A reaction to same gender marriage vote in Australia

Unsurprisingly the majority of voters decided that they were in favour of homosexual marriage. Perhaps thirty years ago the vote would have been different, but lots of things were different then.

So, how should the Jew react. I do not address myself to those whose religions are based on Orthodox Judaism. They aren’t interested in my opinion, and I feel sorry that they harbour certain beliefs that they do.

I ask the question of Orthodox, practicing or otherwise, Jews. I believe the answer to this question will be addressed from the pulpit by the Orthodox Rabbis of our Shules; at least most of them (especially those who speak more about the goings on in the world than the weekly portion of the Torah).

I predict there will be (at least) the following five approaches:

The safe option: Say nothing. Congregants who are against it will remain so, and those who are for it, may come to dislike the Rabbi and/or Judaism and move to greener pastures. This is halachically שב ואל תעשה. It has a place and is an approach with some basis.

The bold option: Say that we live in a democracy and this allows us our freedoms, including our freedom to practice our own religion. That society (and yes, the ‘Jewish’ seats of Melbourne Ports and Wentworth were very strong supporters of homosexual marriage) chose this new path means that we should hold on ever so much more forcefully to the unambiguous Torah Law, and never allow these arrangements in a Jewish (Orthodox) setting.

A variation of the bold option, is the populist option. It is akin to the Rabbi who is more of a friend than a spiritual mentor who is friendly. They will talk about democracy as above and free choice, but will stop short of making statements which unambiguously present the view that the choice itself is not in accordance with Halacha, be it Jewish or Noachide.

The delusional option: these will be words along the lines of the populist option but without any whiff of negativity. Remember, a child “doesn’t get dirty at school”, rather, “one part of their clothes comes home clean”. The delusional ones oversee a void of suitable educational programs. Their congregants come only three times (now it’s two, and yizkor is all but forgotten) a year. Every manner of schtick is used to herd them to an event. In the end though, congregants cannot navigate the basics of a siddur, the true spiritual transmission from the well-intentioned Rabbi approaches zero and the role occupies a cross between a popularity contest and a feel good eloquent sermon.

The marginal option: this one is seemingly akin to the delusional approach but falls outside that boundary. It is known as Open Orthodoxy. They actually announce Mazel Tovs and the like for such unions. This is beyond the Orthodox pale.

Where will your Shule/Synagogue/Shtiebel/Temple align itself?

[There is a sixth approach of ‘fire and brimstone’ but I consider that approach a waste of time]

Free Choice is a critical component of Judaism. Without free choice, there is no notion of reward and punishment. However, free choice does not mean that the actual choice taken must be supported or considered in keeping with a God-defined morality. As such, a choice antithetical to Torah must be respectfully disagreed with as being incongruent with Torah.

[ Ironically, it wasn’t long ago that people were downplaying the importance of the marriage institution and strongly promoting the “partnership”/”de facto” model.  Even today’s society wouldn’t say that one must get married, would it?]

We don’t have marriage anyway. We have Kiddushin. We also respect those created in the image of God, but we do not have to agree with all that they propose or practice.

That’s THEIR choice

If it ever got to a point where a religious functionary had to carry out a homosexual marriage according to secular law, then it would be ייהרג ואל יעבור and pack your bags and hop onto a flight to ארץ הקודש sooner.

Missing the point about Jews, Judaism and Zionism

We are used to worrying about the BDS boycott, and various academic boycotts and the like. There has been no talk of boycotts in my University. If the National Tertiary Education Union went down those stairs and/or the University, there would be mayhem.

What attracted my attention today is a statement we hear over and over, in various guises and contexts. The statement is attributed in the Jerusalem to former Chief Rabbi Sacks, a brilliant speaker and writer. He is alleged to have said

Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Sacks said that some politicians in the British Labour Party had courted the Muslim vote and had adopted anti-Israel attitudes which have morphed into anti-Semitism.

