Tuesday, January 11, 2005
A Pound of Flesh
R. Daniel Z. Feldman, The Right and the Good: Halakhah and Human Relations
You might recall from high school that, in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, the Jewish money-lender Shylock demands a pound of flesh from Antonio for failing to pay his debt. Is this an halakhically acceptable demand and, should two people make such an agreement, would a beis din uphold it? As the expanded edition of R. Daniel Z. Feldman's The Right and the Good: Halakhah and Human Relations goes to print, containing countless minor revisions and over 1/8th more material, it is my pleasure to give you a peak at his summary of this topic in one of his footnotes (p. 168 n. 64):
Along the lines of the discussion of the Rivash, R. Shlomo Yosef Zevin takes up the question of how a Jewish Beit Din would address the situation depicted in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice (L'Ohr HaHalakhah, pp. 310-336). In that play, Shylock demands a pound of flesh from Antonio, as the latter had agreed to in the event of defaulting on a loan from the former. In his essay, R. Zevin considers the question of whether one may allow another to harm him, the issue of nitzayon/bizayon (see below), and general issues of one's ownership, or lack of ownership, over one's body. R. Zevin observes that although Shylock's wishes have been taken to reflect negatively on Jews, in actuality, a genuine Jewish Beit Din would never have even entertained the positions taken seriously by the [albeit fictional] Venetian court.