Friday, October 28, 2005

Moral Jew II: Mistake

Essay One: Moral Jew II: Mistake
It is obvious that G-d himself has the right to kill someone or order someone’s death. Nonetheless, a mere mortal should not be given such an entitlement. Even if a person is fulfilling the command of HaShem, a person is never perfect and perhaps he is doing something wrong (i.e. it was the wrong person, or the person did not do something that warrants losing his life). Even a proper Beis Din can sometimes make mistakes as is evidenced by the existence of an entire Levitical passage[1] in the Torah about the par heleim davar (“The bull for the matter that was hidden from the congregation” i.e. Bais Din promulgated an inaccurate psak). There is even an entire Mishnaic/Talmudic Tractate devoted to such laws, namely, “Horayos” (court rulings). How can we trust even a proper Bais Din to carry out executions if there is a chance that they will make a mistake? How can we ever trust Bet Din?

The Psalmist writes[2], “HaShem stands in the G-dly congregation, in the midst of judges, He judges.” One clearly sees from here that G-d judges alongside other judges, namely the Earthly Bais Din. When a proper Beis Din makes a mistake, it was the will of G-d for that mistake to have occurred (just as everything else in the world is also His will). The resulting sacrifices in the situations discussed in Horayos and in the fourth chapter of Vayiqra (Leviticus) only apply when the Sanhedrin makes a mistake, and later acknowledges its previous mistake. Such an error is not actually an error for the only mistake one can ever make is not acknowledging one’s own mistakes, and here they admitted their blunder.

There are three states of mind, in which a person can potentially be while performing an action. A person can do an action purposefully and willingly (meizid). If this action is a transgression of the law or is a sin, then he is liable for punishment. Depending on the sin, Beis Din can subject him to a flogging, monetary penalty, execution (by fire, strangulation, sword, or stoning) or any sort of Heavenly punishment (being cut off from the World To Come, early death, prolonged life with suffering, or dying childless, should we not know of such punishments). If a person transgresses by mistake, it is called shogeg and he is usually exempt from most punishments, and must merely repent. However, in certain instances, repentance is not sufficient, and therefore the sinner is Biblically required to offer a sacrifice in the Holy Temple (a qorban chatas or asham, a sin or guilt offering). Only when the offense is done forcibly or by accident (ones) is one totally “off the hook.” When a married woman is raped against her will, even though she is technically committing adultery, the Merciful One writes[3], “And to the girl you shall not do anything” because she was forced; and from here, the Gemara[4] deduces the rule that the Torah always exempts an ones. An ones is any victim of unavoidable circumstances and thus is considered blameless. One who follows an erroneous court ruling and thereby commits a sin is given the status of a shogeg[5].

After Bais Din sentences someone to death and that verdict is carried out, even if he is subsequently found to be conclusively innocent, the verdict cannot be overturned. Obviously, the execution cannot be reverted (unless G-d, who revives the dead, does so), but even the final judgment still stands and the condemned is still condemned. This is because a halachik decision – even if erroneous— is always the will of G-d (ratzon HaShem), assuming the Bais Din was honest. Just as one who follows an erroneous resolution concerning issur v’heter (forbidden and permitted) issues has the status of an inadvertent sinner (shogeg), the one who carries out an undeserving execution by the order of Bais Din is also an inadvertent sinner. How can it be the “will of G-d” that someone should be inadvertently killed? This idea can be compared to that of the Talmud[6], which explains how people are subject to punishment in present times despite a lack of Bais Din and the authority to execute. It says HaShem punishes those who "get away" with meditated “mezid” murder (without being given the death penalty) and mistaken “shoggeg” murder (without being forced into exile) by putting them together and causing the latter to mistakenly kill the former and thus the former gets his deserved death sentence carried out, while the latter will now be exiled[7]. Perhaps one way that G-d triggers the murderer to be mistakenly killed is by causing Bais Din to erroneously pasken that he should die.

The Sages[8] maintain the position that one who sinned because of reliance on a fallacious leniency from Bes Din is no different from any other person who inadvertently committed an offense for which a chatas is required. They therefore obligate such an individual to bring a qorban chatas. However, once a majority of the Jewish inhabitants of Eretz Yisroel (Israel) relies on the mistake of Bays Din, the individuals are patur (exempt) from being a personal chatas, for a communal one is brought. Reb Chaim Brisker (Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik (1853-1918) of Brest-Litovsk) says[9] another possible reason can be that since the majority also sinned, it causes each individual’s sin to be in the category of the communal sin for which one is not obligated to bring a personal offering. The practical difference between these two reasons is whether if a majority of the congregation sinned, but for some reason they are not obligated to bring a communal chatas, one is obligated to bring a personal chatas or not.