I could not DISagree more. Where is the clear thinking. Anti-Israel attitudes expressed in the context of ‘we must solve the problem of Palestinian Arabs’ is nothing more than anti-Semitism. This is not anti-Zionism. The logic is exceedingly simple. There is no body, none, that will agree that Jews deserve a homeland, and that homeland is Israel. This narrative is elided too often. Some will quibble over the definition of borders and security provisions and so forth. They are issues that should be discussed. However, since 1948 and before that, there is still no recognition that Jews need a homeland. In this I include the entire spectrum of Jews in Israel except for the hand full of lunatics led by Moshe Ber Beck, the Iranian nuzzler. He is welcome to live there, and be happy. They are not religious Jews. They have seen that all their sycophantic activities amount to nothing but Bitul Torah while protesting and travel.

No, Rabbi Sacks. Nothing has “morphed“. This is classic fallacy filled British diplomacy . The anti-Semitic Ken Livingstone types of this world should be dethroned, but to allow the semblance of thought that Jews are not entitled to their homeland, as above, and call this entitlement Zionism, is bizarre, I find it difficult to comprehend. Nay, this is an attack on Judaism 101. We assert our right to live in peaceful boundaries. Those who seek to deny this right, whether emanating from explicit charter, whispering, obfuscation or diplobabble (the French Connection) are anti-Semites.

As Rav Kook so eloquently put it:

“It is only the anticipation of redemption that preserves Judaism in Exile, while Judaism in the Land of Israel is the redemption itself.”

This redemption is what we aspire to.

[ Only an ignorant would interpret this to mean Rav Kook’s Judaism in Exile was not infused with Torah. ]

 

Same gender group in the Jewish Community Council of Victoria

I am implacably against anyone hurling vitriol or discriminating against someone because of sexual proclivity/preference, but my take on such a council as the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) is that groups with sub-philosophies within Judaism are members representing a given approach within a broader philosophic cum cultural definition of Judaism. For example, Bund, Orthodox, Sephardim, Conservative, Reform, Secular Zionist etc

I don’t know how sexual preference defines a sub culture or philosophy of Jews or Judaism per se given it crosses all groups anyway.

They should be afforded full support by the JCCV and indeed the Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria (COSV) in the face of issues which they face, and pastoral/other assistance but their membership extends across the existing sub groups, I would have thought. Services to assist I fully understand and support, but I don’t understand a grouping that defines itself by its sexual preference.

For this reason I don’t understand why they need or want a formal membership separate from existing groups.

As far as Orthodox Shules are concerned, I’ve personally not encountered anyone being called out or excluded or insulted because of a sexual preference. Of course, I stand to be corrected if that has occurred especially in the last ten years.

It comes therefore as a surprise to me that apparently  Caulfield, Brighton, Blake Street, North Eastern, East Melbourne and Kew Shules will all be voting in favor. I imagine the others will either not be present or abstain or go on ‘walk about’. The COSV is pretty much a toothless tiger, and on a matter such as this, they should consult the Rabbinic Council of Victoria as well.

For an Orthodox group(s) I would express disdain for acts which highlight someone’s sexuality and/or take action verbally or otherwise against such people. I think that’s a given in our society. Is it not?

That being said same gender KIDDUSHIN cannot and will not ever be supported by Orthodoxy. That also needs to be made clear, and certainly by Sam Tatarka, Danny Lamm and other orthodox members of the JCCV. There can be no hiding or diplomatic sweeping under the carpet of this axiom  by simply not mentioning it.

Mixed Gender Functions

[Hat tip MD]

Recently, a question was asked of the Charedi Leumi Posek, Rav Aviner, about a 50 year reunion of a group of couples who had been part of a youth group 50 years prior. They would be attending, were frum, all with their wives, and the idea was that they would recollect memories and have an enjoyable evening. The question asked to him was

Is such a reunion permitted according to Halacha

I guess the mere fact that they asked Rav Aviner the question before going ahead with their reunion is testament to their frumkeit and fidelity to Halacha. Those who are not so beholden to their Rabbi, would not even ask a question.

