tantamount to a legal proceeding, where accurate and responsible decisions must be made in fairness and by taking into considerations all of the variables that apply to each individual case, suggests that improper charity distribution impugns not only a society’s social services, but even its justice system.

[7] The manner by which judges can control the outcomes of trials by means of their own predilections was by permitting them to choose the nature of some of the questions that they would pose to witnesses (See Sanhedrin 5:1). Aside from the basic questions of time and place that all witnesses are required to answer in order that their testimony be considered at all admissible (since all witnesses have to make themselves subject to a possible counterclaim by others that they may have been “Eidim Zomemim” [lit. plotting witnesses—see Devarim 19:16-21] and were in a different location at the time when they claim to have seen the crime, and therefore they could not possibly have observed first-hand what they are reporting), the judges are given the prerogative to ask as many or as few questions about the additional details regarding the events that they claim tp have witnessed. Obviously the more questions posed and the degree of detail requested, would make the witnesses who are interviewed separately, more likely to contradict one another’s account and thereby be dismissed. Therefore R. Tarfon and R. Akiva would carry out their judicial activism by asking questions of the witnesses in a capital trial to the point where no witness would be able to stand up to their cross-examination.

[8] Throughout his Tora commentary, Ibn Ezra eschews interpretations that he deems “Midrashic” and prefers approaches that are closer to the literal meaning of the biblical text. He was so committed to such an approach, that he even studied with Karaites, whom he believed would resist being influenced by homiletical interpretations as a result of their rejection of the Rabbinic Oral Tradition. Consequently, for Ibn Ezra in this case to contend that the appearance of the dead body in proximity to a particular city was due to God’s Desire for the inhabitants of this city to engage in some form of soul-searching is somewhat out of character.

[9] Variables that come into play include: a) which city is closest and therefore the most likely for him to find refuge within it, with the recognition that the qualities of each of the 48 cities of the Levi’im had unique qualities and therefore would constitute a different exile experience for the inadvertent murderer; and b) the length of the sitting Kohen Gadol’s life at the time that the accidental murder takes place, since the length of the “sentence” in the “Ihr Miklat” (city of refuge) is a function of when the current High Priest will die.

[10] In the case of Ninveh, to which the prophet Yona was sent to threaten them with doom unless they repented, it would appear that a comprehensive repentance movement resulted from the prophet’s warning (Yona 3:5-10).

[11] It is obvious that most of the prophets who warned the people of Israel of the consequences of their specific iniquities were completely ignored. So what is the likelihood that, according to Ibn Ezra, the    much more ambiguous general indictment of a city’s values and culture represented by “Egla Arufa” will be taken seriously by the people of the city which must carry out the ritual, and lead to substantive action?

[12] In II Shmuel 21:1 ff. a drought of three years during David’s reign is described as leading him, according to Yevamot 78b, ultimately to consult the “Urim VeTumim” (the Kohen Gadol’s breastplate, whose precious jewels would light up, spelling out messages from God—see http://www.kmsynagogue.org/RabbiSpeeches/5765/Tzav1.html ) in order to discover what had to be done to alleviate the drought. Whereas an absence of rain is an ongoing phenomenon and therefore would continue to spark constant soul-searching, assuming that people took literally the threats of the Tora, e.g., Devarim 11:17, “Egla Arufa” is a one-time event which does not contain any type of mechanism that would allow for evaluation as to whether the condition that precipitated the murder taking place near the city in question has been resolved. A series of “Egla Arufa” incidents taking place throughout Israel, let alone in the same locale, would appear to be precluded by Sota 9:9, which states, “When murderers multiplied, the ceremony of ‘Egla Arufa’ was discontinued.” Yeshayahu Leibowitz (Sheva Shanim Shel Sichot Al Parshat HaShavua, Chemed, Israel, 2000, p. 858) explains that once the “shock value” of “Egla Arufa” is mitigated by frequent murders, there was no longer any point in engaging in the proceeding. He notes that with the ubiquity of murder as conveyed in the contemporary media desensitizing us all from being appalled by such happenings, it allows us to hark back to an ancient time when apparently murder took place so infrequently that “Egla Arufa” was an effective means of atonement, reflection, and even, according to RaMBaM (see fn. 1) bringing the murderer to justice.

Print This Post Print This Post