Monday, May 10, 2021

The Response to Murder

There is a mitzvah in the Torah of eglah arufah. This occurs when a murder victim is discovered and the identity of the murderer is unknown. The elders of the city and the kohanim have to all gather together, take a calf out to field, and break its neck. They then declare, “Our hands have not spilled this blood, and our eyes did not see [what happened].” (Devarim 21:7)

Now, what is this all about? Why would they need to absolve themselves of guilt? Obviously they weren't the murderers!

Rambam, quoted by Ramban in his commentary to Devarim, explains that there is indeed potential responsibility with the elders, which they have to rule out:

"The elders of the city must attest to God that they were not negligent in ensuring proper roads, and protection and defense for all passersby." (Moreh Nevuchim 3:40)

These are amazing powerful words. There is no declaration that this person died due to an "Act of God," and that people must therefore strengthen themselves in Torah and avoiding sinas chinam. On the contrary; since it is a tragedy with human cause, there is human responsibility. And while the immediately responsible person is the murderer, the underlying responsibility lies with the elders of the city, because they are responsible for overseeing the practical matter of whether the city is safe.

The contrast between classical Torah and contemporary Daas Torah is remarkable. In the case of Meron, there are most certainly people that bear underlying responsibility for the tragedy, by actively working to prevent the state takeover of the site that was so desperately needed. But instead of owning up to this responsibility, they call it an Act of God and call for the masses to do general teshuvah.

40 comments:

  1. For an example of intensive discussion within the Chareidi world of the points you bring up, see this link: http://forum.otzar.org/viewtopic.php?f=51&t=56073 .
    The thread was initiated by the supervisor of that site, who is a well-known Torah scholar deeply entrenched in the Torah world. His opinions are echoed throughout the thread.

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    1. Summary of his opinions? You have to sign up to use the site.

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  2. I'm sorry, I meant "in the Chareidi world." I would like to believe it was an innocent mistake and not a Freudian slip. But maybe I have some work to do.

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  3. Excellent point.
    But the Rambam there is even more pertinent:
    The immediate goal of the ceremony is to maximize publicity, to get people talking about the crime.
    The ultimate goal is to thereby increase the chance that those at fault will be identified and brought to justice.
    In other words, rather than deflect attention elsewhere or suppress discussion, we are to PUBLICIZE everything we know about those who aided and abetted the crime, both so that those responsible are brought to justice and so that the public will be protected in the future.
    It would seem that Rambam's Da'as Torah is to WELCOME and ENCOURAGE a full investigation.

    "As a rule the investigation, the procession of the elders, the measuring, and the taking of the heifer, make people talk about it, and by making the event public, the murderer may be found out, and he who knows of him, or has heard of him, or has discovered him by any due, will now name the person that is the murderer, and as soon as a man, or even a woman or handmaid, rises up and names a certain person as having committed the murder, the heifer is not killed. It is well known that it is considered great wickedness and guilt on the part of a person who knows the murderer, and is silent about him whilst the elders call upon God as witness that they know nothing about the murderer. Even a woman will, therefore, communicate whatever knowledge she has of him. When the murderer is discovered, the benefit of the law is apparent. If the court of justice cannot sentence him to death, the king may find him guilty, who has the power to sentence to death on circumstantial evidence; and if the king does not put him to death, the avenger of blood may scheme and plan his death, and at last kill him. We have thus shown the use of the law concerning the breaking of the neck of the heifer in discovering the murderer. Force is added to the law by the rule that the place in which the neck of the heifer is broken should never be cultivated or sown. The owner of the land will therefore use all means in his power to search and to find the murderer, in order that the heifer be not killed and his land be not made useless to him."

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    1. Nothing you said here argues on the Rationalist perspective.

      A full investigation is sought and is (already?) underway.

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    2. Rabbi Slifkin, @ Dovid H:

      Great post. Thanks.

      Delete
  4. The contrast is striking. And the question remains: where is the truth, because it is missing, where is justice?
    Again the king is naked. Most of the chareidi people behave like fools
    they see the facts and neither understand nor process them.
    All the "chumrot" are in between בין אדם למקום ת but almost nothing about בין אדם לחברו
    For sure this is not what G'd wants.

