Biblical Commandment of Making a Parapets on Rooftops: More Relevant Now Than Ever Israeli Doctors Say

January 29, 2020

3 min read

The commandment in the Torah (Deuteronomy 22:8, The Israel Bible)) – When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you do not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it” – was prescient and as relevant today as ever. 

So say Dr. Osher Cohen and Dr. Enrique Freud of the pediatric and adolescent surgery department at Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv. Writing in the latest issue of IMAJ (Israel Medical Association Journal), the Israeli physicians point o8ut that 14.1% of all hospital admissions for traumatic injury are due to falling from a height. In five percent of these cases, the injury is severe or critical, and in 1.5%, the victim dies. 

“The dangers of falling have been recognized since time immemorial. Indeed, the Bible instructs us to build a parapet around the roof of your home so that…’you may not bring the built of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from it.” They added that this commandment is one of a series of ethical laws that are presented to help us understand and obey the larger Biblical precepts of loving one’s neighbor and guarding the sanctity of life. The concept teaches us that it is the responsibility of all individuals to be cognizant of others and to avoid harming people through negligence or carelessness.”

Between 2010 and 2015, a total of 222,140 patients were admitted to 19 trauma centers around the country. Falls of all kinds were responsible for more than half of all hospital admissions. Most of the patients – 60%  – were male, and the most common age range for falls was age 0 to 14, followed by 14.7% between 60 and 74. 

Dealing with falls does not require any sophisticated machinery or modern tools but to prevent them before they happen, Cohen and Freud wrote. 

“From a larger perspective, the law is not merely about parapets or guardrails or balustrades,” they continued. “Like the other ethical laws of the Torah, it is about the sanctity of life, the moral behavior expected from people and the legal and sometimes fatal repercussions of human negligence when one fails to love one’s neighbor as oneself.” 

This commandment in unusual, as it can be recognized as both a positive (to fulfill and specific task) and negative (to avoid doing) one. Of the 613 commands in the Torah, 248 are positive and 365 are negative. Maimonides (the Rambam) wrote in the 12 century CE that the parapet law is positive to ensure that all structures are built in a way that pr3events danger to others, but it is also negative because it is forbidden to leave obstacles or dangerous objects or areas on one’s property that could harm someone. 

Maimonides further wrote that the parapet should be “not less than 10 handbreadths [100 centimeters]” high and strong enough for a person to lean on it without falling. He stated that a protective barrier was needed not just on a roof but at the edge of any dangerous place. 

So today, the commandment is more important than ever. Many of the deaths and injuries here are due to construction working falling because of unsafe conditions. According to Kav La’Oved, the voluntary organization for protecting workers from accidents, the number of people killed in Israeli construction sites is 2.5 times larger (per 100,000 workers) than in the European Union. “Government supervision is lacking – an average construction site is visited by an inspector only once every three years; many of the safety standards in this sector are outdated, and new ones are hardly ever put into effect.” 

In 2019, 45 construction workers died on building sites. 

Beterem (Safe Kids Israel) states that one of the leading causes of death in children is drowning in pools, the Mediterranean Sea or the Sea of Galilee (Kinneret) and even bathtubs and buckets of water. 

The authors of the medical journal article concluded by saying that “although there has been a substantial improvement in the treatment and outcome of trauma, a basic tenet recognized by ancient scholars still holds true today – namely that the best medicine is prevention. The optimal means of prevention may consist of relatively simple and obvious cautionary measures such as building a railing on one’s roof. And by extension, as a rule, we need to recognize our responsibility, both personal and collective, to prevent negligent harm or injury to others.” 


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