Sunday, 27 February 2011

A Difference in Legal Perspective

There were two incidents that occurred in that past couple of weeks -- one in Toronto and one in Winnipeg -- that, in my opinion, clearly demonstrate to difference in perspective between Halacha and secular law.

Substantively, both incidents concerned sexual assault. In the first case, a member of the Toronto police force, in speaking to a group of university students in regard to sexual assaults on their campus, stated that a factor in this regard may be what they wear and, as such, to avoid attacks they should dress more modestly. For the details, see
As a result, this police officer was reprimanded for his comments and had to apologize. While the way he expressed himself was highly questionable, the challenge to the substance of his statement was somewhat surprising to me. There is, of course, the problem of the woman being blamed for rape because of what she was wearing -- and that clearly should not be a factor in judgement; a man has to control himself. In fact, this was the issue in the second incident that occurred where a judge gave a more lenient sentence to a man found guilty of sexual assault because of what the woman was wearing and what he described as the atmosphere in the air. See But the police officer was not discussing punishment and responsibility but rather how to accomplish a certain goal, i.e. not being a victim. Regardless of liability and who is right or wrong, he was simply saying that since dress may be a factor, one should be careful about dress. The issue is avoiding the crime, not liability for the crime.

This is exactly on point in regard to the difference between Halacha and secular law. One who asks a halachic question is asking about what to do: what is the right action? The issue in the secular legal system, though, is liability; who is responsible. The university students didn't hear advice on how to lessen your possibility of being sexually assaulted but heard the police officer saying that they are partly responsible. The reason I didn't think that the officer's words were so problematic -- although I clearly have problems with the language he used -- because I was thinking culpability but simple direction as to behaviour. This is because of my halachic perspective.

Rabbi Ben Hecht


Garnel Ironheart said...

The fundamental difference between Western secular liberal law and halacha is quite simple: Halacha is based on responsibility. Secular law is based on rights.
Therefore there is no surprise that the police officer's advice was received with hostility. The "slut" word is a red herring. Any advice that sounds like "And you women have a responsibility to..." contradicts the fundamental belief that "I have a right to..."

Nishma said...

Circa FDR warned Congress that military weakness invites invasion and exploitation

Now it is ridiculous to accuse FDR for thinking that weakness lifted the evil attribute of any forthcoming attack by Hitler or Hirohito.

FDR WAS eschewing ostrich like isolationism

Torah teaches that we live in an interconnected world. If immodest dress invites rape then it stands to reason that the woman is a "co-dependent" in the crime.

It may be poilitically incorrect to say this. BUT this is not about opinion rather it's about fact. And enabling or enticing behaviour must share complicity in the resulting crime

One does not walk alone at night in a desolate street in a dangerous neighbourhood. This of course does not absolve any assailant for his/her crime.


Anonymous said...

In Canada women have the right to dress as they see fit within the law. Its still up to men to curb their crimnal impulses. Why should women have less rights than do men?