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Pricing Persons: Consecration, Compensation, and Individuality in the Mishnah

From: Jewish Quarterly Review
Volume 103, Number 2, Spring 2013
pp. 169-195 | 10.1353/jqr.2013.0012



In this article I explore the procedures of monetary evaluation of persons as constructed in three halakhic contexts in the Mishnah consecration of humans to the Temple, restitutions for bodily injuries, and compensations for rape and seduction. I argue that in all three contexts we can identify an underlying tension between two competing paradigms of personhood: a paradigm which stresses the unity and sameness of all persons qua persons, and a paradigm which stresses variations and diversity among different persons. The rabbis oscillate between biblical legal models, which assign fixed and non-fluctuating values to human life, wellbeing, dignity, etc., and a commitment to accommodating the particularities of persons as individuals with distinct sets of traits, a commitment which is manifested, in its rabbinic construction, in the individual monetary assessment of each person. While the rabbis take different paths in grappling with this tension in these three contexts, the analysis presented here makes clear that the rabbis considered a legal model that disregards the discrepancies between different individuals to be problematic and unsatisfactory. I suggest that the competing models of sameness as opposed to diversity that we find in the Mishnah reflect a fundamental tension between a biblical ethos on the one hand, and the impact of Graeco-Roman social and conceptual frameworks on the other hand.

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