Friday, September 1, 2017

Keep it Fair: Ox and Donkey

“Fair” is a word we hear very often. From our earliest years, human beings have a seemingly innate desire for things to be, or at least appear to be, fair. When children use the word, it is usually to insist that they should have equal to what others have. When adults use it, it is (in the best of circumstances) in the hope of achieving a better society that they often presume means more balanced or equal.

Within the framework of Jewish law, however, fair has nothing to do with equal. One interesting lesson about the Torah’s concept of fairness can be found in Deuteronomy 22:10: “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.” A pair of oxen are capable of pulling a plow. A pair of donkeys are also capable of pulling a  plow. But putting an ox and a donkey together is inherently “unfair.” The ox will have to bear the greater burden of the work simply because its strength and build is so much greater than the donkey’s. The donkey, on the other hand, is yoked to an animal that seems to be eating at all times (since the ox constantly chews its cud) while the donkey has no food.  While the verse specifically mentions an ox and a donkey, the rule applies to any two animals of different kinds.

At face value, the verse appears to be about husbandry and agriculture, but no verse in the Torah should be read without seeking a deeper understanding. Deuteronomy 22:10 is one of many verses that provide fascinating insights into the Jewish values of a just society.


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