Accused Brooklyn Murderer Levi Aron

Rabbi Rabbs writes: Judaism says there are categories of Jews that are exempt from the entire Torah. The cheresh, shoteh, and katan. The deaf, fool, and minor. Although the minor (under 12 for females/under 13 for males) knows the difference between right and wrong, nevertheless, they are not required to keep any part of the Torah, and their parents are responsible for their actions.

If G-d forbid a minor murders someone, that kid cannot be punished for his actions. Similarly, the shoteh — the fool — cannot be held accountable. The fool is usually defined as someone who is crazy, and there is a whole series of criteria in which they must meet. Ripping their clothes, walking alone at night, hanging out in graveyard, showing obsession with radio talk show hosts.

There is also another type of fool, and that is the peti, the mentally retarded. The Rambam wrote in his Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Aydus (Laws of Witnesses) 9:10, that someone whose comprehension is like a small child is called a peti, and is considered on equal halachic status as the shoyteh, and is exempt from mitzvahs.

As a result, Rav Moshe Feinstein paskened that the parents of mentally retarded people are fully responsible for them when they turn adult, just as if they are still minors, just as parents are responsible for minors.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach wrote in his Minchas Shlomo (1:34) that a peti is any adult regardless of age that lacks the comprehension of a 10-year-old.

He wrote that there are two levels of retardation, with the comprehension of a child of age 5-6 as the dividing point. People with the comprehension of kids under that age — we’re talking full-blown mental retards — are treated as shotim and we don’t teach them Torah, and they are exempt from all mitzvahs, and cannot be held responsible for their actions.

But, a peti who has the mentality of someone over 5-6 but under 10, we do teach them Torah and when they turn 13, they are responsible to do the mitzvahs they understand at the level of a 5-6 year old, but are forever exempt from mitzvahs they don’t understand.

However, Rav Auerbach wrote that even the mitzvahs they do understand and are required to keep them at age 13, nevertheless, they are not punished for their transgressions when they fail, just as a child is not punished for transgressions prior to 13.

So, when a 35-year-old man murders someone, and the murderer is a shoyteh — whether he is a peti (mentally retarded) or just crazy, either way, we do not hold him responsible for the murder. He cannot be punished for the crime. Either he didn’t understand the mitzvah of thou shalt not murder, and therefore isn’t responsible to obey it, OR he did understand the prohibition, but nevertheless, cannot be punished for not obeying it.

It doesn’t matter how old the murderer is. He could be any age. It doesn’t matter how old the victim is. He could be a child. We do not hold the murderer responsible. We do not seek justice against him. We do not label him as evil. He is not a monster. We don’t demonize him, and it doesn’t matter how many emotional Jews call for his execution nor how many frum rabbis ignorantly label the killer as evil.

A recent case that grabbed the attention of the Jewish community this past week involves a murder of a Chassidic boy in New York. I think the shoteh category fits the description of the boy’s accused murderer quite nicely, and I will now explain why.

My first introduction to Levi Aron was when I read his confession statement. I had no idea who he was or how old he is, and as I read his own words, I would guess the author was a small child. Here is what he wrote and I will comment as we go:

“So I asked if he wanted to go for the ride — wedding in Monsey — since I didn’t think I was going to stay for the whole thing since my back was hurting. He said ok.”

Really? Any half-intelligent adult knows that his story will immediately be investigated by police who will interview everyone at that wedding. So, they will find out if he’s making up a wild story or not. Hence, he won’t get away with such an elaborate lie. Therefore, the story must be true, or he doesn’t realize he will get caught with his lie very easily. I mean, if it’s a lie, it’s a pathetic attempt at lying. It’s pure fantasy.

So, either he took the kid on a fun night on the town (hardly the act of a monster) or he said an embarrassing lie. My money says he made that story up, and because it’s so easily disproved, he must be a child or a complete retard to think anyone would believe it. Children often make up wild stories and get caught in their lies. It makes more sense to me to believe he’s a kid than a grown adult.

But, let’s say he told the truth… he goes on:

“Due to traffic, I got back around 11:30 p.m. … so I brought him to my house thinking I’d bring him to his house the next day”

Hey genius, how about taking him home before going to bed so that the family doesn’t worry about him? If the guy was sincerely a friend of the kid as he wants us to believe his story, then he needs to drive the kid home that night. Not later. The fact that he didn’t drive the kid home and actually thinks we will accept his reason that he will take the kid home the next day speaks volumes about what a complete retard this guy is. No adult with half of a brain would think any of us would accept that story. Therefore, the author is either a child or someone with the brain of a child who doesn’t even grasp for a second that he is committing kidnapping and that family members might be worried about the kid.

“… when I saw the flyers I panicked and was afraid. When I got home he was still there so I made him a tuna sandwich.…I was still in a panic…and afraid to bring him home. That is when approximately I went for a towel to smother him in the side room. He fought back a little bit until eventually he stopped breathing.”

I believe him on that part. Everything points to him being a peti. He thinks he’s doing a mitzvah by keeping the boy by him, sees the posters and freaks out realizing what he thought was a mitzvah is now considered an averah. Now he can’t let anyone find out he did a bad thing (which was never bad before in his mind). He’s not going to come forward and say “my bad” because he’s scared that no one will understand.

I bet no one ever explained to him that murder is a terrible offense. I bet it was assumed that everyone knows something so basic, but it went right by him because he lacks basic understanding of basic things.

