Every time I read a parsha like Parshat Ki Teitze (and many others) that have a section dealing with lashes, I flash back to my youth and an unforgettable news story that was the talk of the entire United States.
Do you remember Michael Fay? This was a young man who was caught vandalizing in Singapore, and was sentenced to six lashes with a Singapore caning rod. People wouldn’t stop talking about. “How could they hurt an American citizen?” one would say. “It’s their country and they have the right to enforce their laws however they choose,” another would say. “I’ll go there and endure the lashes for him,” one well-intentioned gym teacher offered.
These are three thoughts that always cross my mind when the subject comes up:
1. A punishment like caning seems inherently wrong. How can a modern society consciously perpetuate a system which advocates a violent reaction to non-violent crime? And imagine the effect on the human being who administers these lashes! Look at all the examples of soldiers who are disturbed after a war because of some of the things they had to do. By using such techniques we inevitably create a society that revels in violence…
2. On the other hand, there is (for the most part) no concept of prison in the Torah. The bulk of penalties mentioned are the death penalty (rarely enforced), monetary compensation, and our subject: Lashes. If I believe, as I do, that God is perfect and His Torah is perfect, how can I doubt that this is not one of the most effective means of dealing with criminal behavior, even if I don’t fully understand the logic behind it? To do so would be a demonstration on my part of a lack of faith in the efficacy of Divine Law. Surely the Torah speaks only truth.
Nevertheless, I refuse to let my logic shut off, even for a moment. And I believe that this is what the Jewish religion wishes of me.
3. Perhaps my most unshakable thought: Neither the death penalty, nor the modern prison system have demonstrated in any way shape or form their ability to deter crime, and the prisons are certainly not reforming their inmates into quality, law-abiding citizens. And I can’t help but wonder: Has any American even considered doing the most mild act of vandalism in Singapore since Michael Fay’s incident, while vandalism continues to fill our every nook and cranny?
From what I hear, the streets of Singapore are quite clean…