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July 30, 2015 / conservadox

R. Aharon Lichtenstein on police brutality

In the context of the police brutality-related controversies of the past year, here’s an interesting few lines written in 2006 (in a very different context) by R. Aharon Lichtenstein of blessed memory:

On various occasions, I have mentioned the fact that the prohibition against hitting appears in the Torah specifically in connection with the agent of the court: “Forty lashes he may give him; he shall not exceed” (Devarim 25:3).  This seems strange: after all, it is prohibited to strike any person, at any time.  Why, then, is the prohibition mentioned specifically as an issue pertaining to the agent of the beit din, who is assigned to carry out a punishment ordered by the court?

The answer is that it is specifically when a person enjoys a special status because of his position that there is a danger that his inner aggressive streak – the wild animal that exists within each of us  – will burst forth.  It is specifically in a situation where a person is performing his actions out of a sense of duty, when he feels that his actions have official sanction, when he feels that he is representing a system – it is precisely then that there is a need to emphasize the prohibition against “excessive beating.”

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