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Shabbat Parashat Chukat| 5770

Hemdat HaDaf Hayomi: Accidental Murder (9b)

Rav Ofer Livnat

    Tamuz 1-7, Makot 9-15


This week in the Daf Hayomi the main issue discussed is one who kills accidently. The punishment for a murderer is the death penalty. However, the punishment for a person who kills accidently is that he has to move to an Ir Miklat (city of refuge; a city designated for people who kill accidentally). The way the Torah formulates the obligation to move to the Ir Miklat is that, if he is not in the Ir miklat, then a relative of the person killed, termed the Go'el Hadam (redeemer of the blood), has permission to kill him. The Ir Miklat gives him protection from the Go'el Hadam, for as long as he is in the Ir Miklat the Go'el Hadam is not allowed to kill him. Through this framework, the Torah emphasizes both his responsibility for the victim's death, as a human was killed through his actions, and also the distinction between unintentional murder and typical murder, as here the Torah gives him the protection of the Ir Miklat.

In the Mishnayot and in the Gemara we find several cases where a person who killed accidentally is not exiled to an Ir Miklat. The Rambam (Hilchot Rotze'ach 6, 1-4) writes that there are two types of exemptions from exile. One form is when the accident was almost completely unforeseen, in which case there is no claim of negligence against the one who killed. In these cases the Go'el Hadam has no permission to kill him, and therefore, he does not need the protection of the Ir Miklat. Examples of this are one who killed "bederech aliyah" (while in upward motion- 7b) or a blind person who killed (9b).

However, there are also people who are exempt from exile, because they were reckless or negligent, and their accident is considered close to being intentional murder. In these cases, if the Go'el Hadam kills him, the Goel Hadam would not be punished, and the perpetrator does not receive the protection of the Ir Miklat. These people will live the rest of their lives in fear of the Go'el Hadam. An example of this is one who knocked his wall down into the street, and a falling stone killed a passerby (8a).

 Thus, we have three types of people who kill by accident. The first is a person who killed by pure accident, but the situation was not completely unforeseen.  For this case, the Torah, on the one hand allows the Go'el Hadam to pursue the murderer, but on the other hand gives him the protection of the Ir Miklat. The second is a person who took all the necessary precautions but nevertheless killed due to rare and exceptional circumstances.  Here, the Go'el Hadam has no permission to kill him, and he therefore does not need the protection of the Ir Miklat. The third is a person who was reckless and killed another person. For him the Torah does not give any protection from the Go'el Hadam.  

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