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  5. My initial analysis here is that the role of the state as one part of the committee of 5 helped create smokescreen and cover for the negligence of the other 4. There's nothing unusual about private entities running events with hundreds of thousands of people, safely and responsibly.

    And there's no reason why Charedim can't be trusted as much as the next citizen to do so so. It's prejudice really: presumably Rabbi Dr is happy with the fact that sports and musical events or his own museum are managed by private companies, but when it comes to Meron he just cannot look past the beard and assumes incompetence.

    I'm all for state regulation, but not for the state assuming responsibility for implementation. I actually think it is safer that way.

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    1. "There's nothing unusual about private entities running events with hundreds of thousands of people." Of course there. Such events only take place in arenas constructed according to various safety protocols.

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    2. Right. Compliance with regulations is not state takeover.

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    3. RNS, I assume your position would be different if there actually were professional engineers that inspected and gave approval to the site, right?

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  6. Only one thing I disagree with about this post. The main culpability lies with the owners of Meron, who knew about the danger that was on their own property, and did nothing to prevent it. If brought before secular courts in the US, it would be them who would be found criminally negligent.

    Not the people who worked to prevent state takeover. That would be like blaming the defense lawyer when a murderer walks free. Do they deserve a share of the blame? Yes (if they knew of the danger). But so does the state itself, for not being more forceful to prevent the danger it knew about.

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    1. The small problem there is that, as part of the governing coalition, the people working to prevent takeover *were*, essentially, the State as well.

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    2. True. One could also say Meron was caused by systemic problems with the entire government system, and whoever was responsible for creating the system, including the founders of the state themselves.

      But what would be the point in that? It makes much more sense to blame the owners and organizers of the event, who actually had responsibility of maintaining the site and making sure it's safe. Expanding the circle of blame to include any "root cause" will only ensure that the problem is never fixed.

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    3. A friend of ours on the Jerusalem city council made much the same point, that inquiries are pointless.

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  7. " In the case of Meron, there are most certainly people that bear underlying responsibility for the tragedy, by actively working to prevent the state takeover of the site that was so desperately needed. But instead of owning up to this responsibility, they call it an Act of God and call for the masses to do general teshuvah."

    Are you not conflating?

    The ones calling for Teshuvah are the Gedolim.

    The ones who bear responsibility are various Askonim, MKs etc.

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  8. And the depressingly familiar response is to arrest .. Arabs.

    https://www.timesofisrael.com/two-safety-engineers-from-meron-disaster-detained-for-questioning/

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  9. Simply by putting the onus on Hashem, they have made God akin a thug who acts on whims and impulse. God favors one person and not another and on another day does the opposite. The is why early Kabbalists believed that there is a dual God. One of good and other evil. Or in another way, those people who say it is Gods will, make Hashem into the fall guy or a patsy. Though they will never put that way. Many people wear I live believe in this notion. Have bad teeth and or a gum infection? Must be Lashon Hara that the person speaks. One person gets assaulted? Well that person must have sinned in this life or another. Or the perp is the messenger of God. Sort of like hiring a hitman or enforcer in the Mafia. I swear that I know many people who actually believe this. As more and more this is promoted by people, the less and less people will take the Judaism seriously. This notion does not promote people to do repentance and return to Judaism, it does the oppostie.

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  10. Here you go again with your selective (mis)quotes uniquely suited to serve your agenda.

    Immediately prior to his quoting of the Rambam, the Ramba"n quotes first from the Iben Ezra - the arch-rationalist if there ever was one. These are the words he says:

    וענין העריפה, אמר ר"א שהשם צוה לעשות כן על העיר הקרובה כי לולי שעשו עבירה כדומה לה לא נזדמן שיהרג אדם קרוב מהם, ומחשבות ה' עמקו לאין קץ אצלנו

    How's that for selective quotation. According to the Iben Ezra the town closest to where the murder took place guilty precisely because had they not sinned in some area a tragedy could never have occurred within their immediate proximity. You obviously find the concept of ומחשבות ה' עמקו לאין קץ אצלנו difficult to believe.

