Pixel managed to wedge herself in between the Gemara and the chair arm, and we got started. Sanhedrin 73a: Mishna: “These are those who are rescued even at the cost of their lives…the one who pursues his fellow to kill him…”
That’s a curious phrasing….
“It just goes to show that this law was written for humans, not cats,” said Pixel.
Pixel is very felinist.
“How so?” I asked, against my better judgement.
“If it had been written for cats, it would focus on the act. Instead, this law focuses on the doer—the potential criminal. It’s all about how he will be harmed if allowed to carry out his crime.”
“Not really. Look at the first bit of Gemara on this: saving someone from a murderer is equated to saving someone from drowning. The person being saved is the potential victim, not the potential murderer.”
“Ah, but the Gemara is taking it in a particular direction—and humans being unpredictable, I’ll bet they switch focus pretty soon.”
I scanned ahead; she was right.
“In any case,” thus Pixel, “the Mishna is talking about the criminal.”
“OK, Pixel, where do you get that?” I was a bit miffed at her know-it-all attitude toward human psychology. After all, she’s just a cat!
She licked her shoulder at me before answering. “First, if it were about the act, rather than the actor, this law would be in with all the others involving a similar punishment. It isn’t. Secondly, look at the law that begins this section—the wayward and rebellious son. There, the Mishna is very clear that the son is killed to keep him from going on to do worse things. He is being saved from himself. The fact that society is also protected from a psychopath is a secondary factor. And the fact that the case could never actually come about is proof that it’s not a matter of case law, but rather, is teaching a rule about human society and psychology from a worst case scenario.”
“Hmmm….” I had to admit, she had a point.
“And another thing…” said Pixel. She climbed up on the arm of my chair and curled her tail around her feet. “Note the progression in agency and in the level of choice. The rebellious son may be killed under very, very specific circumstances. The next level up is the thief in the night, where the one who kills him may or may not be exonerated. But here, in the case of the pursuer, there is no option not to kill the potential murderer. It is a positive commandment to do so!”
Pixel looked on with feline disdain as I flipped back a few pages to review the text. Yes, the pattern was there all right.
“Now, if this Mishna had been written for cats, the whole thing would be much simpler,” said Pixel.
“Oh? How so?”
“It would just say: stop the cat from attacking another cat. Case closed. Cats are simple. And also unimprovable. But humans are complicated and constantly in need of fixing. Everything you do sets up ripples—chains of consequences. Only humans have to be protected from themselves even if it means removing them from life, because only humans have so great an impact on the world that the world fights back. You are loose cannons!”
“But humans also have to worry about their impact because life isn’t the end of the story for them,” I said. “The whole idea of saving someone from himself, even at the cost of his life implies that there are consequences for him beyond a single lifetime. Cats don’t have to worry about that!”
“That’s what you think,” said Pixel with a smug cat smile. And with that, she boxed herself up on the coffee table and said not another word all evening.