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    Wrong place, wrong time – Mishpatim

    Many a time, people get hurt or even killed because they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Is this what is envisaged in Ex. 21:22, which speaks about a squabble that results in a pregnant woman losing her baby?

    First let us ask why the Torah says kiyinnatzu anashim, “when men strive together”. A few verses back (verse 18), we read ki yerivun anashim, “when men contend” – a different verb, a different meaning?

    Verse 18 must be referring to a heated verbal exchange, whilst our verse envisages a fight with fisticuffs (the same verb is found in Ex. 2:13, where a quarrel becomes physical). So two men are exchanging blows, and it is the woman who gets to be hurt.

    What was she doing there?

    One view is that she was trying to separate the men; another view, that she just happened to be standing there.

    If we said to the woman, “You should have kept out of harm’s way”, what sort of advice would that be in the circumstances?

    The rule is that if no actual harm came to the woman or her baby, there is no penalty. If the baby is lost, the man who struck the fatal blow is fined.

    If the quarrel resulted in ason (“if any harm follow”: i.e. if the woman dies), the punishment is the lex talionis, “eye for eye”, etc. This does not mean that because the woman is now dead, the culprit must be executed, but it implies a harsh financial penalty.

    The woman’s death is not deemed to be murder because there was no premeditation.

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