The injunction: "Ye shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer.… And ye shall accept no ransom for him that is fled to his
of refuge" (Num. 35:31–32), was interpreted as an exception to the general rule that for all other offenses you may accept a "ransom' (kofer), except only for the offense of homicide (BK 83b; Rash-bam to Num. 35:31). It seems that the capital offense of adultery was compounded in this way (Prov. 6:35). The rule that even the worst examples of personal injury (such as blinding or mutilating) were not to be punished by way of talion (as prescribed in the Bible, Ex. 21:24–25; Lev. 24:19–20), but were to be compensated for by the payment of damages, was based on the principle that as offenses short of homicide they were compoundable by money (BK 83b, 84a). The fact that the "ransom" was in these cases translated into "damages" (cf. Maim. Yad, Ḥovel u-Mazzik 1:3), caused some confusion and overlapping between civil and criminal law in this field. By the payment of damages the offender is relieved from criminal responsibility (see
), the damages operating as "expiation money" (cf. Ex. 30:12, 15, and 16) in lieu of the otherwise expiating punishment. In the same way the owner of the ox that is a habitual gorer, who, though forewarned, fails to guard it so that it kills a man or a woman is liable to "be put to death," but may "re-deem his life" by paying such ransom as "is laid upon him" (Ex. 21:29–30). The dispute between the tannaim as to whether the ransom is to be assessed according to the value of the killed man or of the owner of the ox (Mekh. Mishpatim 10; BK 40a), as well as the parallel dispute as to whether the ransom is in the nature of damages (mamon) or of expiation (BK 40a), reflect the underlying difference between purely civil and additionally criminal remedies. This distinction is not affected by the talmudic interpretation of the liability of the ox-owner to be put to death, as this relates only to the law of heaven (bi-ydei shamayim), the theory of expiation by payment of the ransom applying to
as well (Sanh. 15b; Maim. Yad, Nizkei Mamon 10:4).
It is because the ransom underwent this transformation into damages that the injunction not to accept a ransom in cases of homicide was interpreted as addressed to the court (ibid., Roẓe'aḥ 1:4). In fact, it was not only the court but more particularly such interested persons as
that were enjoined from compounding homicides – as was pointed out by later authorities (e.g., Minḥat Ḥinnukh 412). However it appears that such compounding had already been practiced by judges in biblical times and led to accusations of corruption (cf. Amos 5:12; and contrast I Sam. 12:3) – perhaps not so much because the judges corruptly enriched themselves (see
), but because of the inequality thereby created between rich offenders, who could afford to ransom themselves, and indigent offenders who could not (cf. Prov. 13:8; cf. Job 36:18). The elimination of this inequality in cases of homicide may have made it appear even more reprehensible in other cases, at least from the point of view of judicial ethics. In later periods courts allowed offenders to compound offenses for which previous courts had imposed severe punishments (such as flogging) by making payments to the injured person or to the poor (cf. e.g., Resp. Maharyu 146; Eitan ha–Ezraḥi 7; Yam shel Shelomo BK 8:49; Resp. Maharshal 28).
In the State of Israel
The Israel Supreme Court dealt with the matter of "ransom" or punishments in the case of Sheffer (CA 506/88, Sheffer v. State of Israel, 48(1) PD 87). The Court (Justice Elon) discussed the question of whether a terminally ill patient was entitled to request that he not be given any life-extending treatment. The Court cited in this context the biblical verse (Gen. 1:27): "In His image did God make man," which is the "analytical and philosophical basis of Jewish law's unique approach to the supreme value of the sanctity of human life" (Sheffer, 117). "The prayer of the Jew to the Almighty in the Days of Awe acknowledges not only that 'the soul is yours, and the body is your work,' but also that 'the soul is yours and the body is yours,' for man is created in the image of God, in the image of the world's Creator. This approach also serves as the rationale for a legal ruling. Thus, Numbers 35:31 – 'Do not accept ransom for a murderer' – is explained by Maimonides in his Mishneh Torah (Roẓe'aḥ u-Shemirat ha-Nefesh 23:4) as follows: 'The Court is warned not to accept ransom money from a murderer, even if he gives all the money in the world and even if the blood avenger is willing to acquit him [for it] – since the life of the person who was killed is not the property of the blood relative but rather that of the Almighty, as it is stated: 'Do not accept ransom for a murderer.' And there is nothing that the Torah deals with more seriously than with murder, as it is stated: 'Do not defile the land, etc., since the blood will defile the land' (Num. 35: 33)." These words have become the source of disputes among halakhic authorities with regard to the fundamental question of whether medical treatment can be forced on a patient against his wishes (ibid., 118–19).
[Menachem Elon (2nd ed.)]
J.M. Ginzberg, Mishpatim le-Yisrael (1956), 143f., 221–3; M. Greenberg, in: Yeḥezkel Kaufmann Jubilee Volume (1960), 5–28. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Elon, Jewish Law, Cases and Materials (1999), 600f.; A. Warhaftig, "Lo Tikḥu Kofer la-Nefesh Meḥabel," in: Teḥumin, 6 (1985), 303–8.
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