Murder For Pious Reasons

Marc B. Shapiro writes:

What is new is that parents are now beginning to stand up. Here is a passage from a nineteenth-century memoir from which we see that in the past even murder was covered up. (The case described is definitely not manslaughter, which is what is described in Makkot 2:2 and Rambam, Hilkhot Rotzeah u-Shemirat ha-Nefesh 5:6. Incidentally, the latter two sources are only speaking about a society in which teachers were permitted to hit the students, and have no applicability today vis-à-vis most of the Orthodox world.)

One of the angry teachers I mentioned was nicknamed David with the tangled hair, as his head was covered with a mass of knotted hair. He was hot-tempered and frightening, and often came to within an inch of killing a pupil. When particularly enraged, he would lift a child up and ferociously throw him to the ground, so that he landed like a corpse. That actually did happen once. After the funeral the parents of the deceased never dared accuse him of murdering their child. They accepted it as preordained that their son should die while learning Torah, and so did the rest of the community. No one considered the melamed a murderer. Even the sons of M.S. who made it their business to ferret out sinners in the town, in order to cause strife and contention, kept silent on this matter, and David the melamed kept on teaching as if nothing had happened.

Yekhezkel Kotik, Journey to a Nineteenth-Century Shtetl (Detroit, 2002), p. 145. On p. 431, David Assaf, the editor, calls attention to a different memoir which tells of a child dying as a result of his melamed’s beating. On p. 145, Kotik also speaks of another melamed who “would take all his anger out on that particular part of the boy’s anatomy that is generally not mentioned in print.”

(In some segments of the hasidic world the cover-ups unfortunately also continue. Had the New Square madman succeeded and killed the five people in the house he was intent on burning down, does anyone think that the community would have assisted the police in finding the murderer? In a future post I will mention cases of murder and attempted murder carried out for “pious” reasons.)

About Luke Ford

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