The Torah's Idea of Fairness Applies to Prisoners of War

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Excerpts from a sermon given at Friday Sabbath by Rabbi Stephen Weisman at Temple Solel in Bowie.

In the Torah this week we begin to read, "These are the rules that you shall set before them" [Exodus 21:1]. By the context, we know that these are God's words, given to Moses, who will report these mitzvot (good deeds) back to the people.

Rather than look at any specific aspects of these rules tonight, let's focus on the underlying morals and ethics of the entire collection. When we do, it is clear we are dealing with a system most concerned about fair and equitable treatment for all, before God.

When Moses received the Ten Commandments, we saw in Torah last week, there

was a wordplay on the word "holy." We learned that the essence of holiness is separation. But in these mitzvots, holiness is only recognized when we come together in our interactions with others, with God, and with the world around us. Therefore, these torts, or laws, are essential in establishing a framework which allows us to become holy.

What has happened since September 11 must be measured by the sense of consistency, appropriateness and fairness that are hallmarks of the tort system of Torah. The good news, first, is that the propaganda machines that blamed Jews for the World Trade Tower tragedy was taken only as slander, as a canard.

The announcement by the [Immigration and Naturalization Service] that it will beef up detention of those illegally in America, starting with Arabs, is also a good step. We must start somewhere. Still, I would much rather make mistakes in the direction of leniency [toward illegals], for this is my sense of k'dushah, the protection of the rights of all. If the INS does tighten up across the board, it will be a good thing and can help avoid future racial profiling, which is bad, an unholy separation rather than a holy one.

Our president has mostly struck the right notes in response to the attack. But in our search for fairness we must focus on his use of the word "war. …