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Goel (Hebrew: גואל, lit. "redeemer"), in the Hebrew Bible and the rabbinical tradition, is a person who, as the nearest relative of another, is charged with the duty of restoring the rights of another and avenging his wrongs. One duty of the goel was to redeem (purchase back) a relative who had been sold into slavery. Another was to avenge the death of a relative who had been wrongly killed; one carrying out this vengeance was known as the goel hadam, commonly translated to English as "avenger of blood".
The term goel is also used in reference to other forms of redemption. In the Book of Isaiah, God is called the redeemer of Israel, as God redeems his people from captivity; the context shows that the redemption also involves moving on to something greater.
Duties of the goel
The obligations of the goel include the duty to redeem the relative from slavery, if the latter had been obliged to sell himself into slavery (Leviticus 25:48-49); to repurchase the property of a relative who had had to sell it because of poverty; to avenge the blood of his relative; to marry his brother's widow in order to have a son for his brother, in case the brother had not got any son to pass his name forth (Deuteronomy 25:5-6); and to receive the restitution if the injured relative had died (Numbers 5:8).
Numbers 35:9-30 regulates the duties of the goel hadam. The congregation must judge the case before it puts a murderer in the hands of a goel. More than one witness is needed for conviction. In case of accidental manslaughter, the slayer can save his life by fleeing to a "city of refuge" and staying there until the death of the high priest. Ransom is not accepted for murder. Revenge cannot be taken on the offender's children or parents (Deuteronomy 24:16).
Leviticus 25:48-49 gives the order in which the nearest relative is considered the goel in the case of redeeming a slave: brother, uncle, male cousin and then other relatives. The same order was probably observed in the other cases, except in marrying a sister-in-law.
The blood-avenger in rabbinic tradition
Jewish tradition has also ascribed to the blood avenger role performed in modern times by a prosecuting attorney, who thus pleads on behalf of the victim the case against the criminal. Thus, he is responsible for bringing the offender to court, finding evidence against him, presenting the case to the court, and collecting damages from the offender. It is also his task to argue against any attempts to pardon the sinner. It is presumed that the court would be the party who would avenge the wrongful death via the usage of the death penalty.
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Avenger of Blood.|
- Donald A. Leggett: The Levirate and Goel Institutions in the Old Testament With Special Attention to the Book of Ruth Doctoral dissertation at the Free University in Amsterdam. Cherry Hill, N.J. 1974, Mack Publishing Company.