Today in inexplicable religious zealotry:
A candidate for the Arkansas legislature, Charlie Fuqua, says children who don’t demonstrate “respect for parents” should be put to death, the Arkansas Times reports. Fuqua is a former member of the Arkansas legislature and has received support from the Arkansas Republican Party and two sitting members of Congress.
Here’s the key passage from Fuqua’s 2012 book, “God’s Law: The Only Political Solution“:
The maintenance of civil order in society rests on the foundation of family discipline. Therefore, a child who disrespects his parents must be permanently removed from society in a way that gives an example to all other children of the importance of respect for parents. The death penalty for rebellious children is not something to be taken lightly. The guidelines for administering the death penalty to rebellious children are given in Deut 21:18-21:
Fuqua helpfully notes that “This passage does not give parents blanket authority to kill their children.” Rather, parents would have to “follow the proper procedure in order to have the death penalty executed against their children.” Fuqua assures the reader that, in his view, the procedure would “rarely be used.” The threat of death would, however, “be a tremendous incentive for children to give proper respect to their parents.”
The trouble for Fuqua — and anyone else who thinks the Hebrew Bible provides a good template to follow in cases like these — is that he doesn’t actually have any idea what Jewish scholars and religious authorities have been thinking and writing about this particular passage for centuries:
In defining the extent and limitations of the laws of the ben sorer u-moreh, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 71a) states that the child is not considered liable until he has stolen his father’s property in order to acquire a tartimar of meat to eat, and a log of Italian wine to drink. The Halakha places further restrictions upon the ben sorer u-moreh so as to make the application of the law extremely unlikely, if not impossible. The rules only apply with the first three months after the child has reached halakhic manhood; both parents must be living and willing to press charges; neither parent can be deaf, lame, nor missing a limb; they must speak with the same voice and have the same appearance; the boy must steal the meat and wine from his father’s house, yet consume them elsewhere in the company of worthless individuals, in order for him to be convicted. According to the Tosefta Negaim, this law is not in effect in Yerushalayim. (The Meshekh Chokhma suggests that this is due to the continuous eating of so many sacrifices and offerings, as well as ma’aser sheni – the second tithe – within Jerusalem; consumption within the city, since it is performed for mitzva purposes, cannot be considered gluttony.) These are only a few of the numerous restrictions and limitations that apply before a boy can be judged as a ben sorer u-moreh, ensuring that the actual application of the law was extremely rare.
Several Talmudic opinions (Sanhedrin 71), having studied the above limitations, conclude that the case of the ben sorer u-moreh"never occurred and never will occur." According to them, the sole purpose of having this section in the Torah is to learn the laws and provide a reward for those who do so.
So, in brief, here is my plea to people like Charlie Fuqua:
Stop cherry-picking the Torah to justify all of the terrible things you want people to do to one another; Jews don’t believe that things like this are mandated by the Torah and it’s our book.