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Absolving the Casualty ‫בס"ד‬

Absolving the Casualty
In the world at large and in the blogosphere in particular, there seems to be quite a bit
of confusion as to how to tell the "good guys" from the "bad guys". So let's work on
this together. We will play some word games and set definitions for commonly used

Terrorist vs. Combatant
A terrorist is an armed aggressor who predominately targets unarmed civilians or
even armed fighters who are not currently engaged in combat. His intentions are never
defensive. Only aggressive. Other terms for terrorist are aggressors or thugs.

A combatant is an armed fighter who engages in combat with other armed fighters.
His intentions are not necessarily aggressive. They may be defensive as well.

A primary distinction between a terrorist/thug to a combatant is that the
terrorist/thug is interested in harming persons who are not interested in harming
them. A combatant is only interested in harming his opponent to the extent that his
opponent is interested in harming him.

Attack vs. Confrontation
An attack is a physical assault with the intention of inflicting physical harm and
subduing a foe. As a rule, it is not preceded by any negotiable confrontation, demands
or ultimatum. There is also such a thing as a verbal attack which is similar on all
counts. As with a physical attack, it is not preceded by any negotiable confrontation,
demands or ultimatum. Its purpose is to inflict emotional damage and subdue a foe.
Hence, it is quite difficult to forestall an attack. Attacks are perpetrated by terrorists,
thugs, or hostile forces.
Pearl Harbor was an attack. 9/11 was an attack.

A confrontation is an establishment of contact with another party with the intention
of accomplishing a stated goal. It may be friendly and it may be hostile but typically it
is not immediately physical or violent. The focus is on the goal to be achieved and
there is no immediate intention to cause harm or damage to the other party. It is
generally a presentation of demands, ultimatums, and an opening for negotiation
which are intended to forestall the need for physical force to accomplish the goal.
Physical force is generally not its goal but is resorted to if the confrontational
demands or ultimatums are not met. In many cases, the grounds for the confrontation
are quite legitimate. Thus, one who confronts another and presents demands or
ultimatums are not automatically terrorists, aggressors, or thugs.
The Cuban Missile Crisis was a confrontation that could have escalated into physical
hostilities but did not. After that, John F. Kennedy was attacked.

A confrontation between combatants may be violent at the outset. But typically, both
sides know that they are engaging in a confrontation, are equally armed, and have
ample opportunity to avert the confrontation with negotiation or flight. As such
David and Goliath was a confrontation as was the rumble between the Jets and the
Sharks. Nobody was forced to show up and nobody was spontaneously attacked.

© 2009 Yechezkel Hirshman Page 1
Absolving the Casualty ‫בס"ד‬

Massacre vs. Rout (Wipe-out or Fatal Defeat)
When an aggressor (terrorist) attacks an unarmed or non-aggressive party and kills
them, we say that they were massacred. When two combatants or bands of
combatants have a deadly confrontation and one wipes out the other we may say that
it was a rout but it is not accurate to call it a massacre. This is especially true in a
situation where if one combatant does not rout the other, the other will rout him.
Leaving aside what led to the confrontation, once it began, the parties are not fighting
as aggressors but for survival. Perhaps, if a confrontation developed into a rout and
one side offered to surrender and cease hostilities but was still killed out, we may say
that it evolved into a massacre. Such may be the case at Little Big Horn but there was
nobody left to tell us.

Terrorists attack civilians and massacre them. Combatants confront each other and
rout, defeat or wipe out their opponents.

