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…

8 comments:

respondingtojblogs said...

Wow. I'm not sure where to start, but how's this: Your basic thesis seems to be that "good" morality stems form the Torah, while atheism (or is it any non-Jewish creed?) produces wishy-washy results that can lead to horrific crimes. How about this- is a Jew permitted to break the Sabbath to save a non-Jew?

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

I don't see the relevance of your question, but I'll answer it anyways: It's a machlokes. I don't pasken, so I won't even tell you what my thoughts on the subject are. A simple google search can reveal the various sides of the argument.

respondingtojblogs said...

I don't see the relevance of your question, but I'll answer it anyways: It's a machlokes. I don't pasken, so I won't even tell you what my thoughts on the subject are. A simple google search can reveal the various sides of the argument.

If you can't see the relevance of the question as it relates to morality, than you are beyond my help. The fact is that Halakha constucts a barrier between Jews and the rest of the world, and in that dichotomy a Jew's life is worth more than a gentiles. Do I need to further connect the dots, or do you see how the question relates to genocide?

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

I've already established that I am of the opinion that Halakha takes precedence over "morals," what more are you trying to prove from me?

respondingtojblogs said...

Just making sure your critcal analysis skill match your twisted morality.

RevLoveJoy said...

Thank you for your kind words.

dilbert said...

very interesting post. I will answer the question, since I am not a rav and it doesn't count as a pesak. Most of the poskim that I have read allow me(as a doctor) to violate the letter of the law of shabbat in order to save the life of a non-Jew. And,in reality, it is something that I have done.

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

I don't think you can say that all frum people hate goyim, if some even break Shabbos to save them.

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