The Noda B’Yehuda (Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (1713-1793) of Prague) asks[10], according to the Sages, how can an individual be obligated to bring an offering for merely following the rulings of the court? Why is one who relies on a fallacious leniency disseminated by Beis Din considered a shogeg--and thus obligated to bring a personal chatas--as opposed to an ones? The Noda BiYehuda answers that a shogeg is any case in which a mistake is made, no matter who it was that made the mistake. When Bais Din makes an imprecise ruling, an error is made, and the follower of said error is responsible. He surely cannot be responsible for his own action, for he acted in way which he believed to be permitted, however his deed was the result of an error because the court was mistaken in its ruling. On the other hand, an ones (accident) occurs when there was no error whatsoever on anyone’s part, but rather everything was completely beyond the transgressor’s control.

One might think to himself that if he were responsible even when following the psak of Beis Din, then he would be better off ignoring the judicial injunctions of the Jewish Court. About this, the Torah writes[11], “Through the teaching [i.e. Torah] that they [the Sanhedrin and its lower courts] will teach you, and according to the justice that they will say to you, so you shall do; do not turn [deviate] from the words that they will tell right or left.” One is obligated to heed to the ruling of Bais Din “even if they tell you that right is left and left is right”[12]. Leeway is given in a situation when one knows that the Court’s directive is surely mistaken. However, even in such a case, he is only not obligated (or allowed) to follow their leniency until he presents to them his opinion and they reject it. After doing so, he is obligated to listen to the words of Bais Din.[13]

Why is the adherent to the Bais Din’s flawed decision not considered a mayzid, if he willfully committed a transgression (albeit while relying on a judicial ruling)? The Talmud teaches that even one who knew that Bais Din was wrong and still followed their lenient psak is called a shogeg; why is such a person not considered a willful transgressor? Where is there a “mistake” that he should be branded a mistaken sinner as opposed to a willful sinner? Rashi answers that such a person erred concerning the proper understanding of Deuteronomy 17:11. He thought that verse’s injunction to abide to Bais Din applied even with respect to performing an act that he knows to be forbidden (and relying on a ruling that he knows to be inaccurate). However, the correct law is that one is not bound to yield to the judges’ decision if he is convinced they are mistaken, until after he elaborates his opinion in front of the court and they reject it. Since he erred about this law and still followed the words of Bais Din, he is regarded as a mistaken sinner, not a purposeful sinner.

A final verdict of Bais Din can only be overturned by Bais Din. This means that even if one proves Bais Din conclusively wrong, the verdict still stands until the Bais Din itself admits its mistake and retracts the said ruling. Even another Bais Din cannot necessarily null and void another Bais Din’s decrees or rulings, unless the second Bais Din is, as the famous Mishnaic dictum dictates, “greater than the first in wisdom and numbers.” Just as the Tractate Avos (“Ethics of our Fathers”) is replete with warning to judges (i.e. to be careful in their deliberations) that can equally apply to the average citizen, this law that only a Bais Din can reverse a Bais Din’s psak is a lesson for everyone. Only the one who makes an error can fix his error, and the first step to fixing an error is admitting that an error was made. Even though as humans, we are prone to making mistakes, we must try to emulate our perfect Creator as much as possible. Therefore, when we are pure-hearted, we should have the right to carry out rulings using the World’s blueprints (i.e. the Torah). It is a pity that in this day and age people are more crooked than in previous times, but with G-d’s help we will merit to once again have righteous judges with the coming of the Messiah and the re-building of HaShem’s Holy Temple and the re-establishment of the Sanhedrin, speedily and in our days. Amen.

[1] Leviticus 4:13-21
[2] Psalms 82:1
[3] Deuteronomy 22:26
[4] Bava Kama 28b
[5] Whether or not he is obligated to bring a personal chatas is subject to a Tannaic dispute: Rabbi Yehuda believes he is always exempt from bringing a chatas, while the Sages maintain he is not exempt until the majority of the nation also sins because of the court’s mistaken leniency and thereby necessitating a public offering of par heleim davar. The opening Mishna of Meseches Horayos (2a) expresses the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda. See more about the Sages’ opinion below.
[6] Kesubos 30a-b
[7] Makkos 7a ff
[8] Horayos 2b
[9] Chiddushei Rabbeinu Chaim HaLevi to Maimonides, Laws of Mistakes 13:4
[10] Responsa Yoreh Deah §96
[11] Deuteronomy 17:11
[12] Sifri ad loc.
[13] See Ramban/Nachmanides in his hasagos (points of arguments) to the Sefer HaMitzvos of the Maimonides, Shoresh (root) 1. The Ramban answers a seeming contradiction between the Sifri and the Talmud in Horayos 2b.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Moral Jew: Murder