Victim / Casualty
A victim is typically an unarmed or non-aggressive party who was the target of an
aggressive event (attack) and was physically, financially, or emotionally harmed (as
in massacred). A victim is one who had no personal control over the situation and did
not have the resources, the opportunity or the presence of mind to avert or flee the
scene of the harmful event. Typically, a victim was not confronted and presented with
demands and ultimatums before being attacked. Someone is truly victimized when
they have done nothing of substance to contribute to the event that harmed them. A
true victim is somebody who was merely in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Conversely, one who knowingly and needlessly exposes themselves to a hazardous
situation or willfully engages in a physical confrontation (e.g. General Custer) and is
harmed, is not known to be a victim but a casualty. Terrorists attack civilians and
those civilians are victims of a massacre. Combatants confront each other and inflict
casualties. We say that one is a victim of an attack but we do not say that one is a
victim of a confrontation. In a confrontation, one is not a victim but a casualty. Thus
I have a very hard time calling General Custer and his men victims. Nor would I call
Riff of the Jets a victim of Bernardo. Especially since he is the one who called the

So, to sum up, terrorists attacked the Twin Towers and massacred many victims.
Armed forced – combatants – confronted each other at Gettysburg and inflicted many
casualties. We would not call David a terrorist but a combatant. We would not call
their fight an attack (who attacked who?) but a confrontation. We would not call
Goliath a victim but a casualty. Nor would we call his death a massacre but a fatal

A Closer Look at Victimhood

We now established that victims are targets of attacks by terrorists or thugs. They are
not the subjects of confrontations that escalated by mutual input and eventually
turned violent. It may be said that one can be victimized by an aggressive
confrontation, but if the confrontation was foreseeable and avoidable, we must hold

© 2009 Yechezkel Hirshman Page 2
Absolving the Casualty ‫בס"ד‬

the casualty responsible for not foreseeing it and avoiding it. It greatly reduces his
standing as a victim.

Thus a modest housewife who is snugly at home and is sexually assaulted by an
intruder is a rape victim. But a young attractive woman who dresses seductively and
voluntarily hangs around the all night taverns on the seedy side of town and finds
herself on the receiving end of a sexual assault is more a casualty than a victim.

Of course, there is such a thing as a willing victim, a complacent victim, or a self-
imposed victim. But these modifiers merely serve the purpose of distinguishing these
from an absolute victim and reducing the degree of sympathy that they deserve.

The Torah does not look kindly upon those who contribute to harmful events. The
Torah tells us in a number of places not to be a victim. Do not contribute to the
harmful event. Because one who contributes is responsible for their contribution no
matter how heinous was the actions of the "aggressor". Where do we see this? One
example is from Dina. Dina went out to town with the purest of intentions but she was
attacked and molested. Though she was certainly not an active party to the event, the
Torah does not fully exonerate her. It says: VaTeitzei Dina – Dina ventured out.
Chazal label her a Yatzanit bat yatzanit – a venturer daughter of a venturer. The
Torah's message is: Do all you can to avoid becoming a "victim" and do not depend
upon the kindness, nor the virtue, of strangers.

Ventureat Emptor!

But, hey, look at this! The Torah (Devarim 22:23-27) discusses a betrothed woman
who was sexually assaulted. If it happened in an isolated spot she is acquitted. But if it
happened in an urban area, she is executed along with her rapist. Granted that,
according to Chazal, she is only executed in a very extreme case where she eventually
consented to the act, yet the Torah words it in a very accusatory fashion and clearly
sets the scenario where she initially had no intention of sexual transgression and was
overpowered and yet she is executed. In both cases the actions of the rapist were the
same. But in the case of the urban attack the Torah faults her for not taking the
precautions to avert the incident. Rashi (Devarin 22:23) says it in black and white:
Hence he molested her as a breech beckons a thief. If she would have remained in her
house nothing would have happened to her.

All of the laws of Yichud are based on this principle.

The Torah is sending us a message about victimhood: A victim is only a victim if they
contributed nothing of substance toward the event. When the "victim" knowingly
contributes anything to the event, he or she is responsible to the extent of the
contribution! It does not lessen the evil of the perpetrator but, if readily avoidable, the
perpetrator's evil does not exonerate the "victim". This is because whenever you
contribute to something, good or bad, G-d writes a receipt out to your name for your

Whether you like it or not.

© 2009 Yechezkel Hirshman Page 3

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