Rabbi Shabtai A. Rappoport

K. was not proud of his new big car, because it was not in his nature to be proud of a car. Still, he was satisfied with it. As an experienced driver he could appreciate its stability on the road, its ready power and ease of handling. K. never drove his car to its full speeding capacity, both because he was a careful driver, and because his personality was that of thoroughness rather than speed.

That Tuesday morning, as K. was entering his car, he did in fact observe the dark puddle between the front wheels, but quickly wrote it off as an accumulation of excess dew that dripped from the car's body. Even while he was driving, and the fatal seeping away of hydraulic fluid from the break system was going on, K. did not notice anything wrong, the car seemed to behave according to its usually excellent standard.

The boy came charging into the busy road, trying to catch the bus that was almost leaving the station across the road. K. saw him the moment he was at the edge of the pavement, and hit the break pedal at once. The system which was almost totally drained of fluid failed, and the car maintained its speed and direction, colliding a second later with the boy's body. The emergency team that arrived at the scene did not even attempt a rescue, the boy was already clearly dead.

K.'s life stopped its regular painstaking course. Although the court acquitted him of careless driving and manslaughter, one thought filled his mind: was he responsible for the boy's death. His entire future depended on the answer to that question. A person morally responsible for someone else's death, could not continue his life as usual, the burden is too great, and the deed must be atoned for.

Mimonedes (Laws of a Manslayer ch.IV para. 8-9) notes an essential difference between the usual criminal procedure, and that which is employed when conducting a manslayer's trial. According to the rules of evidence in criminal cases, two witnesses must testify to the commitment of the crime. In order that the accused will be found guilty they have to affirm that they observed the crime together, each being aware of the other's presence. Also, they must declare that they warned the accused before he committed the crime, of the prospective punishment to the intended deed. The trial court must, in addition to that, make sure that the each witness's testimony regarding all circumstances surrounding the crime, matches the other's in every small detail. An absence of one of these prerequisites will cause the dismissal of the case.

However, if during a trial of a manslayer the court is convinced that the crime was indeed committed by the accused, they will convict him even when one or all of the above requirements were not fulfilled. The reason given by Mimonedes is most significant:

"Such a procedure is not practiced in trials of other criminals... because even though there are crimes that are more sinful than murder, such crimes are not destructive to the very existence of the world like murder is. These other crimes are towards G-d, but murder is a crime against a human being."
Rabbi Yosef Shaul Natanzon of L'vov, a noted authority of the nineteenth century, discusses (Shoel U'meshiv Vol II res. 172) a case of a nine weeks old infant who died in the following circumstances.

This baby started crying on midnight, and his mother nursed him and played with him until he was relaxed again and quite happy. She diapered him, and put him to sleep next to her. The baby continued crying occasionally, and the mother who was already very tired nursed him again and put him in his cradle next to her husband's bed, and asked her husband to rock the cradle. The husband rocked the cradle, and she nursed the baby once more. Upon daybreak both husband and wife who were awake the entire night fell asleep and were aroused by a neighbor banging on the locked door. They went to the baby's crib, and found him very ill. Medical help was called for, but after two hours the baby died. The neighbor said that in the early morning she heard the baby crying for a very long time, and the sleeping parents did not hear him. Had they summoned help earlier, the baby almost certainly could be saved. The parents asked whether they were responsible for their child's death.

Rabbi Natanzon replied that according to the accepted norms of Jewish ethics, they were indeed responsible. He goes on to prove that one's accountability for another person's death exceeds by far the regular boundaries of intention and negligence. One is held liable to a death which was caused by his action, or inaction, even in a remote way. He shows that this ruling appears in many earlier responsa, and is based on the Gemara Sanhedrin 95/a according to which G-d held King David accountable for the killing of the priests of Nov by King Shaul, and to the killing, as a punishment, of King Shaul and his three sons by the Phillistines. All King David did was asking the priest Achimelech of Nov for some food and weapon on his flight from King Shaul. Achimelech supplied him with food, assuming that David was on a secret mission for King Shaul. King Shaul found out about it, accused Achimelech of treason, and executed all the priest of Nov (Samual a, XXI/2-XXII/19). The fact that King David was held liable for this killing shows the great extent of one's liability for a loss of life caused by him.

Rabbi Natanzon says that the logic of such a liability is connected to Mimonedes' explanation of the unusual procedure employed in murder trials, which was quoted above. Though he does not elaborate on the connection between Mimonedes' explanation and the ruling as to the liability of one who caused death, we may examine Mimonedes' unique reasoning.

It seems that Mimonedes claims that all transgressions and crimes are defined by the law. Has there been no law, there would be no crimes. Hence, when the according to the normal criminal procedure the accused must be acquitted, we say that the law defined the crime, and the law exonerated this accused, and here the matter rests. Manslaying is a peerless crime, because it is a crime defined by the nature of the creation itself, and not only by law. Therefore, even when the accused must be acquitted by law of Torah, he is still held responsible by our basic understanding of natural law and justice. That is only when we are convinced of the facts of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, and the only reason to exonerate the defendant is a procedural one.

The assumption that manslaying is a transgression of natural law, beyond being a crime against written law, is the basis of the huge extent of the liablity for causing death. Written law and justice always takes into account the criminal intention or negligence of the transgressor, and not only the deed itself. Natural justice takes into account the very deed of manslaying. The irreversible damage to the world by killing a person who was supposed to contribute his effort to the advance of the world, is the fact that matters. That is why the one who caused death by his action, even though found not guilty by written law, is still accountable for the death, and must atone for it.

That is why K. is definitely responsible for the boy's death, and should atone for it, mainly by contributing as much as possible, in time, money and effort, to the prevention of such needless deaths.

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