Essay One: Moral Jew: Murder
A Jew’s morals are dictated by G-d himself. In contrast to an atheist, a religious monotheist’s standards are set by what they feel is His word. A Jew does not murder by command of HaShem. However, an atheist does not murder because it is “illogical” to kill off a strand of the evolutionary continuum of the world, or because he fears reprisal from others and fears that if he murders, he thereby justifies others in murdering him, or because of some “social contract” that dictates that murdering is wrong. All these decisions are one’s own, reasoned conclusions. When an atheist finds it to be logical to murder in a given instance, then he will feel that he has the right to kill another (e.g. a simple justification that he could claim is that he was wronged by his victim and that warrants a murder). A proper Jew, despite his cerebral or emotional deductions, would never violate the decree declared by the Creator of the world. However, when the same One who commanded us not to murder orders a death, that death is to be carried out despite any seemingly “moral” objections, for He and the Torah are the source of morals. It is semi-universally agreed upon that genocide is wrong. From a logical point-of-view, no one has the entitlement to simply (or even attempt to) wipe out an entire people. Even an atheist believes in “natural empathy” as well as a respect for law, order and society. Nonetheless, situations arise that a person could reject all these reasons and actually commit genocide (as seen throughout history). Ergo, the strongest basis for forbidding such a mass murder –or even any murder-- is its prohibition from HaShem. In using such a strong argument, killing can only be justified if it is ordered by G-d himself. There are some instances of divinely sanctioned killing, which are not deemed murder.

Critics of the Torah dislike the fact that HaShem has commanded His people to wipe out the seven nations of Canaan[1] and Amalek[2]. The critics seem to wonder how the hypocritical Jews can censure the Nazis of World War Two, when they themselves would also commit genocide if given the chance (e.g. if there was no fear of reprisal from the gentiles). The critics assume that when the Jewish Messiah arrives – an event every Jew is anxious about—the mass murdering of these nations will be carried out. They mention the Biblical rule that “sons [i.e. children] shall not die because of [the sins of] their fathers… a man should be put to death for his own sins”[3], yet these nations are to be killed for events that occurred over 2,000 years ago. They wonder how the so-called “Bible genocide commandments” can condemn the innocent from the womb before they have a chance to commit any sins, to be judged for any such, or even to repent (as if a repentance would help, they’d still be destined to be murdered). They ask that if it is true that G-d acts with justice and mercy, where are either of those two attributes in this condemnation. Who are we to do this unto other human beings, who are, in essence, the same as us?

One’s own logical conclusion that killing is wrong–no matter what the basis is –can and is always superseded by a direct commandment from G-d. He who gives life has the right to take it away, and He who gives the world the commandment not to murder has the right to make exceptions and Himself order a murder. If the only reason why a person does not murder is that the Torah prohibits it[4] then when the Torah itself prescribes a killing (e.g. of a sinner, or of a sinful nation) there should be nothing to stop the carrying out of such a commandment. However, from a non-Jew’s point of view, the essential factor in prohibiting murder is the adherence to the Seven Noachide Commandments. From such a perspective, there is never authorization to kill – how much more so to murder. Killing is not murder, killing can be a result of warfare, capital punishment, self-defense, or a mere accident; murder is murder. The language of the Ten Commandments[5] says “Lo Sirtzach,” “Do not Murder,” not “Lo Saharog,” “Do Not Kill.” The Minchas Chinuch makes a difference between the prohibition of murdering that a Jew is obligated to observe and the prohibition of killing that even a Noahide must observe. Jews are allowed to “kill” when deemed necessary; the prohibition is not to kill the innocent[6]. Noahides are warned even against just killing. Jews are only bound to the Torah, not to the Seven Noachide Laws. The Torah was a special gift from G-d in which He commanded us to kill certain peoples, while the latter is an inherent trait put into people since the times of Adam. This is why Cain was punished for murdering his brother Hevel, even though he was technically not a descendant of Noah and surely, the Torah had not yet been given.

The Seven Nations and Amalek are actually to be punished for their disregard of the Seven Laws of Bnai Noach. A gentile who violates one of these rules is actually liable for the death penalty[7]. These nations acted with sexual indecency, and were murderers, idol worshippers, thieves, and blasphemers. Assuming that their descendants are still living is very difficult to say because Tosafos[8] define a member of one of these nations as one whose mother was a member, and it has already been ruled by the Talmud that when the Assyrian King Sennecharib invaded the Middle East, he relocated the nations and thoroughly mixed them up. The intermarriage became so rampant that no longer can anyone be called from a specific nation as in Biblical times.