    Now for your misquote of the Rambam himself. Here is what he says:


    אבל הרב אמר במורה הנבוכים (ג מ), כי הטעם לגלות על הרוצח ולבער דמו. בעבור שברוב הפעמים יהיה הרוצח מן העיר אשר סביבות החלל, וכשיצאו הזקנים ויתעסקו במדידה ההיא וזקני העיר ההיא יעידו לפני הבורא שלא התרשלו בתקון הדרכים ושמירתם ושאינם יודעים מי הרג את זה, וכשיחקר הענין יאספו הזקנים ויביאו העגלה ירבו בני אדם לדבר בו אולי יגלה הדבר, וכבר אמרו (ירושלמי סוטה פ"ט ה"א) שאפילו תבוא שפחה ותאמר פלוני הוא הרוצח לא תערף, ואם יודע הרוצח ויחרישו ממנו ויעידו לפני הבורא על נפשותם כי לא ידעוהו יהיה בזה זדון גדול, וכל השומע שמץ דבר בענין יבוא ויגיד ויתפרסם הדבר, ויהרג או על ידי ב"ד או המלך או גואל הדם. ויתחזק הענין, בהיות המקום אשר תערף בו העגלה לא יעבד בו ולא יזרע לעולם, יכירו בו רואיו וידברו בו

    The Ramban is NOT saying - by any stretch of imagination, that the idea of the Zekainims speech is in order to exonerate themselves from any potential responsibly as you mistakenly quote him as saying. What he IS saying is that the Zekanim go out out to the site of the murder to show that they had nothing to do with it, in the hope that by making such a public commotion over the murder, people will talk about it and inevitably new evidence will come to light about who the murderer is.

    A world of difference to the way you've written it.

    You also forgot to mention that the Ramban disagrees with the Rambams Peshat and suggests a different idea.

    The only reason you get away with all of your deceitfulness (intentional or otherwise) is that no serious Talmid Chochom takes you seriously enough to believe you are capable enough of quoting Torah true sources to back your cause. And with your latest post I am inclined to agree.

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    1. In your rush to be מוציא לע’’ז, you didn't bother to read the words you quoted:

      וזקני העיר ההיא מעידים עליהם האלוה שהם לא התרשלו בתיקון הדרכים ובשמירתם ולתייר כל שואל דרך (כמו שבא הפרוש בדברי רז"ל) - ולא נהרג זה מפני ששכחנו התיקונים הכוללים

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    2. The words I quoted were an accurae reading of the Ramban as he quotes the Morah.

      Regardless, Peshat in the Rambam doesn't change and he is not saying what Slifkin would like to him to say.

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    3. Your "pshat" in the Rambam is basically irrelevant to the post; see my comment below.

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    4. Well, and if they were negligent in fixing in the freeways etc.?
      Then their words that come along with the beheaded calf is simply a lie and they are expected for a punishment for their lie (along with a punishment for their negligence).

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    5. "The Ramban is NOT saying... that the idea of the Zekainims speech is in order to exonerate themselves"

      RNS made no such claim. He wrote: "there is indeed potential responsibility with the elders, which they have to rule out".

      And to reconcile & synthesize: "there is indeed potential responsibility with the elders, which they have to rule out, in order that people will talk about it and inevitably new evidence will come to light about who the murderer is."

      Now, I hope everbody's happy.

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    6. @Ruvi

      So you're kinda right with your comment but you're also kinda wrong.

      The gist of the Ramban is that he first quotes Ibn Ezra who says the rationale for breaking the neck of the eglah arufah is unknown to us (מחשבות ה' עמקו לאין קץ אצלנו). He then cites Rambam, who does give a rationale to it (אבל הרב אמר במורה הנבוכים). But he finishes by basically agreeing with Ibn Ezra because eglah arufah is listed as the "chukim", and that it's part of the same class of out-of-city sacrifices like the se'ir ha'mishtaleyach and parah adumah. So you're wrong when you say that the Ramban "suggests a different idea". And if you say that Ramban is saying a different idea, then you are forced to admit he disagrees with Ibn Ezra as well.

