Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

We are told in this verse about the case in which a wife who, in helping her husband fend off an attacker, seizes the attacker by the genitals. The verse tells the husband that he must cut off her hand. Is this some kind of bizarre ancient joke or parody? Was this actually done?

share|improve this question

migrated from Jun 21 '13 at 3:37

This question came from our site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more.

Jewish law interprets this as an enjoineder against using undue force in a confrontation. If the action were justified, there'd be no punishment.

In addition, the Talmud considers 'cutting off the hand' as indicating the payment of a fine--one's hand seen as figuratively as the recipient of (financial) gain.

In Jewish penal law there may be a death penalty but there is no mutilation of bodies/ hacking off limbs etc

share|improve this answer
Welcome to the Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange. If you haven't done so already, check out the site tour. In particular, be sure to read the section on what constitutes a good answer. In short, don't tell what you know, tell us how you know it - either by interacting with the text or by citing sources for the information. Please note that "showing your work" is required on this Stack Exchange. – ThaddeusB Jul 31 '15 at 19:52
(-1) for not providing any sources. – WoundedEgo Jun 25 at 10:29

The issue described is not a joke. I believe when properly understood, this passage should be seen as one of the most significant in the Old Testament.

There is no written record of what is described ever being done. That is one of the reasons it is difficult to determine the meaning. Lacking a real event to demonstrate how this should be applied, we are left with hypothetical discussions.

In this passage of Scripture the first verse describes a situation:

If two men fight together, and the wife of one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of the one attacking him, and puts out her hand and seizes him by the genitals, (NKJV)

The next verse describes the response:

then you shall cut off her hand; your eye shall not pity her. (NKJV)

What is described seems to be straight forward. There is a cause: she used her hand. There is a consequence: she loses her hand.

Except the translation from the Hebrew into English is not correct. The word translated as "hand" in verse 12 is not the same word in verse 11:

  • Verse 11: Hand = יָדָ֔הּ (yad)
  • Verse 12: Hand = כַּפָּ֑הּ (kaph)

The more accurate translation of kaph when used in conjunction with hand is "palm." While the translation is inaccurate it makes sense. One way to cut off the palm is to remove the hand.

Since it is clear the author purposely chose kaph (v12) after using yad (v11), then it follows that a different meaning should be sought.

Suppose the woman in verse 11 kicked the man with her foot instead of grabbing with her hands. Would she violate The Law? Common sense says if using the hands is wrong, so is kicking (which is likely to do greater harm). This is not stated in verse 11; it is a logical conclusion. If the Law prohibits an action, then a similar more serious action is also prohibited.

Another meaning of kaph is sole (of the foot):

But the dove found no resting place for the sole (kaph) of her foot, and she returned into the ark to him... (Genesis 8:9 NKJV)

Every place on which the sole (kaph) of your foot treads shall be yours... (Deuteronomy 11:24 NKJV)

What is inferred by logic and reason is made clear by the choice of kaph. Using traditional rabbinic midrash, an Old Testament judge would recognize the author purposely used a word kaph which expands the application of the actions described in v11.

Now should a judge cut off the palm or the sole? One way to approach this decision is seen in all translations of this verse into another language. The Septuagint and all subsequent English translations read "cut off the hand."

Except the Biblical principle is "eye for eye" and the translations make no allowance for consideration of whether the woman's action caused any lasting damage. Why should a woman permanently lose a part of her body if her action did not result in any permanent damage to the man? Moreover there is no logical solution to this issue since there is no way to determine if the man suffered permanent damage. Even if he did not produce a child (the real potential harm), it could be a result from his wife (who is barren - a common theme in Scripture).

It is at this point that discussions usually devolve into doctrinal debates for which there is no clear resolution.

An answer can be found by applying the traditional midrash methods in use before the Christian Era. First, this passage immediately follows one which deals with the Law of levirate marriage. Deuteronomy 25:5-10 is a modification of the principal (described in Genesis 38). If a man dies without producing an heir his brother is supposed to marry the wife and have children to carry on his brother's name. Deuteronomy 25:5-10 reduces the requirement from marriage to producing a single child. It also deals with the situation where the brother refuses to perform this duty.

The passage addresses a reality that some men will fail to comply with the Law (like Onan in Genesis 38). This possibility raises a question: how far can a woman go to preserve her husband's life and avoid the issue/problems of levirate marriage? Deuteronomy 25:11-12 immediately follows and can be seen as addressing that question.

