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Exodus 21:24 – An Eye for an Eye

Monday 22 Shevat 5783 (13.02.23)

עַ֚יִן תַּ֣חַת עַ֔יִן שֵׁ֖ן תַּ֣חַת שֵׁ֑ן יָ֚ד תַּ֣חַת יָ֔ד רֶ֖גֶל תַּ֥חַת רָֽגֶל׃

Monetary compensation for an eye must be made for the loss of an eye, of a tooth for a tooth, of a hand for a hand, and of a foot for a foot. In all these cases, the assailant must pay the victim the difference between the price he would command on the slave market before and after incurring the injury.


This verse is quite often misused to show how “medieval” the Tenach is. However, this only happens because people only read the Scriptural Torah and do not (want to) use the Oral Torah.

The verse is not about literally gouging out an eye, or knocking out a tooth, but about financial compensation. How could that be viewed logically literally. For what happens if the damage given as “punishment” is greater, or how do you determine the value of someone’s sight. Is the sight of a surgeon different from that of someone doing other work?

Maimonides Explains

We can deduce the meaning of the verses from the context. As Maimonides puts it:

How do we know that the intent of the Toah’s statement with regard to the loss of a limb, “an eye for an eye,” is financial restitution? That same verse continues “a blow for a blow.” And with regard to the penalty for giving a colleague a blow, it is explicitly stated: “When a man strikes his colleague with a stone or a fist . . . he should pay for his being idled and for his medical expenses.”

Thus, we learn that the word tachat (תחת) mentioned with regard to a blow indicates the necessity for financial restitution, and so one can conclude that the meaning of the same word with regard to an eye or another limb is also financial restitution.

The interpretation of the verse as financial compensation is evident from the study of the Written Law, and it is explicitly mentioned in the Oral Tradition handed down by Moses from Mount Sinai, it is considered halacha of Moses (i.e. oral tradition going back to Sinai). This is what our ancestors saw in the court of Joshua and in the court of Samuel of Ramah, and in every Jewish court that has functioned from the days of Moses our teacher to the present time.

Damage to G-ds “Body Part”

When someone harms another person, he has to pay deprecation, pain, incapacitation, medical fees, and embarrassment – more than just the objective damages he caused. Because we assume that the victim might have sanctified the limb that was harmed for Divinity. For example, when he resolve not to look at things he was not supposed to look at and to use his eyes only for holy purposes, then his eyes serve vicariously als G-d’s “eyes”. When the limb was damaged not only the victim’s limb, but so to speak, G-d’s limb was damaged as well.

By Angelique Sijbolts

Sources: Kehot Chumash Mispatim, Chabad article:What Does ‘Eye for an Eye’ Really Mean?

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