Deuteronomy 19


כִּי־יַכְרִית יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת־הַגֹּויִם אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ אֶת־אַרְצָם וִירִשְׁתָּם וְיָשַׁבְתָּ    19:1

בְעָרֵיהֶם וּבְבָתֵּיהֶם

Deut. 19:1  “When the Lord, your God, will cut off the nations whose land the Lord, your God, will be giving you, and you will dispossess them and you will dwell in their cities and in their houses,

שָׁלֹושׁ עָרִים תַּבְדִּיל לָךְ בְּתֹוךְ אַרְצְךָ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ לְרִשְׁתָּהּ   19:2

Deut. 19:2  you shall separate for yourself three cities in the midst of your land that the Lord, your God, will be giving you to possess it;

תָּכִין לְךָ הַדֶּרֶךְ וְשִׁלַּשְׁתָּ אֶת־גְּבוּל אַרְצְךָ אֲשֶׁר יַנְחִילְךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְהָיָה לָנוּס שָׁמָּה כָּל־רֹצֵחַ   19:3

Deut. 19:3  you shall provide the way for yourself and you shall divide in three the territory of your land that the Lord, your God, will cause you to inherit, and it shall be for any murderer to flee there.”

At first glance, these three verses seem to be time dependent and therefore do not qualify as commandments.  But closer consideration reveals that while these verses may apply to a specific time and situation, the intention is that they be observed throughout time.  If you’re not convinced, see vss. 19:7-10 below where the timelessness of the commandment is made more clear.                                                 [Return to Deut. 19 notes]

וְזֶה דְּבַר הָרֹצֵחַ אֲשֶׁר־יָנוּס שָׁמָּה וָחָי אֲשֶׁר יַכֶּה אֶת־רֵעֵהוּ בִּבְלִי־דַעַת וְהוּא לֹא־שֹׂנֵא לֹו מִתְּמֹל    19:4


Deut. 19:4  “And this is the case of the murderer who can flee there and live:  Who might kill his neighbor without intent and he did not hate him from times past,

וַאֲשֶׁר יָבֹא אֶת־רֵעֵהוּ בַיַּעַר לַחְטֹב עֵצִים וְנִדְּחָה יָדֹו בַגַּרְזֶן לִכְרֹת הָעֵץ וְנָשַׁל הַבַּרְזֶל מִן־הָעֵץ וּמָצָא   19:5

אֶת־רֵעֵהוּ וָמֵת הוּא יָנוּס אֶל־אַחַת הֶעָרִים־הָאֵלֶּה וָחָי

Deut. 19:5  as when he might bring his neighbor into the forest to cut down trees and thrust out his hand with an ax to cut down the tree and the ax head would slip from the stock and catch his neighbor so he would die, he could flee to one of these cities and live,

פֶּן־יִרְדֹּף גֹּאֵל הַדָּם אַחֲרֵי הָרֹצֵחַ כִּי־יֵחַם לְבָבֹו וְהִשִּׂיגֹו כִּי־יִרְבֶּה הַדֶּרֶךְ וְהִכָּהוּ נָפֶשׁ וְלֹו אֵין   19:6

מִשְׁפַּט־מָוֶת כִּי לֹא שֹׂנֵא הוּא לֹו מִתְּמֹול שִׁלְשֹׁום

Deut. 19:6  lest an avenger of blood would pursue after the murderer while his heart would be hot and overtake him because the way could be too long and smite him mortally, though there was no judgment of death for him, for he had had no hatred for him from times past.”

עַל־כֵּן אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ לֵאמֹר שָׁלֹשׁ עָרִים תַּבְדִּיל לָךְ   19:7

Deut. 19:7  “Therefore I am commanding you saying, ‘You shall separate three cities for yourself.’”