What penalty should be imposed if a woman tries to save her husband's life by injuring a man (who is not her husband) in the genitals? A thoughtful judge will also recognize the author purposely failed to directly connect kaph either to the hand or the foot. This would give them the right to choose what to "cut off." While logic and reason suggests the palm if the hand was used or the sole if the foot was used, a judge who searched the Scripture would recognize there is a third meaning for the word kaph:

Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket (kaph) of his hip; and the socket (kaph) of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. (Genesis 32:25 NKJV)

A judge could "cut off" a woman's kaph as in her hip or pelvic area. He could do this by removing her right to the levirate marriage. Since she attempted to preserve her husband's life by improperly touching another man, she forfeits (or terminates) her right to have another man touch her hip/pelvic area to give her husband an heir. Thus "eye for eye" is upheld as both the man who was injured and the woman only lose the future possibility of having a child.

The word kaph is the key to understanding Deuteronomy 25:11-12. It also brings to light some significant facts:

  • This passage is objective evidence the original language is from God. There is no logical reason why a language would have a single word for 3 separate and unrelated parts of the human body. Yet, such a word is found in Hebrew (and no other language).

  • The word kaph has been specifically designed for use in this text. In all other places of Scripture, "palm" or "sole" or "socket" could be substituted without changing the meaning of the passage. Only in Deuteronomy 25:11-12 are all 3 meanings needed. This effectively destroys the idea that there were multiple sources for the Torah as it demonstrates a single author was responsible for both the word and it use from Genesis to Deuteronomy.

  • The word kaph is one of the most important words used in Scripture to describe God's plan of redemption of mankind. It is found in the key events of the ark returning to dry land; Jacob's name being changed to Israel; the nation of Israel taking possession of the land.

We can also consider why God would see the need to have a word such as kaph and look for a real event which would serve as the origin of this word. This can be found in the Garden of Eden on the day they ate from the tree. First they used their hands to pick/receive the fruit. Next they made aprons of figs leaves to cover their body. (The hip is used to keep the apron on the body.) Finally they were driven out of the garden and the soles of their feet would touch the ground to be tilled (until foot coverings were used).

God, the True Source of all Scripture, created the Hebrew language with a word that encompasses all three part of the human body involved in the rebellion of mankind in the Garden of Eden.

share|improve this answer
I +1'ed this as you raise several good points. I don't understand why you bring up/contrast "western" ideas and midrash though. It doesn't seem to be relevant to your (otherwise very good) interpretation, and you seems to imply that each approaches is wrong at points in your argument, while at other places you seem to say each is right. Could you maybe try to tighten up your argument to the most relevant points? – ThaddeusB Aug 9 '15 at 17:20
@ThaddeusB. Thanks for the feedback. I was trying to address some issues unrelated to the question and have edited accordingly. – Revelation Lad Aug 10 '15 at 3:29
Thanks, much better now. Hopefully whoever gave it a -1 will reconsider. – ThaddeusB Aug 10 '15 at 3:51
(-1) partly because of the unwarranted hype and partly because "connect the dots" is not a sound hermeneutic as you can use it to prove just about anything whatsoever. – WoundedEgo Jun 25 at 12:08

Jus Talionis aka Lex Talionis aka "an eye for an eye" is a stated principle of Mosaic/divine juris prudence:

YLT Deu 19:21 and thine eye doth not pity--life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

Since women have no testicles it would be physically impossible to destroy her testicles for having destroyed the man's testicles so the hand is considered commensurate and taken in retribution.

This precept is clearly gender-specific in that it makes no mention of the husband defending himself by crushing his attacker's family jewels and so is a reflection of Moses'/God's sexism. The precept is a reminder that a woman, even if trying to save her husband's life must never treat a man's genitalia without great reverence. The pragmatism of such and act is overshadowed by the societal order. This is what today is called a taboo:

A taboo is a vehement prohibition of an action based on the belief that such behavior is either too sacred or too accursed for ordinary individuals to undertake, under threat of supernatural punishment...

share|improve this answer

When looking at the Hebrew and Greek Interlinear Bible, there are things in this passage that are absolutely NOT clear enough to be offered up as a true translation. Consider this: most know that the Bible publishing companies today are also publishing things like the Satanic Bible. Would a God of love condemn a woman to live without her hand for trying to help her husband? If it happened in this passage, it would be a pattern that appears elsewhere in Scripture and it, in fact, does not. Thus, since Scripture can only be interpreted with Scripture, this particular passage should be studied in greater detail using the Hebrew manuscript which is the original text. It is really not clear. It says her palm and not her hand, and that is just part of the many issues I see in this passage.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.