I chose to sermonize about the Zimmerman verdict during this past
Shabbat.I included insights from
several writers and editorials all expounding on thoughts relating to our
judicial system, racism, and the like.
The consensus according to these various commentators is that the prosecution
had an incredibly difficult job, and that they did not do that job particularly
well. Another point was made was how the African-American
community continues to feel a tremendous amount of racism which often surfaces
through profiling.And to top it off,
Stand Your Ground laws can give a sense of entitlement to well-meaning
individuals, which can lead them to horrific acts.
With all that in mind, I then looked at it through a Jewish perspective to
see if there was potential for guidance in how to respond to the tragic death of
In last week’s Torah portion, Vaetchanan, we find two very relevant passages
that can shed some light on a possible Jewish perspective and response to the
Zimmerman verdict.The first deals with
the cities of refuge.These cities were
to be set up so that a man who inadvertently committed manslaughter could flee
without fear of recrimination from the deceased’s kin.
The second relevant piece for us is the retelling of the 10
Commandments.One of the most
well-known, but mistranslated, “Thou shall not kill” which really means, “Thou
shall not commit an act of first-degree murder.”
If we examine these two together the central tenant we can pull out from it
is the idea is justice is an act under God’s guidance meted out by
society.Justice is not an act of vengeance
meted out by an individual.So perhaps,
at least according to this reading of our tradition, creating a law such as
"Stand Your Ground," though well meaning, can give an individual a
sense of empowerment which can lead them to unintended acts of vengeance, which
are then validated to be acts of justice.
So even if we are not going to repeal the Stand Your Ground Laws,
perhaps it is time to tighten them up, so they can at least more adequately
represent cases of pure self-defense.
By doing this, there is the possibility that we can prevent another needless
death of another young person in our society.While at the same time, it we desperately need to continue to tackle the
issue of gun violence decimating young African-American men in
Rabbi Sharff is the Senior Rabbi for The Reform Temple of Rockland in Upper Nyack, New York. He was raised in Houston, Texas where he discovered the acoustic and electric guitar while sitting in his dorm room one day. Rabbi Sharff graduated from the University of Texas and was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.
Rabbi Sharff is the rhythm guitarist for RTR's in House Band, and he also served as the editor for Howard Salmon's z"l Comic Book Siddur.