Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Killing With the Name

In 1927, when R. Ahron Soloveichik was 10 years old, he sent a letter to his older brother R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who at the time was studying in Berlin. The young Ahreleh wrote an impressive essay, which is recorded, along with the reactions of his father and brother, in Iggeros Ha-Grid Ha-Levi (pp. 272-275).

The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Melakhim 10:6, Hilkhos Chovel U-Mazik 5:3) writes that a Gentile who injures a Jew is subject to the death penalty but only by Divine hands, not human. No court may punish him. The Rambam learns this from Moshe (Ex. 2:12) who saw an Egyptian injuring a Jew and killed him. The question is where in that verse the Rambam sees a proof to his position.

Click here to read moreR. Ahron answers based on Rashi (Ex. 2:14) that Moshe killed the Egyptian through use of the Divine name. This is not a direct killing but only causative (gerama). And even though the Rambam (Hilkhos Rotzei'ach 3:10) rules that even causing a death is forbidden, the Mishneh Le-Melekh quotes the Ritva that causing a death through speech is not punished even by Divine hands.

Therefore, when Moshe killed the Egyptian with the Divine name, he was not doing anything forbidden. Why did Moshe specifically kill the Egyptian this way? Because the Egyptian was not liable for human punishment, only Divine punishment. Killing him any other way would have been forbidden. This, then, is the Rambam's proof that a Gentile who injures a Jew is not punished by human hands.

R. Moshe Soloveichik, R. Ahron's father, added that while he is proud of his young son's accomplishments, he disagrees with his statement that killing someone with the Divine name is only causative. Rather, it is not killing at all.

R. Joseph Soloevitchik also responded with admiration ("I could not believe my eyes"). However, he added that the Mishneh Le-Melekh's position that causation through words is not considered causation is difficult. Why should it matter how someone causes the action? Rather, the Ritva was referring to someone who tells someone else to commit murder. In that case, the person doing the telling is not guilty of causing the murder.

There is more to the exchange between the father and older son but it gets quite complex.

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