Shabbat 71 – The Theory of Involvement
Two caveats we must keep in mind in this kind of exploration: first, the Rabbis in the Talmud are discussing sacrifices that haven’t actually been performed for hundreds of years since the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE. So their punishments are theoretical, though one could read this as simply their vocabulary for approval or disapproval, permission or prohibition. Second, the major reason the Talmud’s rabbis have to deal with cases of unwitting violation is that they are constantly creating and adding to the halakha [religious law] – so you can’t fully blame the average individual for being unclear on what was prohibited and what was not!
In our own context, we can imagine cases where many rules might be broken in one series of actions, and the question we would pursue is: what constitutes restitution? Is it only the first in the series, or each individual violation? We imagine that our courts pursue each count or charge individually, but we know that plea bargains aim at a simplified, cheaper process that also creates an overall punishment – thus they throw out certain charges to get a plea deal to lesser offenses. While this may violate some abstract sense of justice, where every little violation demands a specific compensation, we can also accept that we live in an imperfect world with imperfect justice, and sometimes the best we can do has to be good enough. Though in theory we don’t, in practice we too accept our own version of “involvement.”
Rabbi Adam Chalom