At any rate, Rav Aviner’s answer was

“חלילה. זו מכבסת מילים לפעילות מעורבת. זה איסור חמור גם אם אלו יראי שמים. ולצערנו יש פעמים רבות פעילות המשך

In other words, definitely not permitted and is a serious halachic infraction even if the participants are frum! Rav Aviner opines that unfortunately, there are sometimes serious outcomes from such events.

In other words, age makes no difference, and one would assume, a fortiori, that this would be forbidden for younger couples. I won’t extrapolate to mixed tables of singles at a wedding who are looking for Shidduchim. Rav Aviner may have the same opinion as R’ Aron Soltoveitchik that this isn’t just permitted but desirable. It is dangerous to extrapolate in Halacha.

Upon hearing of this Psak, respected Rav Amnon Bazak (whose writings I am acquainted with and if I am not mistaken he may have visited Melbourne) of Har Etzyon, disagreed with Rav Aviner on three grounds.

  1. The attitude of the Rishonim and Acharonim on issues such as this, was and is tightly connected with the practices in such communities. In other words, if it was common place for men and women to meet, then Poskim such as the Bach, opined that it is permitted (if you want to read more about this examine the issue of whether to say שהשמחה במעונו at a mixed Sheva Brachos. If my memory serves me correctly, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch is Machmir and says no). The point of Rav Bazak was that this is something which may well change from community to community. I wouldn’t expect this to happen in Satmar, or Belz, where the women aren’t even allowed to drive cars, of course.
  2. If one wants to say “those who are stringent will get a blessing”, this leaves is a sour taste because the idea that they get a blessing on account of people who really are not doing anything wrong according to plain Halacha.
  3. What’s the point in putting out words like ‘absolutely forbidden’ when this happens all the time, at tables, which involve Chachomim and Roshei Yeshivah at their meals?

There is also the question of when you have two long tables at a Sheva Brachos one with men and the other with women without a Mechitza. Some will still say this is “mixed” other will not, even according to those who argue with the Bach.

Mori V’Rabbi, R’ Hershel Schachter relates that R’ Moshe Feinstein ז’ל and R’ Yaakov Kaminetzy ז’ל  and others made weddings and there were mixed tables. He does however caution that times have changed somewhat to those days. He doesn’t use Rav Bazak’s arguments but notes that

  1. Women tend not to wear the ornate thick dresses that they wore in yesteryear, and sometimes, perhaps too often, are on the boundary of Tzniyus with flimsy clothing which leaves little to the imagination
  2. The music in those days was much slower and it was rare to find a women or man return to the table shvitzing with all that comes from that phenomenon and fine cloth.

Accordingly, he suggests caution at weddings.

Your views? I believe this is societal and something according to הרגלם and will change from group to group to the extent that a blanket opinion is elusive and probably not advised.

There is a lot of “Ess Past Nisht” and I’m not arguing. I’m just quoting and adding to this article

בענין סתירת הרמבם שלא יתערבו או שלא יסתכלו זה את זה,  כבר דשו ביה רבים

Same gender marriage

My first point is a Jewish one. Marriage does not equal Kiddushin. It is a civil concept. Were it not a civil requirement for certain privileges, many Jews would simply not be involved in secular marriage.

Kiddushin is well defined. It is JEWISH marriage. On that front, there is no compromise and there can not be a change. The Torah is explicit. Those who find an opening can call it what they like, but it’s not KIDDUSHIN, and anyone who calls it Kiddushin belongs to the Reform movement and is not considered part of mainstream Judaism.

How should Jews then react to the Civil contract of Marriage? I look at these issues through the eyes of Halacha. The Halacha which is germane, is that of B’nei Noach. The reality is that we cannot be seen to be supporting something contrary to the Noachide laws. Those people, however, have free choice. When they live in a union, which they already do, without the civil contract, they are technically in breach, although one wonders whether Tinok Shenishba applies 🙂 I do not think the Jewish vote classifies as Mesayea Lidvar Aveyra or that this even applies because they already do it without the contract.

