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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?

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1 Answer

The passage here includes the phrase:

לֹא תָחוֹס עֵינֶךָ

You shall not have pity.

This same text also appears in Deut 19:21:

וְלֹא תָחוֹס, עֵינֶךָ: נֶפֶשׁ בְּנֶפֶשׁ, עַיִן בְּעַיִן שֵׁן בְּשֵׁן, יָד בְּיָד, רֶגֶל בְּרָגֶל.

And thine eye shall not pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

We therefore expect the phrase to have similar meanings in the two places. Rashi notes this reasoning on Deut 25:12.

Rabbinic tradition understands the latter to call for not amputation but financial compensation. Rashi cites Sifrei and the Babylonian Talmud, Bava Kamma 87a. The latter, a few pages earlier (83b), explains how we know that "eye for eye" (etc) isn't literal and means payment instead:

Why [pay compensation]? Does the Divine Law not say ‘Eye for eye’? Why not take this literally to mean [putting out] the eye [of the offender]? — Let not this enter your mind, since it has been taught: You might think that where he put out his eye, the offender's eye should be put out, or where he cut off his arm, the offender's arm should be cut off, or again where he broke his leg, the offender's leg should be broken. [Not so; for] it is laid down, ‘He that smiteth any man. . .’ ‘And he that smiteth a beast . . .’ (Lev 24 various) just as in the case of smiting a beast compensation is to be paid, so also in the case of smiting a man compensation is to be paid. And should this [reason] not satisfy you, note that it is stated, ‘Moreover ye shall take no ransom for the life of a murderer, that is guilty of death’ (Num 35:31), implying that it is only for the life of a murderer that you may not take ‘satisfaction’ (i.e. ransom), whereas you may take ‘satisfaction’ [even] for the principal limbs, though these cannot be restored.’ (Soncino translation)

The talmud here goes on to bring further parallels between killing and animals and injuring people, further making the argument that if financial compensation applies to one (as stated in the torah) it also applies to the other.


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of any religious belief or doctrine.

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