Center for Tanakh Based Studies
By: William J Jackson
These are crimes where a seemingly unforeseeable event caused misfortune. For example, say you have a family dog that shows no signs of aggression and then one day it bites the neighbor’s kid. The dog is put down but the dog’s owners would have no other liability in accordance with Exodus 21-22. Bellow are the four crimes that are unintentional:
- If an ox gores somebody the ox is killed and is not eaten. The owner will have no further liability (Exodus 21:28)
- If an ox kills another ox the owners will sell the living ox and divide the money and divide the dead ox (Exodus 21:37)
- If property given to somebody for safe keeping is stolen the person who was protecting the property will swear before a judge he did not steal it (Exodus 22:6-7)
- If livestock is given to somebody for safekeeping and it becomes compromised the person guarding it will give an oath to God he didn’t damage the property (Exodus 22:9-10)
a. Why is this crime different?
The basic point here is that intentional crimes* and crimes of neglect** could have been prevented, either by controlling ones behavior or putting preventative measures in place. Conversely unintentional crimes usually have no warning with the incident being beyond the offender’s control. Interestingly, in two of these above laws if somebody is protecting your property and they fail they are not liable. They are to *swear their innocence but that’s it. I think what these two laws are doing is having us be accountable in choosing the right people for the right job. For example, if I choose an unworthy person to protect my property who is at fault? In a weird way it is like as if I am committing a crime of *neglect on myself. The irony is that I am both the culprit and the victim, thus I pay.
*Note: If the person who was watching your property had something to do with it’s theft it might seem like they are getting over by just swearing their innocence. On the contrary, now they are accountable to HaShem for braking three of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:13-14)..
b. What about the other Laws?
There are other laws in chapters 22 and 23 of Exodus that don‘t seem to possess a verdict in the eyes of the courts. Does this imply that these laws are suggestions?
- Do not curse a judge or prince among your people (Exodus 22:27).
- Do not mistreat or oppress a sojourner (Exodus 22:20, 9).
- Do not oppress widows or orphan (Exodus 22:21).
- Do not charge interest to the poor and your brother, you can charge interest to the foreigner (Exodus 22:24).
- “You must not hold anything back when you give me offerings from your (fullness offering) crops and your wine (heave offering) (Exodus 22:28).
- And do not slant your testimony in favor of a person just because that person is poor (Exodus 23:3).
- Every 7th year is a Shemittah (Sha-me-ta) which means literally: “to release.” This applies to your crops (Exodus 22:10-11).
- Honor the Sabbath (Exodus 23:12).
- Don’t even mention other gods (Exodus 23:13). This is why many of us who left Christianity do not even say the Christian messiah’s name
The answer is in the Ten Commandments. In the Commandments only two of them have consequences listed in Exodus 20 (Commandment 3 and 5, Exodus:20:5,12). But we know there is a penalty if we don’t follow all ten. As we look at Malachi 3:5 G-d tells us He will judge us against these other laws and in Deuteronomy 27:15-26 He will curse those who do not uphold His word. Maybe one would not be on trial before Hebrew Judges for violating any of these nine areas but we are triad and sentenced by the Maker of the Universe. As we are called to be righteous (Deuteronomy 6:25, Ezekiel 1820-24, Proverbs 12:28, 21:3) these laws will guide us.
When it comes to all these Laws (intentional, neglect, unintentional and others) the true reckoning is not if we are found guilty or not before our fellow man. It is if we are found guilty or not by HaShem. Here we will receive either a curse or blessing dependant on His verdict and our repentance (Deuteronomy 28:9,15, Joshua 23:15).