Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The 6th Commandment: "Thou Shalt Not Kill" or "Thou Shalt Not Murder" ?

Philologos: Killing Versus Murder, The Forward, January 9, 2004

Professor Berel Lang writes from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.:

"Perhaps you would give a couple of paragraphs to the misconception (and the mistranslation) of the Sixth Commandment [in Exodus 20:13], 'You shall not murder,' as 'You shall not kill.' The original Hebrew, lo tirtsah., is very clear, since the verb ratsah. means 'murder,' not 'kill.' If the commandment proscribed killing as such, it would position Judaism against capital punishment and make it pacifist even in wartime. These may be defensible or admirable views, but they're certainly not biblical."

Professor Lang has touched on what is, to put it mildly, a lively issue. A Google scan of the Internet comes up with 134,000 entries on the Sixth Commandment, a high percentage of them dealing with its translation! Although a sampling of these entries shows that few have anything cogent to say about the linguistic issues involved, many illustrate why the debate is so fervid. Not only pacifists and opponents of capital punishment are active in it. There are also vegetarians, anti-abortionists, environmentalists, animal-righters, and others, as well as those hostile to them, all feeling they have a stake in the question of whether the Bible forbids human beings to take life for any reason at all ("killing"), or only when there is no legal justification for it ("murdering").

ETC...