So, what would I say if asked? I would say that Judaism does not support same gender  marriage contracts. Judaism doesn’t proselytise, and whilst we have our views we recognise that the non Judaic world are governed by the laws of that land. We adhere to the laws of the land, but our personal stance as a religion is that there should be no change. At the same time, we do not support making someone an outcast because of their proclivities. Those are personal matters. We also feel that should the civil concept be legalised, all groupings based on gender preference should dissipate as this only causes animosity.

On the Age of 20 in Judaism

One of my readers commented (with his usual vitriolic language) about this age in the context of halachic maturity (which was the essence I was discussing in that original article in respect of Yossi Feldman focussing on age 13 at the Royal Commission as being the transition from a minor to something else). I felt this was disingenuous, but be that as it may, another reader sent me the following which I present as of interest. If I find some time over Shabbos, I may add to this from the Tzitz Eliezer as I had mentioned in the comments section.

גיל הבגרות המלאה 

אף שהבגרות ההלכתית לזכרים הוא גיל 13, מצאנו במקורות רבים שגיל הבגרות המלאה הוא 20. 

בתנ”ך מצאנו במספר מקומות את גיל עשרים שנה כגיל הבגרות המלאה:

בתרומת מחצית השקל: שמות פרק ל פסוק יד, וכן בפרק לח פסוק כו.

בערכים: ויקרא פרק כז פסוקים ג, ה.

במפקדים: במדבר א, פסוקים ג-מה, פרק כו, ב, ד, דברי הימים א כז,כג, ב כה, ה.

בחטא המרגלים: במדבר פרק יד, כט, פרק לב, יא.

בגיל הלויים לעבודת המקדש: עזרא ג, ח, דברי הימים א כ, כד-כז, ב לא, יז, אך ראו במדבר ח פסוק כד: “זאת אשר ללוים מבן חמש ועשרים שנה ומעלה יבא לצבא צבא בעבודת אהל מועד”, חולין דף כד עמוד א, ורמב”ם כלי המקדש פרק ג הלכה ז.

ביוצאי מצרים מצאנו מחלוקת בין הפרשנים בגילם של ה”גברים” וה”טף” יוצאי מצרים:

“ויסעו בני ישראל מרעמסס סכתה כשש מאות אלף רגלי הגברים לבד מטף”. (שמות פרק יב פסוק לז). 

מה היה גילם של הגברים, ומה היה גילם של הטף?

בעוד האבן עזרא (בפירושיו הארוך והקצר) מתייחס לגילם של הטף:

“לבד מטף שהוא פחות מכ’ שנה”. 

הרי רש”י בפירושו מתייחס לגילם של הגברים:

“הגברים – מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה”. 

לדעת הרב מנחם כשר, (תורה שלמה חלק יב, הערה תקפ”ב), מקורם הוא במכילתא דרבי שמעון בר יוחאי פרק יב פסוק (לז) ויסעו:

“מטף מלמד שעשו עמהן פחות מבן [עשרים שנה]”. 

בשיר השירים רבה (וילנא) פרשה ג ד”ה ד ורבנן פתרי:

“ששים גבורים, אלו ששים רבוא שיצאו ממצרים מבן עשרים שנה ולמעלה. מגבורי ישראל, אלו ששים רבוא שיצאו ממצרים מבן עשרים שנה ולמטה”. 

הרמב”ן כתב, (שמות פרק ל פסוק יב):

“והנה ישראל כשיצאו ממצרים היו כשש מאות אלף רגלי (שמות יב לז), לא שש מאות, ומתו מהם עד המנין ההוא, ונתרבו במשלימים שנותיהם. ואולי “הגברים” אינם בני עשרים, אבל כל הנקרא איש מבן שלש עשרה שנה ומעלה בכלל, כי הוא להוציא הנשים והקטנים בלבד, כאשר אמר לבד מטף”. 

[בספרות החיצונית מצאנו שבהקרבת קרבן הפסח חייבים רק בני עשרים שנה ומעלה.

