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Why Did They Kill The Entire City?

In this week’s parshah we read of the incident involving Dinah and Shechem, the son of Chamor, the nasi of the city of Shechem. Upon learning that Dinah was abducted by Shechem, Shimon and Levi killed all the male residents of the city, including Shechem and Chamor. There are various opinions that explain what the rational of Shimon and Levi was in killing all the inhabitants of the city.

 

The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 9:14) says one of the seven commandments that the bnei Noach are obligated to follow is to set up a judicial system that will judge people who transgress any of the mitzvos that bnei Noach are required to follow. It is also the role of these courts to carry out punishment when a ben Noach transgresses. The punishment of a ben Noach for transgressing any of their mitzvah obligations is sa’if  (decapitation). If a ben Noach witnesses a transgression by another ben Noach, he must bring him to judgment. If he does not do this, the witness is deserving of punishment for not enacting judgment on the transgressor. The Rambam concludes that it is for this reason that the entire population of the city of Shechem was deserving of the death penalty, for they all knew that Shechem kidnapped Dinah – but did not judge him. Therefore they were all guilty of not enacting judgment, thus deserving of the death penalty.

 

The Ramban disagrees with the Rambam and asks the following questions: If everyone in the whole city was guilty and deserved the death penalty, why then did Yaakov Avinu not kill them himself? And if he was afraid of them, why did he disapprove of Shimon and Levi’s actions? After all, they believed in Hashem and did what was right. Additionally, the Ramban disagrees that a ben Noach is not killed when he does not bring another to judgment, since it is a positive commandment and bnei Noach are only killed when they transgress a negative commandment.

 

The Ramban writes that the residents of Shechem in fact deserved death, but for other reasons. He says that all of the seven nations of Cena’an worshiped idols and transgressed with arayos (immoral relations) and many other abominations whereby they deserved death. However, Yaakov believed that the penalty for these actions was not for Shimon and Levi to carry out. Additionally, Yaakov knew that they did not kill them for this reason, but rather in retaliation for what happened to Dinah. Thus he disapproved, and scorned them for acting out their anger.

 

The Ramban adds that when Yaakov initially heard all of his sons telling Shechem and his father to circumcise the entire city’s populace, he did not object because he thought that they would only use this ploy to rescue Dinah and then leave. Indeed while the rest of the brothers only intended to rescue Dinah, Shimon and Levi intended to take further action.

 

I want to suggest that according to the Rambam we can better understand the reason that Shimon and Levi did not kill the women of Shechem. The Rambam writes (Hilchos Melachim 9:14) that a woman cannot testify against, or judge, a ben Noach. Therefore the women of the city were not guilty of not trying Shechem, since there was nothing they could have done about it. However, according to the Ramban it is not clear why Shimon and Levi did not kill the female inhabitants of the city, since in his view they too deserved the death penalty. Perhaps they felt that in order to achieve retaliation it would suffice to only kill the male inhabitants, even though the females deserved death as well.  Additionally, this may have been an indication to Yaakov Avinu that they were acting solely out of retaliation and not to carry out the penalty that was due them.

 

The Ramban, in his dispute with the Rambam, said that although the residents of Shechem and the rest of Cena’an deserved the death penalty, it was not incumbent on Yaakov or his sons to carry out the judgment. I believe that the Rambam disagrees with the Ramban on this point. The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 10:11) writes that the beis din of Yisrael is obligated to arrange judges for the gerim ha’toshavim that will judge them according to their laws, unless they see that they have their own judges. The Rambam adds that this is for the sake of the world.

 

The Maharam Shik (Teshuvos Orach Chaim 142) writes that according to this Rambam, beis din in Eretz Yisrael has an obligation to establish courts for the gerim ha’toshavim, comprised of either fellow gerim ha’toshavim or Jewish judges. Outside Ertetz Yisrael, beis din does not have this obligation. But if beis din wishes to establish a court system in order to maintain the correct lifestyle, they have this right – and are “zocheh la’shamayim.”

 

Therefore, if Yaakov Avinu and his sons knew that the residents of Shechem were guilty and due the death penalty, and there was no court that would try them for their crime, they were obligated to establish a court and exact judgment on them. And even if the residents of Shechem were not gerim ha’toshavim, Yaakov and his sons would nonetheless have the right to establish a court to judge them. And by doing so, they were zocheh la’shamayim.

 

For questions or comments about this column, e-mail RabbiRFuchs@gmail.com.

About the Author: For questions or comments, e-mail RabbiRFuchs@gmail.com.


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