Parashat Ki Tetze

Social Responsibilities

Our decisions to ignore or respond to members of our communities who are in danger determine the justice and morality of our society.

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The first text assumes that human beings would naturally turn away or hide, according to more literal translations--from an animal that had gone astray or, if not from the animal itself, the responsibility that the care and safe return of that animal implies. It is natural, the text assumes, to want to shy away from an extra burden or hassle, and therefore, if we are to create a just society, we must be cautioned against following our own nature in this instance.

Taken at face value, the second text seems not to pertain to societal but rather individual responsibility--that of the woman or man engaged in adultery. It asserts that a betrothed woman who is raped in the city should be put to death as she did not cry for help and thereby was complicit in an adulterous act. The elliptical message contained in the text is that human beings respond to the cries of other human beings; she must not have cried out, because if she had, someone would have come to her aid.

Whereas the first text assumes that the people would not naturally go out of their way to help their fellow man (through care of his property) and must be commanded to do so, the second text assumes just the opposite, that help was not requested as, if it had been, it would have been provided.

Three 20th-Century Stories

New highway signs are being posted across the country raising awareness of a new cell phone number to call in case of emergency. A glut of cell phones and well-meaning passers-by have wreaked havoc on local emergency phone systems as travelers in car after car call to report accidents.

Almost every day in recent memory we hear stories of those who walked toward a bomb scene instead of away. Not able to ignore what was too horrific to imagine, they cared for loved ones and strangers in equal measure.

Nearly forty years ago, a woman named Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death in the courtyard of a Queens apartment building. No less than thirty-eight witnesses reported later that, though they heard her screams, they hadn't called for help because they thought that someone else surely had or because they didn't want to get involved.

Phil Ochs wrote the following lyrics about the incident:

Oh look outside the window, there's a woman being grabbed.

They've dragged her to the bushes and now she's being stabbed.

Maybe we should call the cops and try to stop the pain.

But Monopoly is so much fun, I'd hate to blow the game.

And I'm sure it wouldn't interest anybody

Outside of a small circle of friends.

The "small circle of friends" is our society. As we move toward the beginning of the New Year may we have the strength and courage to do our part to ensure that it is just and moral.

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Rabbi Toby Manewith

Rabbi Toby Manewith has worked as an independent Jewish educational consultant, writing curricula and teaching for many agencies including: The American Jewish Historical Society, the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, United Synagogue Youth, Smithsonian Resident Associates, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the DCJCC.