במגילת המקדש (יז, ח), נאמר:

“מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה יעשו אותו ואכלוהו בלילה”.

בספר היובלים (מט, א, יז) נאמר:

“בדבר הפסח לעשותו בעתו בארבעה עשר לחודש הראשון… כל איש אשר בא ביומו יאכלוהו בבית המקדש אלהיכם לפני ה’ מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה”].

בתלמוד מצאנו במספר מקומות איסור למלא תפקיד ציבורי על מי שאינו “בן עשרים”:

בעבודה במקדש:

מאימתי כשר לעבודה? משיביא שתי שערות, רבי אומר, אומר אני עד שיהיה בן עשרים … ת”ר: מאימתי כשר לעבודה, משיביא שתי שערות, אבל אחיו הכהנים אין מניחים לו לעבוד עד שיהא בן עשרים”. (ספרא אמור פרשה ג, חולין דף כד עמוד ב), וראו רמב”ם הלכות כלי המקדש פרק ה הט”ו.

כשליח-ציבור ועלייה לדוכן: 

“… אינו עובר לפני התיבה, ואינו נושא את כפיו, ואינו עומד על הדוכן עד שימלא זקנו. רבי אומר: וכולהם מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה, שנאמר ויעמידו את הלויים מבן עשרים שנה ומעלה”. (ירושלמי סוכה פ”ג הי”ב, וראו תוספתא כפשוטה (ליברמן), חגיגה פרק א הלכה ג, חולין דף כד ע”ב, מסכת סופרים פרק יד הלכה יג).

לדון דיני נפשות: 

לדברי רבי אבהו בשם ר’ יוחנן, מי שהוא פחות מגיל עשרים פסול לדון דיני נפשות (ירושלמי סנהדרין פ”ד ה”ז), וראו שו”ת הרשב”א חלק ו סימן קע”ט: “… לפי שעדיין אינו בשלימות דעתו … “.

אף אדם וחוה “כבן עשרים שנה נבראו”. (ב”ר פרשה יד ד”ה ז, שהש”ר פרשה ג),

אלא שמצאנו שאף שמשה היה בהגדרת “גדול” באותה עת, הוא לא היה “איש”.

על הפסוק “ויגדל משה ויצא אל אחיו” (שמות ב, יא), נאמר במדרש:

ויגדלבן עשרים שנה היה. (שמו”ר ( א, ד”ה כז).

את הפסוק (שמות פרק ב פסוק יד): “ויאמר מי שמך לאיש שר ושפט עלינו הלהרגני אתה אמר כאשר הרגת את המצרי …”, מפרש רש”י: “מי שמך לאיש – והרי עודך נער”.

במדרש תנחומא, (ורשא) שמות סימן ח:

” … א”ל אחד מהם מי שמך לאיש ועדיין אין אתה איש מלמד שהיה פחות מבן עשרים”.

במדרש שכל טוב, (שמות פ”ד):

“ומסורת בידינו שבן עשרים שנה היה משה כשהרג את הנפש … שדתן הרשע אמר לו מי שמך לאיש … כלומר עדיין לא הגעת להיות איש …”. 

לדברי המדרש שמות רבה (וילנא) פרשה א ד”ה ל, היה אז או בן עשרים ואיש הוא במשמעות מבוגר, או בן ארבעים, ואיש משמעותו שליט:

“ויאמר מי שמך לאיש שר וגו’, ר’ יהודה אומר בן כ’ שנה היה משה באותה שעה אמרו לו עדיין אין אתה ראוי להיות שר ושופט עלינו לפי שבן ארבעים שנה לבינה, ור’ נחמיה אמר בן ארבעים שנה היה, אמרו לו ודאי שאתה איש אלא שאי אתה ראוי להיות שר ושופט עלינו”. 

בילקוט שמעוני, (שמות רמז קסז, מקורו מדרש אבכיר) נאמר, שגיל הבגרות להקרא איש הוא 25:

“… שבאותה שעה לא היה כי אם בן עשרים שנה … ואמרו מי שמך לאיש, שאין אדם נקרא איש עד כ”ה שנים, כלומר עדיין לא הגעת לאיש …”.

