Can Transgression Have an Agent? in Yad Vashem Studies, Volume V

Shmuel Hugo Bergman


Can Transgression Have an Agent? On the Moral-Judicial Problem of the Eichmann Trial

According to the Torah, one who transgresses cannot justify himself by claiming that he was sent by another, as Eichmann’s defense argued in his trial. Bergman gives an example, which he came across during World War I when a junior officer was ordered to execute two POWs, an order he carried out against his conscience and will. The judge in the Kfar Qasim trial determined that if an order is clearly illegal, a soldier is absolved from disobedience and will not be punished for refusing to carry out the order. Saul Levitt wrote a play, The Andersonville Trial, about the Civil War in the United States in which an order was given to execute 14,000 unarmed POWS. The camp commander carried out this illegal order and attempted to justify his action by claiming that he was only carrying out a superior’s order. The court pointed out that no man has authority over the soul and morals of another. The Israeli viewpoint is more a judicial one, whereas the American one sees it more as a matter of individual conscience and morals. But judges, too, are human with a conscience regarding a given situation. We all have a hero element in us according to Nietzsche. Eichmann’s line of defense is the exact opposite of this belief.

Products specifications
Year 1963
Catalog No. 196301
Format Electronic article in Yad Vashem Studies, Volume V, pp. 7-15, Edited by Shaul Esh and Aryeh Leon Kubovy
Publisher Yad Vashem