Asylum Seekers

There is an ancient judicial notion whereby a person in trouble with the law or in imminent danger of arrest could be protected by seeking safe haven in a church. In England until 400 years ago, and France until even more recent times, you would find murderers, robbers and revolutionaries all hanging out under the ecclesiastical roof while waiting for interest in their case to subside so they could make their escape.

No claim for asylum, nor synagogue affiliation, should interfere with the course of justiceIn truth there is an analogous concept in Judaism known as the "Cities of Refuge," whence people accused of murder could escape. However, this protection extended only to those guilty of involuntary manslaughter, protecting such individuals from avenging next of kin. Those adjudged guilty of intentional murder (or gross negligence) in court could expect their legal punishment regardless of any claim of asylum.

Irrespective of a person's station in life, no one can be treated as above the law. No claim for asylum, nor synagogue affiliation, should interfere with the course of justice. We read in the Torah: "If a man did not intend to kill… then I will make a place for you where he can find refuge. But if a man plotted deliberately to kill, even from my altar he should be taken and put to death."

The Guilty Party

Have you noticed that nowadays nobody is guilty, just unfortunate? Whenever they arrest a murderer or deviant, you can be sure that soon a fleet of trained mouthpieces, social scientists and do-gooders will come chasing, portraying the perpetrator as a victim of a miserable childhood or genetic predisposition to violence.

Is there no truth to these self-righteous assertions? Are we not fashioned by nature and nurture? Isn't it self-evident that some people are by nature more inclined to delinquency, while others are of more placid demeanor?

The Talmud resolves this dilemma by accepting that some of us may indeed suffer from an attraction to bloodshed, but suggests we channel this tendency in a positive direction.

It has been observed that many of the best policemen share certain characteristics with the criminals they are pitted against; the main distinction being that they chose to utilize their talents for the betterment of society. Similarly, if one is born with a tendency to bloodshed or violence, the Talmud recommends they consider ritual slaughter or circumcision as a career. By satisfying their bloodlust in a positive manner, providing kosher meat for the community or initiating children into the brit covenant, they overcome their negative impulses.

Many policemen share certain characteristics with the criminals they are pitted againstI once saw an ingenious interpretation of the verse cited above. The Hebrew words, "me'im mizbechi tikachenu lamut," are literally translated as "even from my altar, he should be taken and put to death." However, by a play on words, they could alternatively be rendered, "Because of my ritual slaughter he should be put to death."

According to this interpretation of the verse, the Torah is explaining why a murderer deserves to be punished. You may possibly have a natural inclination to bloodshed, and this may indeed have been a contributing factor in your decision to commit murder. However, you had a choice. You could have subverted your nature into more positive pursuits, into becoming a ritual slaughterer. You chose the path of evil and therefore deserve to be condemned for your crimes.

Our environment and consciousness may contribute to the type of person we eventually become, but the only truly causative factor is the choice we make. When I decide to utilize my native gifts to benefit the common good, I justify my existence and deserve my eventual reward, while if I make less fortunate choices and use my skills and abilities for destruction, I deserve the disdain and punishment of society.