הרב מנחם כשר מביא בתורה שלמה (שמות פ”ב סוף הערה פ”א) 9שיטות לגילו של משה באותה עת: בן 12, 18, 20, 21, 29, 32, 40, 50. 60.

ר”י אבן שועיב כותב בדרשותיו, (פרשת ויחי בד”ה בישישים חכמה), שגיל הבגרות הוא עשרים:

“… והילדות הוא מעט משנולד אדם עד עשרים שנה, ובזה הזמן יש בו גידול תמיד”.

Are you going to be a criminal?

The following article about the research of Adam Raine  which looks at biological predisposition and responsibility is fascinating. Based on the Rambam, I think that Judaism has always recognised that people are born with tendencies. Depending on the spectrum, one either douses the tendency as a life long struggle, or, where it’s stronger, is meant to divert the latent urge to something that is permitted. Lurking in the background, though, is public safety. Where that is an issue, as we know, one must do everything to protect the innocent.

ADRIAN RAINE SAYS HE CAN PREDICT IF YOU’LL BE A CRIMINAL

The future that psychologist Dr Adrian Raine predicts—from a civil liberties perspective, at least—falls somewhere between Philip K. Dick’s most outlandish speculations and a genuinely serious cause for alarm. Here are the basics: come 2034, with the economic cost of crime spiraling and the public sick of murder headlines, the US government introduces a program of mandatory brain scanning for 18-year-old men and women.

The scan cross-references every young person against a database of criminal genetics. It looks out for matches in three areas: violent assault, sexual assault, and murder. A score above 79 percent in the first category, 82 percent in the second, and 51 percent in the third will, in Raine’s dystopia, see the so-far-innocent 18-year-olds locked up in luxurious preventative “prisons.” Indefinitely. Until some kind of therapy reduces their score or they’ve been subjected to a Ludovico technique so many times that they flick their own kill switch.

Perhaps the strangest thing about all this is that Raine isn’t an Infowars-addled conspiracy theorist, but a tenured professor, working at Pennsylvania State University with 35 years’ experience studying the biological roots of crime. I met Dr .Raine a few weeks after the publication of his new book The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime, and not long after some important new research, to talk about his theory.

VICE: Hi, Adrian. What’s happening in your field at the moment?

Adrian Raine: These two studies have just come out. One, I’m a co-author on. Both of them are very similar. The first focuses on the anterior cingulate cortex, a part of the brain that’s involved in emotion and decision making. What the researchers were doing was brain scanning a group of offenders about to be released. They found that if offenders had lower functioning in the anterior cingulate, they were twice as likely to reoffend in the next three years.

What was the second study?

That study was done by my group. What we documented there was that males with a smaller volume of the amygdala—which is the emotion part of the brain and generates feelings like conscience, remorse, and guilt—those individuals are four times as likely to commit an offence in the next three years. That’s over and above social background and a past history of violence—which we controlled for. Both studies are showing us that brain imaging can give added value in the ability to predict future criminal offending. A word of caution, of course—these are just the first two. They need replication and extension.

Isn’t it a bit morally dubious to keep someone in jail just because of their brain chemistry?

Well, take a step back. Every single day in England and America—and all countries throughout the world—we make probation and parole decisions. Which prisoners do we let out early because we don’t think they’re at risk of future offending, and which ones do we keep in? Every day we make decisions on their future behavior.

In California, for example, they take 20 indicators to try to predict dangerousness. They’re social and behavioral things. They’ll look at questions like what’s your age? At age 20, you know, that’s the peak age for violence. Age 60? You’re far less likely to be an offender. What’s your gender? Males are far more likely to offend. Do you have a job?

Dr Raine conducting a lecture on the intersection of neuroscience and crime.

OK, I see.