וְאִם־יַרְחִיב יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶת־גְּבֻלְךָ כַּאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ וְנָתַן לְךָ אֶת־כָּל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר   19:8

לָתֵת לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ

Deut. 19:8  “And when the Lord, your God, will broaden your territory as He had sworn to your fathers, and give you all the land that He promised to give to your fathers,

כִּי־תִשְׁמֹר אֶת־כָּל־הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת לַעֲשֹׂתָהּ אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיֹּום לְאַהֲבָה אֶת־יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ   19:9

וְלָלֶכֶת בִּדְרָכָיו כָּל־הַיָּמִים וְיָסַפְתָּ לְךָ עֹוד שָׁלֹשׁ עָרִים עַל הַשָּׁלֹשׁ הָאֵלֶּה

Deut. 19:9  because you will heed all this law which I am commanding you today to do it, to love the Lord, your God, and to walk in His ways always, then you shall add for yourself an additional three cities beside these three,

וְלֹא יִשָּׁפֵךְ דָּם נָקִי בְּקֶרֶב אַרְצְךָ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה וְהָיָה עָלֶיךָ דָּמִים   19:10

Deut. 19:10  so innocent blood would not be shed in the midst of your land that the Lord, your God, will be giving you for an inheritance, that blood guiltiness would be on you.”

וְכִי־יִהְיֶה אִישׁ שֹׂנֵא לְרֵעֵהוּ וְאָרַב לֹו וְקָם עָלָיו וְהִכָּהוּ נֶפֶשׁ וָמֵת וְנָס אֶל־אַחַת הֶעָרִים הָאֵל   19:11

Deut. 19:11  “But should a man have hatred for his neighbor and lie in wait for him and rise up against him and smite him mortally that he would die, and he would flee to one of these cities,

וְשָׁלְחוּ זִקְנֵי עִירֹו וְלָקְחוּ אֹתֹו מִשָּׁם וְנָתְנוּ אֹתֹו בְּיַד גֹּאֵל הַדָּם וָמֵת   19:12

Deut. 19:12  then the elders of his city shall send and have him brought from there, and deliver him into the hand of the avenger of blood, so he may die.”

לֹא־תָחֹוס עֵינְךָ עָלָיו וּבִעַרְתָּ דַם־הַנָּקִי מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל וְטֹוב לָךְ   19:13

Deut. 19:13  “Your eye shall not take pity on him, but you must take away the blood of the innocent from Israel, so it can go well for you.”

The pronouns Your and you in this verse are singular.  For me this means they refer to all those collectively who may be involved in capturing or punishing the murderer.

לֹא תַסִּיג גְּבוּל רֵעֲךָ אֲשֶׁר גָּבְלוּ רִאשֹׁנִים בְּנַחֲלָתְךָ אֲשֶׁר תִּנְחַל בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ   19:14


Deut. 19:14  “You shall not move a landmark of your neighbor that had been set formerly in your portion that you will inherit in the land that the Lord, your God, will be giving you to possess it.”

Verse 19:14 seems to be completely out of place at this point in the monologue.   More >>

לֹא־יָקוּם עֵד אֶחָד בְּאִישׁ לְכָל־עָוֹן וּלְכָל־חַטָּאת בְּכָל־חֵטְא אֲשֶׁר יֶחֱטָא עַל־פִּי שְׁנֵי עֵדִים אֹו עַל־   19:15

פִּי שְׁלֹשָׁה־עֵדִים יָקוּם דָּבָר

Deut. 19:15  “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity or for any sinning in any sin that he might have committed; on the word of two witnesses or on the word of three witnesses shall a case be established.”

Verse 19:15 seems to repeat commandment 442 (Numb. 35:30).  However, that verse relates only to someone charged with murder.  This verse applies to all types of crimes.  In essence this verse subsumes the previous one.  But on the distinct possibility that this verse may apply to types of deeds other than murder (iniquity or sin), I accept it as the basis for a commandment.

כִּי־יָקוּם עֵד־חָמָס בְּאִישׁ לַעֲנֹות בֹּו סָרָה   19:16

Deut. 19:16  “Should a false witness rise up against a man, bearing wrong testimony against him,

וְעָמְדוּ שְׁנֵי־הָאֲנָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר־לָהֶם הָרִיב לִפְנֵי יְהוָה לִפְנֵי הַכֹּהֲנִים וְהַשֹּׁפְטִים אֲשֶׁר יִהְיוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם   19:17

Deut. 19:17  then the two men with whom the controversy is shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who will be in those days.”

