Tuesday, October 28, 2008


What would you do to a father that was convicted of killing his baby son? Not that he did so with malice or premeditation. But that he did it in a fit of frustration and rage. Not that he put a gun to his baby’s head and shot him. But that he ‘shook’ him to death?

His son was a victim of the so-called shaken baby syndrome. If I understand it correctly this is a scenario where a parent or other child care-giver becomes so frustrated at the inability to quite a crying baby that he picks him up and shakes him violently until he stops crying. That usually means death.

This is apparently what happened in the case of a Charedi father. He was convicted of killing his three-month-old son. I wrote about him at the time he was arrested. At that time various rabbinic leaders declared him innocent. This – even though he admitted his guilt!

The claim was that the confession was coerced by the police out of a grieving father who felt guilt over the death. There was a lot of bashing of the Israeli police at the time and I was criticized for not giving this man the benefit of the doubt over a corrupt and brutal secular Israeli police force – known to use such tactics in the past.

But in July of this year a court of law in Israel found him guilty of manslaughter. He has yet to be sentenced. Now some Charedi leaders are advocating for a light sentence. There is much testimony about the fine character of this man - that he was an exemplary member of their community with a bright future.

Perhaps. But manslaughter is not one of his better traits. No one is now claiming he didn’t do it… or that the confession was coerced anymore. They are just asking for mercy.

This makes me wonder why there was such certainty at the time by great rabbinic leaders as to his innocence. They were so sure and they made their views public. They made those proclamations without the benefit of trial or conclusive evidence. They based it only on his past behavior and reputation – and on the belief in an unfair and corrupt Israeli enforcement and judicial system. ‘He couldn’t have done it!’ ‘They just want a Charedi Korban!’

If great rabbinic leaders were wrong there, maybe they have been wrong in other decisions they have made with ‘certainty’. To those who refuse to question the decisions of great religious figures this is clearly a case where questioning their decisions was right. The rabbinic leaders were wrong. Unless they are still saying he is innocent. I have not heard that claim being made.

I also wonder if this man were not Charedi, would there be the same level of compassion for him among Charedi leaders? Would a Religious Zionist or a secular Jew who had an otherwise impeccable reputation be advocated for leniency if he accidentally killed someone in an uncharacteristic fit of rage? I don’t think so. I think they would be asking for his head. And they would be right.