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156http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2013/07/RabbiLyonsBlog-07_19_2013
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 07_19_2013
07/18/2013 07:00 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
July 19, 2013

 

Reactions to the Martin-Zimmerman case have run the gamut between satisfaction and outrage. I’ve heard reactions from colleagues, neighbors, and friends. I’ve listened to news pundits and read the papers. Of one thing I’m sure: analysis and opinion will keep many people employed asking and answering questions created by this case. Of many things I’m not sure. For one, in a short blog, I can’t add much to the conversation; but, I can offer Jewish insights for you to consider when discussing the case with others.

                First, in Torah, Genesis 11, we read about the people who settled in Shinar and built a tower to the sky. Brick and mortar rose from the ground as the people, speaking one language, organized a building project aimed at making a name for themselves. Torah teaches, “God came down to look” (Gen. 11:5). In their commentary, the rabbis asked, “If God is all-knowing, why did God have to come down to see what the people were doing?” They answered, “God didn’t pass judgment on the people until God saw first-hand.” God taught a human lesson that we can’t pass judgment until we look (know) for ourselves. Underlying this ancient text is an insight into modern law. The facts as they were presented in the Martin-Zimmerman case were meant to persuade the jury that the evidence was or was not an eye-witness account of the events that occurred between Martin and Zimmerman. Whatever the jury’s conclusion, we were not personally there; not on the scene of the crime and not in the courtroom. What we think we know must be carefully scrutinized before we pass judgment on the facts in the case or on the verdict, itself.

                Second, the law in Florida is known as “Stand Your Ground”. Defending yourself against a “pursuer” (in Hebrew, a rodef) has precedent in ancient and modern law. In ancient law, a “rodef”, carefully defined as a pursuer, can be killed to defend one’s own life. But, ancient and modern laws also recognize that some laws are bad laws; that is, laws that don’t work because they don’t serve the purpose they were intended to serve, or they carry unfortunate and unintended consequences. Unintended consequences can’t be ignored when any human life is at stake, even if he/she is a pursuer. We might conclude that the Martin-Zimmerman case is an example of a good law gone bad, and the “Stand Your Ground” law should be repealed and rewritten.

                Third, the issue of race relations reared its head before, during and after the trial. It’s been said that we fear the things we don’t understand. Should every African-American mother fear that her son will be followed by Caucasian or non-white peace officers through a neighborhood or a shopping mall? Should we respond only to our fears and ban “hoodies”, or should we improve race relations by spending time coming to know more about each other’s similarities than our differences? We have a long way to go in race relations, but not because we’ve failed. We have made some progress, but we have much farther to go. We might begin by admitting that we haven’t done enough.

                Finally, the life of Trayvon Martin is gone. Only memories of him will linger in the history of the law and in his family’s hearts. The life of George Zimmerman is gone, too, or at least the life he once knew. The unintended consequences of “Stand Your Ground” and the results of the case should move all of us to focus on what we can know first-hand, and decide what kind of community we want to share with our neighbors, not just behind gated communities, but in the open where every human life should find purpose.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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