      You also said that according to Ibn Ezra "had they not sinned IN SOME AREA a tragedy could never have occurred". Sorry, but this is a gross mistranslation. Ibn Ezra clearly says "עבירה כדומה לה", which means "sinned IN A SIMILAR MANNER". And this makes perfect sense to Ibn Ezra, who you deem "the arch-rationalist if there ever was one", because only people that could have been negligent with manslaughter are the same ones who would be guilty of this dead corpse being found. So, Ibn Ezra would never agree to the idea that "commitment to Torah, women's tzniut, kavanah in brachot, or hilchot netilat yadayim" would somehow be linked to the negligence that led to the 45 people who lost their lives in Meron.

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    7. @N8ZL

      Without reiterating what I have already written, you are making a very lot of mistakes in your reading of the Iben Ezra. Reread it - correctly please.

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    8. Regardless, Peshat in the Rambam doesn't change and he is not saying what Slifkin would like to him to say.

      Google translate: The elders of that city testify to God that they were not negligent in repairing the roads and guarding them and to the tourist every one who asks the way and was not killed because we forgot the overall repairs.

      The post: "The elders of the city must attest to God that they were not negligent in ensuring proper roads, and protection and defense for all passersby."

      Seems like the post paraphrased the Moreh quite well.

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    9. 'The only reason you get away with all of your deceitfulness (intentional or otherwise) is that no serious Talmid Chochom takes you seriously enough to believe you are capable enough of quoting Torah true sources to back your cause. And with your latest post I am inclined to agree.'

      Typical No True Scotsman fallacy. I say if the esteemed 'true Talmidei Chachomim' have something interesting to say to light the way to us stupid peasants, then let them say it. Otherwise they can, with all due respect, shut their esteemed mouth.
      Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra was the ''arch'rationalist if ever there was one'' only in your mind. He was a romantic rationalist, which was the dominant school of though in Spain in his time, before Rambam. Thank you for this Straw Man fallacy.
      Finally, regardless of this we have the verse itself, which says the elders have to say they didn't kill him. But if he died just because of their sins, then what does it mean that they didn't kill him?
      Now really the משנה (סוטה ט,ו) already answered the question of what are they suspected of, and that's exactly the Rambam's פשט, and there is no discussion whatsoever on this point.
      So what is Ibn Ezra saying? He is trying to explain why, if they really weren't responsible like they said, should they bring a עגלה, and he answers like the famous מדרש about מעקה: because מגלגלין זכות על ידי זכאי וחובה על ידי חייב. In other words, even if (maybe especially if) they tended to the roads and are not responsible in any way,the very fact that it happened shows something is wrong with them.
      The Rambam also offers an explanation to this point, that it makes people congregate in this place and spêak about the crime, and then hopefully the real murderer will be identified. That is the point of מחלוקת and the Ramban choses to side with Ibn Ezra.

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  11. 1. No "serious talmid chacham" would take the view of the IE in hashkfas hatorah over that of the Rambam.
    2. The Rambam IS saying (which is close to mefurash in the Mishnah in Sotah btw) that the zekeinim are exonerating themselves with their words. The fact that the purpose of making this declaration public is in order to spur an investigation is immaterial to the post at hand. (basically you are conflating the content of their words with the overarching purpose of making the declaration. Those are different things.)
    3. It should be obvious the Ramban gives another pshat, that's usually (always?) the case when he brings the Rambam in his peirush al hatorah. Regardless I don't see the Ramban taking issue with the interpretation of the zekeinim's words (see no. 2 above).

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    1. 1. Yes. and the reason why he the Iben Ezra view is not usually given the weight he deserves is due to his overly philosophical/rational approach to Pesuto Shel Mikra. And yet he of all Meforshim explains the Mitzva in a manner that must make Slifkin squirm.