Imagine 20 indicators like that. But none of them are genetic or biological. What these studies I’ve just mentioned are showing us is that we could be adding in biological factors to enhance the parole and probation decisions we have to make on a day-by-day basis right now. If that research can be proven to be useful, isn’t it wrong not to use that information?

It’s a controversial area, though.

I’ve always been on the fringe of things. Back in the 1970s, when I started my research, the whole perspective on crime was exclusively social—bad homes, bad neighborhoods, that’s the cause. At that time, there was a controversy on IQ: is it partly genetic? That was really heated. But I thought, Well, if intelligent behavior could be partly genetic, then what about anti-social behavior?’

And the controversy followed you around?

Yes. In 1994, I was showing that babies with birth complications, combined with a bad home environment, triples the rate of violent offending in those children 20 years later. I was publicly called a racist. The paradox is that I did that study in Denmark, where the population is largely white. I was at a panel discussion when one commentator called me racist. I objected, then they called my research racist. Five minutes after that, protesters broke into the conference claiming it was all racist. This conference was on genetic links to crime—the protesters thought it would target ethnic minorities unfairly.

There is a history of genetics being used for racist means.

Yeah, there’s a danger here. Biology has been misused in eugenics, by Nazi Germany and others. So the work I do isn’t popular with everyone. The right wing doesn’t like it because they think it’s going to let violent offenders off the hook: “They’re not responsible, it’s bad brains and bad biology that cause them to become violent.” The liberals don’t like it either, because they’re concerned we might use neuroscience to start brain-scanning people—and what about the civil liberties implications of this? So you can’t win, really.

Dr. Raine conducting a lecture about predicting antisocial behaviour.

Do you think the right wing have a point? If people’s brains make them likely to commit crime, are they still responsible?

I’m a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde on this issue. The scientist in me says, for some kids, they’re cast a bad hand, even aside from genes—and I say 50 percent of violence is genetic. Moms who smoke during pregnancy, that raises the odds of violence; drink caffeine, that raises the odds of violence; bad nutrition, that raises the odds of violence. A baby who has fetal alcohol syndrome—that baby is 19 times more likely to be convicted in later life. Dr. Jekyll says we can’t ignore that. Dr. Jekyll says we can’t ignore poverty and social factors. And when we combine them with biological factors, it’s almost like some kids are walking time bombs waiting to explode.

What about Mr. Hyde?

The Mr. Hyde in me rants and rages. Where is the responsibility here? Isn’t this a slippery slope to Armageddon, where there’s no responsibility and everyone’s going to have some excuse? I had my throat cut in Turkey on holiday in 1989, after a burglar invaded my room. That changed me. That changed my perspective on retribution. And that’s nothing compared to what other victims go through—rapes, homicide, pedophilia—so that really made me think about the victims. I felt the instinctive desire for an eye for an eye. I began to really recognize that we want people to be protected.

Which side, Jekyll or Hyde, is more powerful in you?

On balance, after 35 years of research, I’m more the Dr. Jekyll.

You talk about free will in your book. Doesn’t a biological basis for crime undermine the very idea of free will?

I think our legal system, which makes this assumption of free will, has got it completely wrong. Because, as I said, for some people the dice are loaded in life, even if we buy into the assumption of free will. OK, there’s free will, but some people have more free will than others.

I think it’s a spectrum. There’s a spectrum of free will, a spectrum of responsibility. Some of us are more responsible than others. Others are less responsible for their actions because of a conspiracy between genes, biology, and the early environment, including child abuse and poverty. It doesn’t make them destined to become a criminal felon, but it sure as heck raises the odds.

So how would you recommend our justice system changes to adapt?

I don’t know. I’ve talked about indefinite detention before in my book. One of the problems I have is that I can give the science, but I can’t make a decision for society. This is a question of, do we want to protect society? Or do we want to protect civil liberties? And what’s the balance going to be? From all the research I’ve seen, the best investment society can make in stopping crime and violence is investing in the early years of the child. The problem is that we have to wait 20 years for the payoff. And, in the lifespan of politics, that’s too long.

Thanks Adrian.