Ketubot 19

Injustice in your tents.

In chapter 11 of the Book of Job, Zophar the Naamathite shares with Job his response to the series of unfortunate events that his friend has suffered. His words include the following advice:

If there is iniquity with you, remove it, and do not let injustice reside in your tent. (Job 11:14)

Taken in isolation, Zophar’s words are sound advice: Ridding yourself of sin and making your home a place where justice reigns is certainly a good idea. In context, given that Job has just undeservedly suffered the loss of his family, his health and his financial security, Zophar’s words have the ring of accusation, suggesting that by letting iniquity and injustice in, Job is responsible for his own misfortune. There’s a reason Job’s friends are not well thought of.

But though Zophar is a disliked biblical character, his words are still scripture, and therefore sacred to the rabbis. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi teaches Job 11:14 on today’s daf as part of a discussion about holding on to financial documents after they are no longer in use:

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: It is prohibited for a person to keep a repaid document within his house, due to the fact that the verse states: And let not injustice dwell in your tents. (Job 11:14).

Applying the verse to a specific scenario, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi instructs us to get rid of loan documents after we have collected what we are owed. Hanging on to them allows a potential injustice to reside in our homes as they could be used to enforce payment again, even though the debt has already been paid. 

As an aside, the Talmud cites another rule rooted in the same verse:

With regard to a Torah scroll that is not proofread and may contains errors, Rabbi Ami says: It is permitted to keep it without emending the mistakes for up to 30 days, and from that time onward it is prohibited to keep it, as it is stated: And let not injustice dwell in your tents. (Job 11:14)

Here, the potential sin is not financial, rather it falls into the realm of ritual. Rabbi Ami teaches that we should keep a Torah in perfect condition, meaning the text should be accurate and free of errors. If you come into possession of a new Torah that has not been checked for mistakes, you have an obligation to check it, and you have 30 days to do so.

What’s the connection between the story of Job and these two specific halakhot? There isn’t really one. This is another example of how the rabbis, in their midrashic way, lift a verse out of its original context and use it for an unrelated purpose. Citing things in this way won’t impress your English professor, and it’s a risky tactic to use when running for office. But for the rabbis, who assume that scripture is divine in origin and contains multiple hidden meanings, such reading is not a misuse. Instead, it’s a way of exposing yet another facet of Israel’s prized gem, the Torah.

Read all of Ketubot 19 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on July 25th, 2022. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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