(c) 2000 Dr Hendel; 1st appeared in Torah Forum (c) Project Genesis

Date: Tue, 13 Apr 1999 22:57:54 -0400 (EDT)
From: Russell Hendel <  rhendel@mcs.drexel.edu>
Subject: Re: People who never sinned

I want to thank Sharon Garber for her excellent posting, Torah Forum Volume
4 Number 65, which greatly clarified the ongoing discussion dating back to
Torah Forum Volume 4 number 58 (Dov Laufer) on whether terms like
accidental murder or "adultery by accident" make sense.

This clarification will not only allow us settle the "accidental murder"
problem but will in fact shed great light on the great benefits of Talmud
Torah (learning torah) in a secular society.

Let me give principles first and then use them to clarify the many
questions that have been posed. There are two essential differences between
Hebrew thought and "English thought" in describing crime: (1) Hebrew
thought by and large SEPARATES the ACT and the INTENTION. By contrast, the
English Language has terms which SIMULTANEOUSLY denote an ACT and
INTENTION. (2) Jewish Law has FIVE categories of intention while English
Law only seems to have THREE.

The FIVE categories of intent are most clearly stated in Rambam, Murder,
Chap 6. FULL INTENT occurs when Shimon intends to kill Schem and does so.
ALMOST INTENT occurs e.g. when Shimon throws a stone into a group of people
and it kills Schem (Shimon had intent to kill but not intent to kill
Schem).  NEGLIGENCE occurs e.g. if I am letting down a heavy load via rope
and it slips and kills somebody (I did not intend to kill but I did an
action which could result in death and was negligent about its potential
consequences). HELPLESS occurs e.g. if I tie up Shimon and throw him on
Schem and Schem dies (Thus Shimon participated in the cause of Schem's
death but he was helpless). ALMOST HELPLESS occurs e.g. if I shoot an Arrow
from North to South and a strange gust of wind comes and the arrow goes
eastward and kills someone (Even though I did an action that could kill I
was not negligent since I had no way of forseeing the unusual wind).

We can now succinctly state the source of confusion that has arisen in the
Torah forum discussions: The English word ACCIDENT can refer to either

For example Seeker006@Aol.Com in Torah Forum Volume 4, Number 64 mentions
the case of a boy who stuck his head in an elevator shaft. If now I press
the down button I kill him. "But" asks Seeker006 "There is no negligence",
so "How can you identify accidental killing with negligence".

The answer to Seeker006 is now simple: THe killing of the boy by pressing
the elevator button has an intent status of ALMOST HELPLESS and therefore
it is not NEGLIGENT. According to Jewish Law the ALMOST HELPLESS person
does ****not**** go into exile, because, as Rambam says (Murder 6:1-3) "The
exile to the refuge cities is a punishment to atone and the ALMOST HELPLESS
person has nothing to atone for!!!"

In fact according to Jewish Law the people who terminate life with either
HELPLESS or ALMOST HELPLESS intent both have the same status: They are not
considered sinners even though they caused a death. Thus when I initially
said that man can avoid sinning I mean that man can avoid INTENTIONAL,
ALMOST INTENTIONAL and NEGLIGENT terminations of life.

Notice how Talmud Torah benefits us: It gives us a rich set of distinctions
and examples so that we can interact with the world in a productive manner.
I hope the above analysis is illustrative of this richness.

Russell Jay Hendel; Ph.d.,A.S.A, RHendel@Mcs.Drexel.Edu