Noach – A Society Built on Technicalities

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One of the biggest headaches in life is dealing with people, like lawyers and judges, who “get around the law” with technicalities. For example, in a recent article from Canada’s National Post, Ontario Superior Court Judge Susan Himel de-ruled three laws -sections  210, 212 and 213 and their subsections, all of which related to prostitution. Keep in mind that this is in a province where gay marriage is legalized.

With the law regarding prostitution, legal+legal=illegal. According to the article:

Engaging in the world’s oldest profession wasn’t against the law in this country, but sharing a roof or a bank account with sex workers (a. k.a. hookers) was. So was publicly offering or seeking their perfectly legal services. The Criminal Code prohibited “being found” in a common bawdy house without lawful excuse (S. 210); living off the avails of prostitution (Ss 212); and soliciting in public for the purpose of prostitution (S. 213), until Judge Himel respectfully flushed the relevant sections down the toilet this week.

In other words, each particular action is legal just so long as they don’t all go together in the action we call prostitution. As George Carlin humorously put it, “Selling is legal. F—ing is legal. Why isn’t selling f—ing legal?” Pretty soon, in all seriousness, the complete action may become legalized, as one thing invariably leads to another.

What has this world come to? In this weeks’ Parasha (weekly Torah section), Noach, the world was destroyed because the nation sinned. Bereishis Rabba (a Midrash expounding on events happening on the Torah) says that the people were guilty of the following: idolworship, bloodshed, immorality, and robbery.

What was robbery? Robbery in this case was legally taking something less than the value of a Prutah, the smallest coin. Technically people didn’t steal, but they stole en masse where it drastically affected said owner of a good. For example (The Midrash Says, Noach, p. 82-84):

If a man brought out a basket full of peas, he would soon be surrounded by a mob snatching them away. Each one cleverly took a small amount worth less than a pruta (small coin). The man’s basket was soon empty, yet the victim was unable to present the matter to a judge because each culprit could claim that he had stolen an amount so minute that he was not able to be punished by law.

Similarly, The Talmud Yerushalmi (ibid.) relates the following story:

R. Eliezer walked along the road and required that one of his students get him a wooden splinter to use as a toothpick from a fence around a vineyard. Even though the fence was property, the owner certainly would not object to anyone taking a minute particle of wood being of no value. Nevertheless, R. Eliezer changed his mind and said, “Do not bring me the splinter! Others might follow my example and eventually will cause the fence to be demolished!”

On a related note, I was recently informed that in Westchester, NY there’s are remains of old, attractive walls. Apparently people would see the loose stones and take them since they were so pretty. Would anyone miss them? Each one was only one stone! Well, look at the state of the walls now – there’s nothing left (thanks to Christine Bullen for taking the pictures and supplying them)!

We have to follow R. Eliezer’s example and use our common sense along with the law. Just because something technically can be done doesn’t mean it should. Should I take the toothpick, pea or stone or should I leave it alone? It’s only one! Well, one times six billion equals six billion peas, stones, or toothpicks stolen! Wait! We can abolish these laws just like prostitution-related laws have been in Canada! Let’s not make these same mistakes that caused the world to be flooded in the first place!