In the play Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye decries the biblical pronouncement “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” found in this week’s parasha. (Ex 21:24). This law is brought up by one of Tevye’s fellow villagers in the fictitious shtetl of Anatevka as a motive for revenge against the Jews’ enemies. “Very well,” says Tevye cynically, “then the whole world will be blind and toothless.” We can’t help but marvel at Tevye’s statement expressing the futility of violence as a means to combat violence. But he also seems to directly contradict a Torah law. Actually, Tevye is in good company because the rabbis of the Talmud reinterpreted Ex 21:24 to mean that monetary compensation should be given for a lost eye or tooth by the one who caused the harm. They too leaned away from retaliation and violence as a means to solve problems.
Rabbi D. Feingold