let your righteousness shine.

Many times in Torah and the prophets there are strong characterisations of justice. This includes many references to the Israelites not being allowed to oppress a foreigner who lived among them, because they could remember the pain of being oppressed in Egypt; not oppressing the poor, the orphan, or the widow (vulnerable people); letting the oppressed go free; and judging people with justice and equality. Job claimed that he never ignored a complaint from his slaves, and God also saves Israel specifically because they are being oppressed.

Some things seem to contradict this virtue of justice and non-oppression:

*Punishment on a national level, where the innocent and guilty are punished together
*Being allowed to kidnap women for marriage in a war situation, and this being at one point commanded (Numbers 31:18)
*Being able to have slaves who are unable to go free and/or whose descendants will also be slaves for generations, and this being seen as a good thing in some stories (Joshua 9:27)
*Being allowed to beat a slave to the point of injury, and this being deliberately justified (Exodus 21:21)
*Differentiating between Israelites and foreigners in terms of kindness (Leviticus 25:46)

I’m not sure what to make of it. Is this real injustice? Is this a real contradiction in Tanach?

I know that slavery can be defined in different ways, and that the Israelites treated slaves better than surrounding nations did. I also know the idea that some things were a ‘minimum standard’ and that the letter of the law should be done better than, and also that Torah may have been trying to improve the economic system rather than overhauling it. I don’t think that any of these things have a bearing on the points above, though.

A real part of me hopes that those laws are man-made, not because I don’t admire Torah and the Torah community and wish to join with religious Jews in their wisdom and closeness to Hashem… but just because I hope in my heart that these things are not actually ‘morally fine’. I can’t imagine an answer that makes them fine. Or have I made up my mind too early about what is what?


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