Kenneth Cohen


There are several punitive measures taken in the Torah, to make it clear that there is accountability if these laws are violated. It was up to the Jewish courts set up around the country to enforce these laws. The Torah believes in capital punishment, but rarely enforced it. This was due to many technicalities. But it was clear that there was great moral outrage to show the severity of these laws.

Only violations of the 365 negative commandments, carried with them consequences. The exception to this rule was the non offering of the Pesach sacrifice, and non performance of circumcision. These were the only two positive commandments, out of the 248, where a punishment was mentioned, and it was administered by the Heavenly court.

It is interesting to note that 207 out of the 365 negative commandments, were punished with lashes. The Torah uses the words, אם בן הכות הרשע, “if the evil one is worthy of lashes.” The word, בן, is pronounced as “BEEN,” rather than, “BEN.”
The Baal Haturim says that בן, is short for the word, בינה, meaning, insightful wisdom. This refers to the care given by the court to be sure that the transgressor would not die from the lashes.

They were given in multiples of three. The healthy sinner, would receive the full thirty-nine lashes, as prescribed by the Torah. The weaker ones could receive as little as three lashes, while others would be given according to the examination of the court doctor.

Reward and punishment is one of the basic principles of the Torah. While these laws apply only in a Torah society, studying its laws should impress upon us how we need to conduct our lives.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at