Make a Battlement

When we build a new house, God says to make a battlement for the roof so we’ll not be guilty of manslaughter if someone falls from the rooftop and dies. (De 22:8) This certainly makes sense in the context in which it was first given, where houses were generally constructed with a flat roof which was used as a living space; in such cases providing a barrier around the edge to keep people from harm is consistent with charity.

Yet how do we respond to such a law for steep rooftops, upon which only trained professionals are ever allowed? Do we violate this law because we think we understand its context and spirit, presuming it’s not applicable or obsolete in our case? or do we build completely useless barriers around rooftops which serve to protect no one?

If sin is the transgression or violation of the law (1Jn 3:4), in either the letter or the spirit, it seems we should not ignore the law, or violate it at any level for any reason. Yet it also seems inappropriate to build useless fences around our rooftops – making us appear foolish to the world and positioning Torah itself as ridiculous and burdensome. Neither approach seems reasonable.

If we look at the text carefully, it says to build a parapet, or a barrier or wall for our roof; the barrier need not be above or even upon the roof, just for the roof. To serve the intended function this battlement must be between the edge of the rooftop and those occupying our residence to prevent anyone from ever accidentally falling off.

For houses with steeply pitched roofs the exterior wall of the home itself serves as this battlement or barrier: when there is no rooftop access from within the home, if one must go to considerable trouble to climb up and over the exterior wall to access the roof, it seems this law in Torah is being respected both in spirit and in letter, in truth at every level.

However, for any home which provides convenient access to the rooftop, surrounding the accessible portion of the roof with a sturdy, waist-high fence to prevent anyone from accidental injury is clearly the Law of Love. (Ro 13:10)

This principle shows us we should make reasonable efforts to promote the safety and well-being of others at all times, taking steps to prevent accidental injury of any kind.

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2 thoughts on “Make a Battlement”

  1. Spurgeon’s Notes here are helpful: The Spurgeon Library | Battlements

    It is not necessary to inform this audience that the roofs of Eastern dwellings were flat, and that the inhabitants were accustomed to spend much of their time upon the tops of their houses, not only conversing there during the day, but sleeping there at night. If the roofs were without any fencing or protection around their edge, it might often happen that little children might fall over, and not unfrequently grown-up persons might inadvertently make a false step, and suffer serious injury, if not death itself. Where there were no railings or low walls around the roof, accidents frequently occurred; but God commanded his people, while they were yet in the wilderness, that, when they came into the promised land, aid proceeded to build houses, they should take care in every case to build a sufficient battlement that life might not be lost through preventable casualty.

    This careful command clearly shows us that God holds life to be very valuable, and that, as he would not permit us to kill by malice, so he would not allow us to kill by negligence, but would have us most tender of human lives. Such rules as the one before us as precedents for sanitary laws, and give the weight of divine sanction to every wise sanitary arrangement. No man has a right to be filthy in his person, or his house, or his brace; for, even if he himself may flourish amid unhealthy accumulations of dirt, he has no right, by his unclean habits to foster a deadly typhus, or afford a nest for cholera. Those whose houses are foul, whose rooms are unventilated, whose persons are disgusting, cannot be said to love their neighbor; and those who create nuisances in our crowded cities are guilty of wholesale murder. No man has a right to do anything which must inevitably lead to the death or to the injury of those by whom he is surrounded, but he is bound to do all in his power to prevent any harm coming to his fellow-men. That seems to be the moral teaching of this ordinance of making battlements around the housetops, — teaching, mark you, which I should like all housewives, working-men, manufacturers, and vestrymen, to take practical note of.

  2. This law requiring rooftop battlements is evidently part of our basis for “duty of care” law.

    ChatGPT: “The legal term for laws that require proactive steps to protect people from accidental injury is ‘duty of care.’ This principle is a fundamental aspect of tort law, which governs civil wrongs that cause harm or loss to others. Duty of care imposes an obligation on individuals or entities to act in a manner that avoids foreseeable harm to others. It is often applied in cases involving negligence, where failure to fulfill the duty of care may result in legal liability for any resulting injuries or damages.”

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