Further more, even if one assumes that the commandments to kill out the Seven Nations still applies today, who is to say who is a member of the said nations and who is not? Using the reasoning of the critic, every person (including Jews) is really a safeq (doubtful) descendent of Amalek, and we know that a “safeq d'oraisa, l'chumra” (a doubt concerning a Biblically ordained matter is always judged in the stricter fashion), so therefore we should kill every person in the world today on a suspicion that each might be from Amalek. Such a conclusion is ludicrous and is obviously fallacious because even the most devout Jews do not carry out such executions, nor call for such actions. If the proven Moshiach and duly constituted Sanhedrin positively identified a person as a member of one those nations, then we must kill them. It is possible that the mitzvah will be fulfilled some day; it is also possible that it will not be fulfilled anymore. Some Mitzvos do not apply anymore because they were only temporary in nature meant for a specific time[9]. The Rambam[10] writes that perhaps one can say that the Mitzvah to destroy the seven nations is no longer in effect.

Perhaps one can say that the present-day Seven Nations (enumerated as the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivvites, and Jebusites) and Amalak are not corporeal bodies, but represent ideas. They possibly represent the attitudes expressed by those Biblical Nations. Maybe when people state that Haman or the Nazis were descendants of Amalek, they do not mean it literally but rather that such people possess the traits attributed to Amalek, which becomes a metaphor for all enemies of the Jews (and thus enemies of G-d as well). The Rambam rules that if an Amaleki formally accepts upon himself the rules of the Noachide laws, he effectively relinquishes his status as an Amalekite and no longer deserves destruction. In fact, such an Amalekite can theoretically convert to Judaism; and indeed we have seen in the past such happenings[11]. Nonetheless, the converse is true; a non-Amalekite can “merit” the status of an “Amalekite” by adopting the approach and ethics of such a nation.

G-d has issued the verdict; He is the Judge. Just because we did not “see” the trial that does not mean there has not been one. The rule that children should not die because their parents’ sins applies only to Earthly judges, but the Heavenly Judge is not bound by such a rule. In fact, He writes[12], “…for I am HaShem your G-d, a zealous lord, who ‘reminds’ the sins of fathers on [their] sons to the third and fourth generation, for my enemies.” The Babylonian Talmud[13] says that this is especially true if one’s descendants adopt their ancestors’ evil ways. If G-d has adjudicated them guilty, how is it murdering the innocent? Just like the Ben Sorer U’moreh (stubborn and rebellious son) described in Deut. 21:18-21 is put to death because of his potential menace to society, so too the Seven Nations are a hazard to society. Such a punishment has never actually been carried out in practice[14] not because the principle behind this commandment is, g-d forbid, wrong, but rather because of technical reasons. Despite what the liberals say nowadays with their “kill the babies, save the murderers” attitude, posing a danger to society necessitates one’s execution, just like committing certain capital crimes should.

In the current society, people like to pretend to philosophize about everything. They like to think about things using their own (sometimes-flawed) logical sequences in order to arrive to their conclusion. The reality is that most people arrive at their conclusion long before deliberating the facts, and thus bend the analysis to fit their preconceived notions. A real Bais Din (House of Judgment), such as that in the Heavens or those on Earth do not twist the truth in order to match their predetermined ideas, rather they actually do a proper “din v’chesbon,” a judgment and accounting. It has already been established that whatever conclusion the “lower” Beis Din arrives to, will retroactively be declared Torah in the “higher” courts. Therefore, when the human courts ruled that one is halachikly liable for the death penalty, then G-d agrees with that ruling. This justifies the killing of sinners through the hands of Bais Din and its executioners[15]. As a result, when Bais Din says that one is liable to be killed, it is as if there is a positive commandment from Heaven to carry out that ruling.

These days, one cannot just take it upon himself to carry out a murder no matter how justified it may or may not be. Murder and killing is not something to be taken lightly. A person exposed to such actions is prone eventually to become desensitized to the gravity and severity of taking away another’s neshama (soul). A sanctioned murder requires the approval of a Bais Din of twenty-three judges and a proper Bais Din can only convene in the times of the existence of the Bais HaMikdash (Holy Temple), therefore nowadays no one has the right to put someone else to death. However, when the Messiah will come, g-d willingly, speedily and in our days, the world will once again have the means and ability to purge itself of evil people: Amen.

