Shabbat Nugget – Jewish Civil Law, Principals or Justice?

In this week’s Torah portion we learn many of the civil laws of the Torah.

The laws of the Torah regarding civil law are very original and detailed.  There are hundreds of pages in the Talmud which discusses and further explains Jewish civil law based on the verses of the Torah.

It has been said that Western law was built on the foundations of biblical law. That may be true to some extent, however, there remain significant differences between them and one can glean many fascinating insights from the study of Jewish law.

One very interesting point about Jewish law is that when it comes to monetary laws, the Torah seems to be more interested in principals which reflect realities than in justice.

Let me give you an example.

In Jewish law, ownership is viewed as a real metaphysical connection between the proprietor and the property.  Therefore, ownership of an item can only take place if there is a conscious transaction to receive the item, conversely,  a person relinquishes his ownership of an item, if it was lost or stolen by consciously giving up hope of ever retrieving the item.

This leads to the following conclusions in Jewish law.

A. If someone loses an item and gives up on finding it, if the item was later found, the original owner has no legal claim to retrieve the item.

B-If someone buys a house and calls in workers to fix a wall in the house, if in the course of fixing the wall the worker finds a treasure in the wall belonging to a previous owner who we cannot locate, the treasure belongs to the workers.  It doesn’t belong to the present owner of the house as he did not know of the existence of the treasure and did not make a conscious acquisition of the treasure.

Many people would argue that these laws don’t provide justice.

The explanation to this is, that the laws of the Torah are G-d’s will and reflect a divine order, no different than other natural occurrences and calamities which would cause a person to gain or lose his items.

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About Rabbi Pesach Scheiner

Rabbi Pesach Scheiner is the Rabbi of Boulder County Center for Judaism. In addition, he teaches extensively throughout Boulder County and is the author of "Finding the Joy in Everyday Living," a book of short chapters explaining the ways to access happiness through appreciation, gratitude, and a sense of purpose.

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