      2. I am honestly not sure about what you disagree on. Read the post and tell me if it sounds like Slifkin baring in mind that the Rambam does not say that the rational of this Mitzva is to absolve the Zekanim nor does he claim that they make this little speech to claim there innocence but rather to get people to take note of the murder in the hope of finding the culprit.

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    2. 1. Incorrect. IE's word is given less weight because it's not altogether clear how much of a Talmudist he was (see e.g., Duran). The Rambam was plenty rational (probably more than IE, honestly, for example, he didn't believe in astrology while the IE did) and explained pesukim rationally and is given due deference.

      2. Slifkin wrote "Now, what is this all about? Why would they need to absolve themselves of guilt? Obviously they weren't the murderers!" You take this as the rationale of the entire mitzvah rather than of the zekeinim's declaration, but it's not clear what "all this" is referring to. (Truthfully, he probably was being ambiguous because it didn't matter for the point he was trying to make)I n any event, I don't really care (and neither should you) about how exactly Slifkin understood this point. His main point, that this passage demonstrates the importance of the zekeinim's responsibility for the ensuring the tzibbur's safety through natural means is absolutely correct.

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  12. Gentelmen, I don't see a room for a complicated discussion here.

    First, the intention of the mishna (it's Mishna Sota perek 9, not Rambam's own idea) is clear: the local elders are responsible for what is going on in their area, including fixing in the freeways etc. And if they were negligent in this duty, then their words that come along with the beheaded calf is simply a lie and they are expected for a punishment for their lie (along with a punishment for their negligence).

    Second, no one claimed that the reason the mishna mentions is the one and the only reason. Most of commandments have a couple of apparent reasons as well as, I believe, a couple of reasons that are beyond our understanding. In our case, one of them may be a sign from Heaven that the city is generally more sinful that people might think and extra issues in the city require the elders attention.

    Therefore there is no discussion between Rambam and others: they complement each other.

    Now, back to the Meron mount issue. The sad truth is that guys those signature appears under the proclamation never functioned as "elders of the city", never pretended to function so and never assumed to do. Therefore, blaming them is like putting a blame of treason on a person who never swore to "serve and protect". It's true that Gdolei ha-Dor have underlying responsibility, but only if they are, and they are not!
    There are no gdolei ha-dor in our "orphan generation". Don't take these guys seriously-that's my recommendation. Not in Shabbat issues, not in kashrut, not in a question whether to enter or not enter the Temple Mount... never.

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  13. I generally agree with R' Slifkin's opinion on this entire issue, but it's weird that this has turned into a chareidi-goverment issue. The mainstream chareidi world has little interest in going to Meron; I always saw it as a hippie/chassidish/American tourist thing. Just my two cents.

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    1. @weaver

      chassidish is part of charedi. you're thinking "yeshivish"

      and the "yeshivish" gedolim were part of that document years ago where they signed to not let it be given over to government control

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  14. The Torah states "it is not known who did it" and only then can the elders state "our hands did not spill his blood".

    Here, we know exactly what happened, so the elders should be stating "our hands spilled his blood!"

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  15. Unfortunately, there's another possible lesson, the opposite, that one could draw from this Rambam. Yes, the leaders are obligated to admit their indirect culpability, but that's all that they're obligated to do -- to acknowledge it. They're under no obligation to fix it (the roads etc.)!

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  16. @Ephraim, how's the preparations for avoiding the next conflict going? All under control, like you said it would be, right? #DisasterWaitingToHappen

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  17. I agree with this. They need to take responsibility to prevent this from ever happening again.

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  18. I think your point speaks more to the municipalities, government and police than the rabbis. They all knew that hundreds of thousands of people will be there and they knew the area and yet there was next to no crowd control at all which could have likely prevented the tragedy. Obviously work should be done with permits and could have been made better but that’s not where the primary negligence lies. What would have said if it would have been the opposite, the government built it and charedim said they’ll manage the crowds.

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    1. "and yet there was next to no crowd control at all which could have likely prevented the tragedy."

      False. You need to learn more about how these things happen. Once you have a huge number of people in an unsafe space, all the crowd control officers in the world won't help.

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