"If two men get into a fight with each other, and the wife of one comes up to save her husband from his antagonist and puts out her hand and seizes him by his genitals, you shall cut off her hand; show no pity." Deuteronomy.25.11

I understand that several Halochos are learned from that case, but for me, the scenario sounds absolutely weird. It is completely unrelated to the previous and the following statements. Moreover, it adds "show no pity" which is not used even for murder.

Why would the Torah use such an unconventional example?

2 Answers 2


the scenario sounds absolutely weird.

Some scholars point to a parallel Nuzi text of the Akkadians, which would suggest then that in the ancient Near East uncovering or unwanted touching (especially by an opponent's wife) of the genitals was a very shame inducing act. And was something that happened in society at large. It may seem strange to us because society has moved way past this (probably in good part due to the Torah itself).

It is completely unrelated to the previous

Thematically this passage comes right after a description of halisa, which in a sense is a ritualized shaming of a man by a woman by means of touching/uncovering. So its kind of just continuing the theme, and saying in this case ok/permitted, in that case prohibited.

it adds "show no pity" which is not used even for murder.

See Deut. 19:11-13 where it is used for a murderer:

וכי-יהיה איש, שונא לריעהו, וארב לו וקם עליו, והכהו נפש ומת; ונס, אל-אחת הערים האל. ושלחו זקני עירו, ולקחו אותו משם; ונתנו אותו, ביד גואל הדם--ומת. לא-תחוס עינך, עליו; וביערת דם-הנקי מישראל, וטוב לך.

Also see the Ramban ad loc. where he mentions two reasons for the use of such language here in our case (25:11):

וקצותה את כפה לא תחוס עינך (להלן כה יב), מפני כי הפתאים יהללו אותה בהיותה עוזרת לבעלה, או מפני שהבושת מצוי ואין בו חסרון כיס

"you shall cut off her hand; your eye shall not show pity" and there the prohibition is warranted because foolish people praise her for aiding her husband, or because causing embarrassment is a common offense and does not involve financial loss to the victim.

So basically the extra strong language is used to a) rebuff those that would claim that her actions were proper and justified, and therefore undeserving of punishment. Or b) rebuff those that would claim that insofar has her actions incurred no economic damages, she should not be held liable.

  • 1
    I liked the first explanation the most. Thank you. It makes sense, as recycling of recognizable cultural patterns.
    – Al Berko
    Feb 7, 2022 at 20:16

As for context: the Sforno says the previous verses talk about publicly shaming a man for not marrying his brother's widow. So even though there are times when publicly shaming someone is called for, in the right measure ... we still have to have a sense of dignity. Thus, we would punish someone for embarrassing someone else. (I.e. -- don't let the occasional use of public shaming desensitize you from how hurtful it can be.)

  • IIRC we don't punish shame by cutting someone's hand off.
    – Al Berko
    Feb 7, 2022 at 20:14
  • @AlBerko of course not! Sforno's reading is that of Rashi's, that all she did was embarrass the guy. "Cut off her hand" is a figure of speech for "fine her severely."
    – Shalom
    Feb 7, 2022 at 21:42

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