In Exodus 21:24, it is written,

24 Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, KJV, 1769

כד עַיִן תַּחַת עַיִן שֵׁן תַּחַת שֵׁן יָד תַּחַת יָד רֶגֶל תַּחַת רָגֶל

Does the Law of Moses stipulate what would occur if the perpetrator of a crime that warranted punishment according to Exo. 21:24 was one-eyed, one-handed, or one-footed? Would he suffer the loss of the remaining eye, hand, or foot?

  • 3
    Going by other passages in the Law of Moses, I'd say that pecuniary restitution would probably suffice, such that the person judging the case would come up with something fair (e.g., X number of goats or so many shekels). Moreover, even back then, I think justice would have been tempered by mercy. After all, as bad as losing an eye was (and still is!), becoming totally blind as a punishment would kind of violate the spirit of the law, wouldn't it? You know, the loss of one eye, resulting in partial blindness does not equal losing your only remaining eye resulting in total blindness. Oct 3, 2015 at 0:16
  • 1
    @rhetorician Well said.
    – user10231
    Oct 3, 2015 at 8:26
  • Thanks, @WoundedEgo! Believe it or not, my comment probably took me a half hour to compose! (No brag, just fact.) Don Oct 3, 2015 at 13:49
  • @rhetorician I have no problem believing that...
    – user10231
    Oct 3, 2015 at 14:34

2 Answers 2


It is mostly irrelevant whether the perpetrator of a crime has one eye or two, because the verses Exodus 21:23-25 are referring to monetary penalties, except in the case of murder. Here is the text from Exodus 21:23-25, all three verses of which are important in understanding the answer to your question:

23: אִם אָסוֹן יׅהְיֶה וְנָתַתָּה נֶפֶשׁ תַּחַת נָפֶשׁ
24: עַין תַּחַת עַין שֵׁן תַּחַת שֵׁן יָד תַּחַת יָד רֶגֶל תַּחַת רָגֶל
25: כְּוִיָּה תַּחַת כְּוִיָּה פֶּצַע תַּחַת פָּצַע חַבּוּרָה תַּחַת חַבּוּרָה

23: But if there is a fatality, then you shall give a life for a life,
24: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a foot for a foot,
25: a burn for a burn, a wound for a wound, a bruise for a bruise

As it turns out, only the phrase a "life for a life" was never carried out literally. And even in the case of murder, three witnesses were required for the Sanhedrin to issue a death sentence, which this was seldom done. In all other forms of injury, the text was treated figuratively, as an allusion to monetary compensation. The Talmud (Bava Kama 83b) states:

One who maims his fellow is indebted to him on account of five things: damage, pain, medical treatment, incapacitation, and shame. How so with "damage"? If he blinded his eye, amputated his hand, broke his hand, he is considered as if he was a slave sold in the market, and a valuation is made as to how much he was worth and how much he is worth.

החובל בחבירו חייב עליו משום חמשה דברים בנזק בצער בריפוי בשבת ובושת בנזק כיצד סימא את עינו קטע את ידו שיבר את רגלו רואין אותו כאילו הוא עבד נמכר בשוק ושמין כמה היה יפה וכמה הוא יפה

Actually, earlier in Exodus 21:18-19, the text indicates that an assailant will pay for the healing of his victim:

18: יחוְכִי יְרִיבֻן אֲנָשִׁים וְהִכָּה אִישׁ אֶת רֵעֵהוּ בְּאֶבֶן אוֹ בְאֶגְרֹף וְלֹא יָמוּת וְנָפַל לְמִשְׁכָּב
19: יטאִם יָקוּם וְהִתְהַלֵּךְ בַּחוּץ עַל מִשְׁעַנְתּוֹ וְנִקָּה הַמַּכֶּה רַק שִׁבְתּוֹ יִתֵּן וְרַפֹּא יְרַפֵּא

18: And if men quarrel, and one hits his fellow with a stone or with a fist, and he does not die but is confined to bed,
19: if he gets up and walks about outside on his support, the assailant shall be cleared; only payment shall he give for the idleness caused, and he shall provide for his cure.

This implies that the assailant pays for the damage caused to his victim rather than having his own body part damaged in retribution.

So if you ever find yourself living in ancient Israel with only eye, you should not fear losing it as some sort of penalty.

  • 1
    very good answer. My eye and my hand offended me (SI Swimsuit Edition) so I'm very relieved!
    – user10231
    Oct 3, 2015 at 11:49
  • Your translation has a significant defect. The passage does not say "eye for an eye", or "xxx for xxx".
    – Cynthia
    Oct 4, 2015 at 5:29
  • @BlessedGeek Yes, technically you are correct. It literally says "an eye instead of an eye," but most English translators use some literally freedom in this case. Oct 4, 2015 at 5:40
  • @BlessedGeek: The preposition תַּחַת can mean “in place of, instead of,” and the English word “for” (definition #16) is a synonym for “in place of, instead of.” Tim Biegeleisen is correct on both translations.
    – user862
    Jun 25, 2016 at 22:27
  • @TimBiegeleisen your post is downright misleading and wrong as the simple meaning of this verse is "eye for an eye" literally. lex talionis. This is what the ancient babylonians did (as is evident from code of Hammurabi) and there is no reason to think that the Israelites were any different in this respect especially when it is spelled out. see also Leviticus 24 where it is more explicit. The Jewish Rabbis have humanized this law, but it doesn't change the literal meaning of this verse. Maimonides actually agrees with me on this. See 3:41 guide.
    – bach
    Feb 21, 2018 at 19:43

Hypothetical questions cannot accurately be answered. Hopefully this question arose from an appreciation for how much more difficult life is for someone with no hands as opposed to one.

That being said it is a valid question as to what would happen if s/he had two of each limb. It turns out that in real life the Jews did not practice Lex Retalis per the prescription in Exodus 21, embracing instead the idea that monetary payment was sufficient for all personal crimes except murder:


So the hypothetical man would not lose a limb.

As to capital punishment see here:


Tangentially: This is an interesting read on capital punishment and imprisonment in Israel today:


  • 1
    Fixed the question. I added, "Does the Law of Moses stipulate what would occur..." That allows for a definitive "yes" or "no" answer.
    – user862
    Oct 2, 2015 at 23:37
  • Then no, it does not.
    – user10231
    Oct 3, 2015 at 8:27

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.