Who doesn’t like a good mystery? In the twenty-first century, whodunnits dominate the best-sellers lists, perhaps because one feels safer knowing that no matter how elusive–the bad guy will lose in the end. Interestingly enough, even the Torah talks about mystery murders, the ones whose perpetrators are never found. 

In Deuteronomy, the Torah discusses what should be done, “If one is found slain…lying in the field and it is not known who killed him” (Deuteronomy 21:1). According to the text, the elders of the city nearest to where the body is found are required to kill a heifer at the place of the murder and declare, “Our hands have not shed this blood, neither have our eyes seen it. Forgive, O Lord, Your people Israel, who You have redeemed, and suffer not innocent blood to remain in the midst of Your people Israel” (21:7-8).

It is interesting to note that when no murderer is found, the guilt appears to be placed upon the entire town and, specifically, upon the elders and judges. The sages, seeking to understand the reason for this communal blame, ask: “Can it enter our minds that [the members of a] Court of Justice shed blood?!…[Rather, the meaning is that] we dismissed him [the victim] without supplying him with food, we did not see him and allowed him go without an escort” (Talmud Sotah 46b).

The guilt of the city elders is that it seems that neither they nor the people of the city for whom they are teachers and role models, cared enough about this stranger to either secure his/her safety or have a clue as to who might have committed this heinous crime. 

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