וְדָרְשׁוּ הַשֹּׁפְטִים הֵיטֵב וְהִנֵּה עֵד־שֶׁקֶר הָעֵד שֶׁקֶר עָנָה בְאָחִיו   19:18

Deut. 19:18  “And the judges shall inquire diligently, and behold a false witness, the witness testified falsely against his brother,

וַעֲשִׂיתֶם לֹו כַּאֲשֶׁר זָםַם לַעֲשֹׂות לְאָחִיו וּבִעַרְתָּ הָרָע מִקִּרְבֶּךָ   19:19

Deut. 19:19  then you shall do to him as he proposed doing to his brother; so shall you remove the evil from your midst.”

The only plural second-person pronoun in the chapter is the first one in this verse, in the phrase “... you shall do to him.....”. 

וְהַנִּשְׁאָרִים יִשְׁמְעוּ וְיִרָאוּ וְלֹא־יֹסִפוּ לַעֲשֹׂות עֹוד כַּדָּבָר הָרָע הַזֶּה בְּקִרְבֶּךָ   19:20

Deut. 19:20  “And those remaining will hear and be afraid, and will not continue to do after this evil thing in your midst any more.”

וְלֹא תָחֹוס עֵינֶךָ נֶפֶשׁ בְּנֶפֶשׁ עַיִן בְּעַיִן שֵׁן בְּשֵׁן יָד בְּיָד רֶגֶל בְּרָגֶל   19:21

Deut. 19:21  “And your eye shall not pity:  Life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”

This verse essentially repeats Exod. 21:23-25.  Because many critics have singled out these verses as reflecting a cruel God, the rabbis and sages explain that in those verses the expression is intended to set limits on revenge, rather than being a requirement for further cruelty.  This explanation may be valid for the earlier verses, but here, however, the same argument cannot be made.  Moses tells us “… your eye shall not pity ….”  This verse is not setting limits.  It is insisting that equal punishment must be administered.  But we must question whether this really represents cruelty.  In v. 19:19 above we are told why this equality of punishment is necessary:  In order to “… remove the evil from your midst.”  And it is further explained in v. 19:20; it is a deterrent.  It is no more cruel than all the other ordinances that must be carried out for the same reason:  To keep Israel pure and holy.  Are those ordinances cruel? 

Are they more cruel than nature is in any case?  Animals eat one another in a food chain that permits existence of species.  Natural disasters, the result of forces we are struggling to understand, kill innocent men, women, and children.  Are they more cruel than what powerful humans do?  Dictators imprison, torture, and murder dissenters.  Human-initiated catastrophes are permitted to happen, even are encouraged at times, if they are deemed to ultimately save lives.  Consider the attack on Pearl Harbor and the horror of 9/11 in this country, and undoubtedly others in other countries of which we are less aware.  All these acts are cruel.  Why single out the expression in this verse and in Exod. 21:23-25?  Life, after all, is cruel.  Whether we acknowledge it or not, the possibility of sudden death or injury is our constant companion.  I don’t believe we need to or should be making excuses for God.

The question we should be asking, however, is the following:  Is equal punishment a real deterrent?  Does punishment for a crime help to prevent others from committing that crime?  Observation would seem to indicate a negative answer.  But do we know that to be really true?  Just imagine for a moment that crimes and any evil deeds were not punished at all.  Evil-doers never suffered for their deeds.  Would not crime and evil become universally rampant?  After all, we usually tend to follow the examples of our peers.  So in a general sense, punishment is a deterrent.  It may not work every time, but it is indeed a deterrent.  God is not wrong.

Torah Commandments in this Chapter

477. You shall set apart three cities of refuge.    V. 19:1, 19:2

478. You shall divide your territory into three with one city in each.    V. 19:1 - 19:3

479. You shall provide roads to the cities of refuge.    V. 19:1 - 19:3

480. When your territory is enlarged to all of the Promised Land, you shall

        set apart three other cities.    V. 19:8, 19:9

481. You shall not pity one who commits a premeditated murder.    V. 19:11 - 19:13

482.  You shall not move a landmark of your neighbor.   V. 19:14

483. Guilt for an iniquity or sin shall be established on the basis of no

         less than two witnesses.    V. 19:15

484. You shall do to a false witness what he tried to do to his neighbor.    V. 19:18, 19:19


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