The Crusader Online

January 23, 2009
Vol. 50 No. 12

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The Chaplain's Corner

"Lex talionis" is its Latin name--the law of retaliation, whose simplest expression is the biblical injunction of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."

Notwithstanding Gandhi's observation that if all lived by that law, soon the whole world would be blind and toothless, lex talionis does serve an important function. It is a law of limits: one eye for one eye and one tooth for one tooth. Retaliation for a misdeed should seek equivalency, not unrestricted revenge.

If you knock out one of my teeth, I cannot retaliate by smashing in all of yours. Lex talionis limits retribution, seeking to prevent the escalation of violence.

Reasonable people support Israel's right to defend its citizens from Hamas rockets and to deter hostile acts. When, however, those rockets kill 13 Israelis (three of them civilians) and Israel's retaliation claims the lives of 1,250 Palestinians (half of them civilians), lex talionis lies buried beneath the rubble of bombed-out schools and the carnage of dead mothers and their children.

A hundred lives for one is a calculus that makes for neither peace nor justice.

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