I remember enough from the handful of classes I took on Islam to know that Islamic law teaches the complete opposite of verses 1-4. In Deuteronomy, if you divorce a wife because of something “objectionable” (or “indecent”; the NCT has “should be ashamed of”), and she remarries and then her new husband dies or divorces her, her first husband can’t remarry her. In Islamic law, that’s the only circumstance under which a man can marry a woman he divorced; she has to have a marriage in between.

It’s not clear in Deuteronomy what the grounds are for divorce. I know that by Jesus’ time, when the Talmud was starting to be assembled, there was actually a big debate going on over this. Christianity eventually took the strong side that divorce was only allowable if the wife had committed adultery, and Judaism took the side that it was allowable for anything. To this day, in Orthodox communities, a wife has to get her husband to request a divorce, leading to one woman recently hiring thugs to beat her husband into granting her a divorce. So points for Islam here, because I recall that, while it may be harder for her, Muslimahs can begin the divorce process on their own.

The rest of this passage deals with various issues (as usual, there’s little flow from one commandment to the next) and a lot of them deal with poverty. The Popes aren’t pulling it out of their posteriors (or Marx) when they call mistreating the poor a sin. This chapter specifically gives the following rules for dealing with poor people (which, recall, are not supposed to exist if the Israelites would follow Jubilee years properly):

  • if a poor person puts a garment up as collateral for a loan, you must return it to them each night so that they can sleep – or maybe you can only keep it for one day, I’m not entirely clear. Either way, they need it, so give it back. (v 12-13)
  • no withholding wages. (v 14-15) Wage garnishment is a big problem in the Unites States, as it happens to a lot of workers without them knowing that it’s technically illegal. And also a sin.
  • any dropped food has to be left for the poor to gather (19-21)

Other laws don’t directly mention the poor but are significant bits of economic justice. You can’t take millstones for collateral, since that’s someone’s livelihood. (v 6). You can’t kidnap fellow countrymen and sell them as slaves. Slavery, as weird as this sounds, has to be voluntary. (v 7) In the past, when people couldn’t pay off debts, they would sell themselves as slaves, basically working for free for as long as it might take to pay off the debt. This is also why taking interest is illegal, along with taking something essential for their livelihood as collateral.

Note that this last rule doesn’t apply to foreigners. You can enslave prisoners of war all you want, and it’s not kidnapping. But remember: if they run away because you mistreat them, you don’t get them back.

The laws about “leprosy” (“a grave skin disease” in the NCT, correct since we don’t know what disease it actually is) are health concerns, but they’re much less detailed here than in Leviticus. People afflicted are supposed to do whatever the priests say. Maybe the assumption is that the priests have read Leviticus.

Actually, come to think of it, Leviticus did have a lot more laws that pertained only to priests, whereas Deuteronomy’s laws seem addressed to everyone. Perhaps that’s intentional.

Anyway, there’s a command to “remember what the LORD your God did to Miriam on your journey out of Egypt.” A refresher, since that was back before my hiatus. Miriam was stricken with the disease for insulting Moses’ non-Israelite wife (hmm, I wonder what Deuteronomy would think of that?) and exiled from the camp for seven days, the same time, apparently, that someone is “shamed” when their parent spits on their face. There’s no mention of whether she’s ever healed. She gets to come back after seven days. So in Deuteronomy’s version, is that the only thing done with people afflicted with skin disease? Do they not have to stay outside of the camp until they’re healed?

Finally, verse 16 declares that “Parents shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their parents; only for their own crimes may persons be put to death.” Up until this point, plenty of families have been killed together, so one wonders if this is another “from now on” command. Or maybe the writer of Deuteronomy is trying to fix the perceived moral deficiency of earlier narratives. Or maybe the note in my NOAB is right, and this only refers to violation of the law, not offending God. God often is allowed to play by a different set of rules in the Pentateuch, which is strange when he’s supposed to be the exemplar of justice and righteousness.

I prefer my idea that this is the evolving sense of how responsibility for sin and crimes works. Earlier, it was seen very much communally, but over time, this came to be considered unjust, and it only applied individually.

The Japanese: miidasu “to find, to discover” (v 1), niidzuma “bride, new wife,” fuku suru “to serve,” koumu “official duty,” kasu “to impose on, to charge with,” mejo suru “to exempt” (v 5), hikiusu “quern,” uwaishi “upper millstone,” shichi “pledge, pawn” (v 6), yuukai suru “to kidnap” (v 7), saishin “careful, meticulous” (v 8), tanbo “security, pledge, guarantee” (v 10), toboshii “poor, lacking,” sakushu suru “to exploit” (v 14), hitotaba “a bundle” (v 19), kumanaku “everywhere, all over” (v 20).