[1] Deuteronomy 7:2, Mitzvah #425 in the Sefer HaChinuch’s count
[2] Deuteronomy 25:19, Mitzvah #604
[3] Deuteronomy 24:16
[4] Exodus 20:13, Mitzvah #34
[5] As it is popularly known as, although the first “commandment” is really a statement, therefore some opt to refer to the “Ten Commandments” as merely the “Decalogue.”
[6] See the Chinuch #34
[7] See Maimonides, Laws of Kings 9:2
[8] To Yevamos 76b
[9] For example, there was a temporary prohibition against anyone but Moses ascending Mount Sinai, but that Mitzvah no longer applies in current times because it was only in effect during the time that Israel was camped there. Yet it is still considered a Mitzvah.
[10] Sefer HaMitzvos
[11] The descendants of Haman converted to Judaism.
[12] Exodus 20:5
[13] Berachos 7a
[14] Sanhedrin 71a
[15] Assuming that the psak, or ruling, came about using suitable Halakha, e.g. there were two proper witnesses and a warning, the judges were fitting to try the case, etc…

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Ideal Jew

Essay One: Ideal Jew
In the ideal situation, every Jew should follow the customs (Minhagim) of his family. However, when a penitent (Ba'al T'shuva) returns to the True Torah faith (i.e. Orthodox Judaism) after generations of having been astray, there are no traditions for them to follow. His parents -- and possibly even their parents --were either non-observant or were minimally observant. In such a situation, the penitent traditionally adopts the Minhagim of those who brought him or her back to religion. This can refer to a movement, organization or specific individual who influenced the penitent's theodology. The problem arises when a person finds religion by himself through such means as research. If this person does not consult with Rabbis on a regular basis or even just affiliate himself with an official faction of Judaism then this person would be exposed to all kinds of fallacious ideas. He would just accept these falsehoods as truth. (This is because of an interesting phenomenon in the academic world whereby the more left wing a school is, the more prestige it carries.) The left-leaning academia tries to defame various forms of right (correct and conservative) Judaism. Therefore, when this person decides to follow the path of Orthodox Judaism, to steer clear from the groups which learned are evil (see the multitude of books which bash "Hareidi", "Ultra-Orthodox" Judaism); he resolves to belong to "Normative Orthodoxy". However, the reality is that such a movement is nonexistent. In the end, either this penitent will adopt the routine of one group over another, but will label that group the real Orthodoxy, or he will "pick and choose" from various groups until he finds a lifestyle that is more convenient for him. Both of these conclusions are unacceptable.

A true Chareidi (lit. trembler, i.e. one who trembles before the existence of HaShem) fears G-d in his own way. By definition, follow Halacha to the utmost detail and are scrupulous in their decisions, traditionally paskening to the greater "chumra," or stringent opinion. (This is in contrast to "modern" movements who attempt to views that are more lenient. Not to say that such views are less legitimate.) Discouraging secular education, assuming grown children will get married and learn for the rest of their lives without getting a job is not the definition of Chareidism. There are Chareidi colleges or Yeshivas that approbate college; there are even Chareidi professors and Ivy-league educated Rabbonim. Not all Chareidim outright prohibit movies or the internet; it is a matter of opinion. However, most of them do follow the opinions that such worldly activities are forbidden. Dress is also not a defining factor as to who is a Chareidi; some wear a shtreimel on Shabbos, some a spudnik, some a fedora ("black hat"), yet others bear their heads of a hat and wear merely a yarmulka.

True Torah Judaism is made up various factions, and one is not superior to another. As postulated above, the correct path in Judaism is to follow the tradition of one's ancestors. Therefore, descendants of one nationality differ from the descendants of another in terms of customs. The Yekkis from Germany, Litvoks from Lithuania, and Ungarians from Hungary each have different customs. Nonetheless, each one is doing what is halachakly required of them. The "Black Hatters" differ from the Sephardim, yet they are both correct in their fashion of Avodas HaShem (serving G-d). There is no faction within Torah Judaism that is "more correct" than another. When a penitent decides to brand one type of Judaism the authentic brand, he effectively tries to invalidate the other varieties, and thus he is violating the cardinal rule of unity. A person's only mission is to remain observant.

A frum person (colloquially, "religious") is, by literal definition, "tied up." He is "bound" by Halakha; he is in servitude to his creator and the Rabbis who decide the parameters of this responsibility. A frei person is "free" from his G-d given obligations because he refuses to acknowledge Rabbinical authority and the Holy One--blessed is He--'s supremacy in his world. Such a person is in actuality a slave to his own tayvos (i.e. his temptations and pursuit of physical pleasure). In contrast, a frum person is free from his bodily enticements and consequently has the liberty to serve G-d properly, and thus he can fulfill the purpose of his existence.

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