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Parashat Ki Teitzei (Deuteronomy 21:10-25:19)

“Do not despise the Edomite, for he is your brother; do not despise the Egyptian,
for you were a stranger in his land.” (Deuteronomy 23:9)

Parashat Ki Teitzei incudes the case of the ben sorer umoreh, the wayward and rebellious son who is brought before the town elders, accused, convicted, and executed (Deut. 21:18-21). It is a difficult story; the image of parents condemning their child to death by stoning is disturbing. But it may be the foundation of the JCCs approach to Jewish living and learning.

The rabbis interpret the verses literally to make it impossible to ever convict a child for such behavior. Ki Teitzei states: “If a man has a wayward and rebellious son…” (Deut. 21:18) So the rabbis exclude girls from this edict. Then they conclude a son of a man is a child, and children are not accountable for the mitzvot, or commandments, eliminating another demographic. And if son means a boy, once he grows past puberty he becomes a man, so the law does not apply. And on and on (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 68b). In the end, the rabbis conclude there never was such a son, nor will there ever be (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 71a), a wonderful conclusion.

So we are relieved and take pride in a religion that outlaws capital punishment for…being a boy. But the elimination of the punishment isn’t the rabbis big message; it’s in denying there is a crime to begin with: children can’t fail at being offspring. It’s who they are. This becomes the JCC Movement’s prooftext for learning and learners. Learners can’t fail, because learning isn’t about a single fact, quantity of knowledge, or episode. Learning is innately human and is a lifelong pursuit. Everyone who walks into the J is an accomplished learner.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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