E-murder and the spirit of the law — Parshas Ki Seitzei

Last week, Federal Judge George Wu refused to dismiss charges against Lori Drew, the middle-aged mother accused of creating a fictitious MySpace persona to befriend and then humiliate 13-year-old Megan Meier, who subsequently took her own life.  The indictment stands, and Ms. Drew will stand trial.

What is the Torah view?  On the one hand, the sages compare embarrassing another person to murder.  All the more so, it might seem, if embarrasment actually leads to loss of life.  On the other hand, Jewish law quite clearly imposes punishment only upon the actual perpetrator, and only in the case of direct cause.  Neither criterion seems to apply to Ms. Drew.

How United States law should address such cases will be, ultimately, determined by the justice system.  But the defending attorney’s assertion that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is “unconstitutionally vague” warrants some discussion.

In Deuteronomy 22:8, the Torah commands, “When you build a new house, you must construct a parapet around the roof, so that you incur no guilt of blood if a fallen one falls from it.”

According to the Jewish understanding of Divine Providence, there are no accidents.  If a person stumbles, falls, and dies as a result, then he was already a “fallen one,” i.e., his death had already been decreed on High.

Nevertheless, the Torah obligates us to do all we can to prevent such “accidents.”  The more concern we show for our fellows, the more merit we have collectively and the less our society suffers from incidents of apparently random violence.  If we are careless, abandoning our fellows to fate without regard for how we are integrally connected to them, we bring upon ourselves the guilt of their blood.  It is almost as if we killed them by our own hands.

We all respond with revulsion to the cruelty of psychological harassment, even where it slips through the cracks in the law.  But careless disregard for the well-being of our neighbors is only a little better, and nowhere near good enough by the ethical standards of the Torah.

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  1. #1 by Ron Kean on September 8, 2008 - 4:09 pm

    ‘ …abandoning our fellows to fate without regard for how we are integrally connected to them, we bring upon ourselves the guilt of their blood.’

    How much more so if we scheme.

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