Friday, September 12, 2014

Property Lines

Building permits, site surveys, inspectors and codes are all part of the jargon when it comes to construction and land development in the 21st century. While frustrated homeowners may complain of the bureaucracy that these rules create, the fact is that they were designed for the protection of property owners. Whether intentional or not, these laws are also an extension of the Torah’s prohibition not to move the boundary-markers of one’s fellow. 

When the Children of Israel conquered the Promised Land, the territory was divided among the twelve tribes.  Within each tribal portion, the land was further divided among the families in a division that was meant to be eternal. Every 50 years, at the Jubilee, all lands were automatically returned to family of the original property holder. One might therefore think that this would make a prohibition against property theft irrelevant, but fifty years is a long time and it is easy to forget that ownership is temporary. (Remember, at the end of the day, the saying is true - You can’t take it with you.)

The act of moving boundary-markers is considered so insidious that God instructed it to be included among the actions of the accursed. In Deuteronomy 27, Moses instructed the Israelites that following their entry into the Promised Land, they were to position half the tribes of Israel on Mount Gerizim and the other half on Mount Ebal. The Levites were then to call out a series of curses, among which was “Cursed be he that removes his neighbor’s boundary marker”(Deuteronomy 27:17).

Perhaps this act is ranked as so offensive because it is both audacious and sneaky at the same time. It is highly likely that the markers were moved in the middle of the night, enabling the theif and perpetrator to point to the physical facts of where the boundary-markers are now set.  For this double perfidy, the perpetrator is especially cursed. 

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