Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Good Questions Deserve Good Answers

My "Erev Yom Kippur" post drew one comment. It was from a poster who calls himself "CynicalFrumAmericanInTheUK". I am happy he didn't call himself "CynicalFrumAmericanInJerusalem" - how many more of us do we need?

In any event he posed 2 very pertinent questions on my post which seems to indicate that some readers could use some assistance in internalizing the concept. So let's deal with his 2 questions:

CynicalFrumAmericanInTheUK said...

Question #1: Where's the line for peshiya of this sort?
If, for example, someone opens up a chareidi cheder in a very hard-core chiloni neighborhood, where it's clear that the neighbors are likely to respond in not such a nice way, are the chereidim involved posh'im?

If you really believe in the logic, you have to apply it consistently, not just in the direction you believe in.

Answer #1:

Let me give another example. A fireman goes into a burning building to rescue people trapped inside even though the odds are poor. The building combusts and the fireman perishes with the other doomed souls.

The question is: would this be considered being negligent and thus make the fireman accountable for his demise? And the obvious answer is: don't be ridiculous. Negligence means - as I wrote in the post, by the way - taking unnecessary risks or risks that have no noble purpose. I.e., when there is no reason to expose oneself to danger and there is nothing to be gained by it (save some cheap thrills).

Conversely, when people expose themselves to risks that are necessary in order to accomplish a more rewarding end, it is difficult to call this being reckless or negligent. Our fireman was moser nefesh to try to save people. He is a hero.

Thus, if someone opens up a chareidi cheder in a very hard-core chiloni neighborhood, where it's clear that the neighbors are likely to respond in not such a nice way, my assumption is that they are opening the cheder for what is in their estimation (and mine as well) a noble aim of helping to bring lost Jewish children back to their heritage. They are trapped in a spitually burning building. Trying to save them may mean being exposed to dangers and be risky, but it is a known calculated risk. I cannot call this negligence.

But, as I wrote in my post, if a biker or an attactive young lady go about lacking essential pieces of protective gear, or imbibe in intoxicating beverages, and thus invite danger for no noble purpose, I would say this is reckless and negligent.

If you feel there is something inconsistent about this, please spell it out for me.

QUESTION #2: In Nezikin, doesn't the guilt of a poshea in fact reduce the culpability of the other guilty people involved? In other words, by your analogy, wouldn't the murderer in fact be less guilty than he would be otherwise?

Answer #2:

In Nezikin we distinguish between poshea (negligent) and meizid (deliberate). When somebody acts deliberately, nothing reduces his culpability. This is a typical murder or theft. Still, if the victim did not take logical precautions that may have prevented the occurrence, he also deserves a measure of responsibilty. Like I wrote, there is enough to go around. However, there are events of injury or damage where neither party was deliberate; for example, a typical car accident where A inflicts damage upon B. In such a case, the negligent actions of the "victim" (B) may indeed lessen the degree of culpability of the one who inflicted the damage (A). I believe that insurance companies have formulas to calculate these things.

If you have any other "CynicalFrumAmericanInTheUK" questions, you know where to find me.

Piska tova,


Friday, September 25, 2009

Guilt by Association

Yom Kipper - the great Day of Atonement - is looming close so I will present a brief "Shabbos Shuva" drasha.

We all know that there are three categories of trangressions:

Cheit - חטא - Cheit literally means an error. It is a misstep that was done with no malicious intent. This is the lightest of the three types of transgressions. The pasuk says (Koheles 7:20):   כ כִּי אָדָם אֵין צַדִּיק בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה-טּוֹב וְלֹא יֶחֱטָא
One can succumb to a cheit and still be regarded as a tzaddik. One merely needs charata - regret - to atone for a cheit.

Avon - עון - Avon is an iniquity that was performed out of lust. The sinner is conscious of his sin but he cannot (or does not) exert the required self-control to overcome his earthly drives. This is obviously more serious than a cheit, and in some cases (where he could have avoided the lustful encounter) the gemara calls him a Rasha. It is much more difficult to atone for an avon. In addition to charata, one needs to forsake the practice - azivat hacheit (really azivat haavon) - and a commitment for abstinance - kabbala al ha'atid. Nevertheless, one is certainly not removing himself from the roster of the faithful. Depending on the severity of the avon, either teshuva alone is sufficent or teshuva with the merit of Yom Kippur.

Pesha - פשע - In modern Hebrew pesha translates as a crime and one who perpetrates one, a posheah, is a felon. This means one who disobeys the law. He knows the law but he disobeys it anyway. He disregards the law. He is rebelling against the rules of society. And in our case, it is a rebellion against the rules of G-d. A posheah is a renegade, a traitor. This is the most serious of transgressions. For a pesha, even teshuva with Yom Kippur is not sufficient. One must undergo some degree of yissurim to atone for a pesha.