So, he kills the kid to shut him up not fully realizing how horrible that is. The support to that is that when the cops come asking merely if he’s seen the kid, the dude points to the fridge and says his feet are frozen in there. WTF? If he knew murder is wrong and how much trouble he was in, he doesn’t confess.

“I understand this may be wrong and I’m sorry for the hurt that I have caused.”

He apologizes? I’m 50, and I don’t recall a murderer apologizing for murdering upon arrest. Only upon conviction facing sentencing. The guy is either a calculating genius or a simpleton. His confessing to a crime the cops hadn’t accused him of yet shows he’s no genius, so he must be a simpleton.

Ok, those are the parts of the confession letter that in my opinion, it makes no sense for an adult mind to write any of that. But, when I picture it being told by a little boy, suddenly it reads smoothly. Little kids are notorious for telling wild stories, lying, covering things up by doing more bad things, panicking about getting caught, not realizing how bad certain consequences to actions will be, and apologizing afterward. So, I was already thinking that since the accused is in his 30s, therefore, he is likely retarded. But wait, there is more.

Then, I read what Levi Aron’s ex-father in law said: ‘I gather he went to the Hebrew School, but wasn’t smart enough and dropped out.’

Bingo! That’s the final clue. Levi Aron fits the peti mold. He got bar mitzvah, went to shul, kept mitzvahs he understood at his low level. But he wasn’t smart enough to comprehend very much of what he was taught and didn’t understand most mitvzahs. I am going to guess his mental condition was not detected by the schools, and he was never given the type of special education he needed.

That is further evidenced by Sam Lowy, one of Aron’s co-workers said: ‘He’s not social. You didn’t get a chance to get into his social life. He did what he did and then went home.’ Aron worked as a stock clerk so spent most of his time in the back of the store, with little interaction with customers.

I bet he avoided enough contact with people so that no one knew he was retarded, and he got through life that way. I’ve been told that New York years ago cut a lot of funding for the care of the mentally handicapped. It is quite plausible that someone retarded easily grew up without ever being treated and given the proper care they required.

As a side point, this is what happens, folks, when you cut funding for the their programs — they will come back to bite you in the butt, and the only time you’ll care about it is after they kill someone, and then you’ll call for their deaths. So, how about taking a proactive approach, and helping the handicapped early on and preventing such tragedies?

In conclusion, according to the words of Rav Auerbach, in my opinion based on everything I’ve read about Levi Aron, he is a shoteh that either didn’t fully comprehend the prohibition of murder, and therefore was never required to obey that prohibition, or he did fully comprehend it, and was required to not murder, but nevertheless, he cannot be punished for his failure to obey it.

Either way, if I’m correct and he is a shoteh, then he must not be punished and he must not be considered evil. Until I’m proven to be incorrect when a Beis Din determines that he is not a peti, until then, we must give the accused the benefit of the doubt and treat him as a peti, and never consider him evil, nor a monster, nor a creep, nor seek punishment for him, G-d forbid.

And, we must stand up for him against the angry lynch mob of emotional Jews who ignore Torah, and don’t give him the benefit of the doubt, and call for his death. It saddens me to no end to read so many otherwise frum Jews demonizing Levi Aron, and labeling him as evil and as a monster, and saying that G-d needs to bring justice against him. Those Jews spew senseless hatred and ignorance, they need to be quiet, they need to listen to what I’m teaching right now, and all of their emotional outbursts must be ignored.

The same Torah, the same Judaism that says to keep Shabbos and eat kosher also says that the peti and shoteh must be treated like the katan, meaning that just as we wouldn’t call for the execution of a 5 year old murderer, we cannot call for the execution of a 35 year old with the brain of a 5 year old.

We must give Levi Aron benefit of the doubt, and there is no room in Torah to say otherwise. Even if it is determined later that he is not exempt from mitzvahs, it makes no difference to us now, I repeat, it makes no difference to us now. Until then, we must treat him as innocent — innocent until proven guilty.

I want to say to all members of Chabad Lubavitch and all of the friends of Sholom Rubashkin that watch our show, if you can stand up and support Rubashkin who is obviously not a shoteh, he’s not exempt from mitzvahs, and no one in the Jewish community has called for his death, then you have no excuse. How much more so you must show support and stand up for Levi Aron who is very likely a peti and is being persecuted by fellow Jews that want him dead. Think about it.

Finally, instead of posting photos on facebook of the dead child, which has become the trendy thing for Jews to do, what the community should be doing right now is using their energies to trying to prevent the tragedy from happening again. The frum world needs to take a hard look at its horrible failure of dealing with members that have mental problems, and giving to them the care they need rather than marginalizing them and just hoping they’ll go away and die somewhere.

According to Aron’s ex-wife, he “was very lonely because he was rejected by his own community”. He was ostracized because he wasn’t born into religious life, and “because he was slow, low-income,” he was not considered a “prospective future son-in-law.” The community was “prejudiced to people like Levi and all others with mental problems, without trying to help them,” she said.

Bingo! That’s not surprising to read. The frum world loves to marginalize everyone that doesn’t fit the mainstream. Those with mental problems are thrown to the sides and left to die. That disgusting attitude came back to bite the frum community right in its collective ass. It’s time for the frum world to embrace those who are not part of the mainstream, and to treat every Jew as equal, and to help give to those in need, even when doing so is not convenient or trendy or sexy.

I dedicate the rest of tonight’s show in the merit of Levi Aron, an innocent man according to US law which says innocent until proven guilty, and according to Judaism which commands us to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, even when doing so is inconvenient. Amen.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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