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Shalom.

I am uneasy about bringing this up, but you may remember the tragic case of James Bulger, a two year-old boy who was murdered by two ten year-olds in the U.K. in 1993 CE. May James rest in peace and may his family have peace.

How, I ask, would such a case have been handled under Jewish law? Would these ten year-olds have been put to death, exonerated, or something else? What is the punishment for capital crimes committed before bar-mitzvah age?

Many thanks, and apologies if I have not phrased this question sensitively enough. Please edit if necessary.

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    It is probably difficult to provide a definitive answer to your question. At any rate such incidents seem to be an indictment of the society in which they occurred as much as anything else, and possibly some soul searching is required for the society as much as for the individuals involved. – The GRAPKE Jan 26 at 21:52
  • @The GRAPKE - Amen to that. Would you happen to know if there has been any definitive ruling against putting minors to death for transgressions? – Tom W Jan 26 at 21:56
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    In Jewish law, minors are not liable to any penalties administered by the courts, i.e. not civil damages and not criminal penalties. This is because they are not perceived to be fully responsible for their actions, not having mature minds. The case you mention reminds me of various mass shootings over the past 25 years where you get the feeling that the shooter had difficulty differentiating between real life and the video shoot-em-up games they were used to playing. – The GRAPKE Jan 26 at 22:06
  • @The GRAPKE - Amen, thanks; I take that on board. Blessings again :) – Tom W Jan 26 at 22:21
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    About 30 years the matter of violent video games was raised in the British parliament. This whole awareness seems to have fallen off the radar since then. – The GRAPKE Jan 26 at 22:23
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there probably two parallel systems of justice that of the sanhedrin the courts and the king. as far as sanhedrin there is no formal capital punishment or in fact any punishment for minors. although there is a built in exception for בית דין מכין ועונשים שלא מן הדין,,,שלא לעבור על דברי תורה אלא לעשות סייג לתורה סנהדרין מו. so they have some leeway in exceptional circumstances. otherwise the king has greater leeway particular with murder- רמב"ם רוצח ושמירת הנפש ב:ד

וכל אלו הרצחנים וכיוצא בהן שאינן מחוייבים מיתת בית דין אם רצה מלך ישראל להרגם בדין המלכות ותקנת העולם הרשות בידו, וכן אם ראו בית דין להרוג אותן בהוראת שעה אם היתה השעה צריכה לכך הרי יש להם רשות כפי מה שיראו.‏

It is not clear what is included in וכיוצא בהן and how far the leeway of the king goes. But i think it is probably a functional issue - that is how important it is for society to punish these murderers that get off on a technicality. Of course the issue with minors is there a substantive reason for leniency or do we view their release as a technicality.

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  • Thanks - please forgive me, but could you translate the Hebrew in this answer? My Hebrew is not good :( – Tom W Jan 26 at 20:42
  • According to Ran when beit din punish שלא מן הדין they are actually acting in lieu of the king’s system of justice – Joel K Jan 26 at 21:01
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    @TomW I added in a link with the translation. The second part, saying the court can do it too, is missing for some reason from the translation – b a Jan 26 at 23:43
  • @b a - many thanks, blessings to you :) – Tom W Jan 27 at 12:25

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