Rabbis invoke decapitated calf commandment

Modernized version of one of the more obscure ceremonies of the Torah conducted by Tzohar rabbis to protest hit-and-run death.

February 19, 2012 02:39
2 minute read.

Calf 390. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The Tzohar association of rabbis conducted a modernized version of one of the more obscure ceremonies of the Torah on Thursday, following the commandant known as the decapitated calf.

Standing by the site of a road accident on Highway 66 in the North, a quorum of 10 rabbis from the national-religious organization intoned prayers over the death of female soldier Amnesh Yasatzu, who was killed in a hit-and-run incident the previous Friday.

According to the police, Yasatzu, an Ethiopian-Israeli from Yokne’am, was hit by a number of cars close to Kibbutz Hazorea in the western Jezreel Valley before she died.

Led by Tzohar chairman Rabbi David Stav, the ceremony was conducted to protest against the “moral injustice” of hit-and-run incidents, and as a call to drivers to exercise greater caution on the roads.

The “decapitated calf” rite is mandated by the Torah in a case in which a person is found dead and the killer is unknown. In such a situation, the Torah commands that the elders of the city closest to the site where the body was found take a calf and slaughter it in a barren valley.

The elders then wash their hands over the calf, disavowing responsibility for the person’s death, and say, “Our hands have not spilt this blood and our eyes did not see. Atone for Your nation Israel who You redeemed, God. Do not place innocent blood amidst Your people Israel.”

Tzohar said in a statement that it conducted the ceremony, minus the decapitated calf, “to arouse the attention of communal leaders and the hearts of the public, because there should not be a situation in which blood is haphazardly spilt and the public does not perform any act of remorse.”

“The Torah presents an uncompromising moral statement, that all of us, religious, traditional and secular, have to adopt: We are responsible for spilt blood,” Stav said. “We are responsible for blood spilt in road accidents, we are responsible for blood spilt in stupid gang fights, for women murdered by their husbands, and for the blood spilt in the murders which fill the pages of our newspapers.”

It is impossible to shirk responsibility when it comes to human life, Stav added, saying that even a lack of knowledge about a potential life-threatening situation hanging over someone is a form of guilt.

According to the Portuguese Jewish Bible commentator Don Isaac Abrabanel (1437-1508), the decapitated calf ceremony was meant to shock residents of the cities close to the site where the corpse was discovered.

The purpose was to interrupt the routine of everyday life and force those watching and passing by to think about and take responsibility for a situation in which a society can allow a person’s death to go unpunished and unnoticed.

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