I want to dwell on this third category for a moment and on the term pesha. The way this term is used by Chazal in the hierarchy of transgressions pretty much matches that of modern Hebrew - a deliberate crime. But for those of us who have studied seder Nezikim, there is a slight variation to the term. In Nezikin it is not translated as one who is deliberate but rather one who is reckless and negligent. When one is entrusted with another person's property, money, or livestock, in some cases he is responsible for all risks, but in many others he is not responsible for damages due to acts of Providence or theft or unexplained loss. But, even in these cases, there is one stipulation: that he was not "poshea" - i.e., not negligent - with the property under his care. But if he was negligent to any degree, he is fully accountable for the property even though the negligence was a very minor contributor to the overall damage.

Thus if one collects money for a tzedakka and it is robbed in a break in, the collector does not have to replace the money. But if he kept the money in a pocket of his suit jacket, and hung the suit jacket on the rack of the Beis Midrash while he studies for an hour and the money is stolen out of the jacket by an unscrupulous miscreant, the collector must replace the money even though he did not orchestrate the theft in any way. He left the money unintended even though it was deep in a private jacket pocket in a holy Beis Midrash. He was negligent. He was posheah.

What we learn from seder Nezikin is a very scary thing indeed. We learn that in order to be callec a posheah one does not need to be uneqivocally deliberate and rebellious. It is enough to merely be negligent. Because the term poshea really means someone who disregards the rules. Someone who disregards his responsibilities. Someone who takes unnecessary risks. Someone who contributes to a harmful occurrence, even passively, is fully accountable if, without his/her contribution, the occurrence would not have occurred.

Even if they are the ones that were ultimately harmed.

This in no way exonerates the more active perpetrator but it does say that if the "victim" was negligent - he/she is equally accountable.

I have conveyed this sentiment in previous posts. Most notably these:

Absolving the Casualty - The Torah's Perspective on Victimhood


We Are Not Judging Him, We Are Judging You

What brought all this to mind for me at this time is this. Among the many senseless tragedies that seem to be plaguing the general Israeli society, the latest is an awful story about a 15-year old girl who was found dead on Ashkelon beach. Apparently she was hanging out late at night with a bunch of older auss-vorfs drinking and smoking and dressed for the weather. Among these misfits was a 26 year-old divorcee (who has an 8 year old daughter) who wanted to take this young juvenile for a ride. It turned out to be a one-way ride. It is not clear from the accounts in the press if she was sexually assaulted or not but this seems to be the assumption.

In a current JPost piece on the incident there was a (for once) sensible statement made in the name of President Shimon Peres:

Following the Drenkin's murder, President Shimon Peres on Thursday called on Israeli youngsters to abstain from alcohol.

Speaking to children at the Kfar Hayarok School in central Israel, Peres said drinking alcohol "endangers people and only leads to complications and loss. I urge you to make a commitment in your hearts not to drink any more."

"Drinking too much can lead to a lifetime of difficulties," the president said. "It doesn't give you anything, but just puts you and your friends in danger. You, the youngsters, are the most precious thing for the country. Please, look after yourselves."

Like I said, some sensible words for a change. But, amazingly, this is not sensible enough for an organization that calls itself The National Council for the Child (NCC):

The National Council for the Child (NCC), however, issued on Thursday afternoon a statement titled "Don't blame the victim," in which it quoted the NCC's director Dr. Yitzhak Kadman protesting the "various comments" made on Drenkin's attire and the public outcry against youth alcohol consumption.

"No rape victim, no matter what she wore, is guilty of her rape. No youth is guilty of their murder, even if they drank alcohol," Kadman was quoted as saying.

In my humble opinion, I think Dr. Kadman has had one too many. Everybody who cries "Don't Blame the Victim" is only telling half the story. What they mean is "Don't blame the victim in place of the perpetrator". Okay, fair enough. But why on earth can't we blame the victim along with the perpetrator? Is there not enough blame to go around?

So I did indeed put up a talkback on this article which was posted as #13 (I disguised my name):

13. With Gross Negligence, Who needs Guilt?

Dr. Kadman says: "No rape victim, no matter what she wore, is guilty of her rape. No youth is guilty of their murder, even if they drank alcohol," Kadman was quoted as saying.

I am sorry to disagree with him. There may not be gullt but there is certainly negligence. A girl who goes around "without clothes" is like a biker who rides without a helmet. They may not be "guilty" for what happens to them but they are highly negligent. When people recklessly court danger, they don't need to come to it, it comes to them.

Yes, the victim is a victim but she is not totally blameless.

A pesha means being reckless and negligent. It is the most serious of the three categories of transgressions. It is only atoned through repentance and sufferring.

Even if we already sufferred from it.

Because we can be victims of ourselves.

And then be held accountable for it.

תעבור על פשע לעם שבי פשע תמחה פשענו מנגד עיניך
גמר חתימה טובה

Friday, September 18, 2009

Shanna Tova

If anybody still checks my blog, it is evident that I haven't done much posting lately. Baruch Hashem, I am still alive but I haven't had the time for serious writing of late.

I have been busy cleaning up after messy kids. (No those kids aren't mine. Those are mere amateurs - mine are professionals!)

May all my readers, fans and foes alike, have a happy and healthy Shanna Tova!