The taking of a human life is always a tragedy, and there is never a way to actually make it alright for the loved ones of the victims. In situations of unnatural death, there are several layers of culpability. In contemporary terms, there is murder, which is the deliberate taking of another’s life, criminally negligent manslaughter, which is an act that was not intentional but for which someone is responsible, and unforeseen death, which is an unintended act that could not have been prevented. 

The Torah has a unique system for dealing with manslaughter. The person who caused the accidental death immediately flees to one of six special cities known as arei miklat, cities of refuge (click here to read more), or to one of the 42 cities of the Levites.

To clarify who is required to be exiled to an arei miklat, the Talmud states: 

The following go into banishment: He who slays in error. If, while he was pushing a roller [on the roof], it fell down  and killed somebody, or while he was lowering a cask, it fell down and killed somebody…He goes into banishment. But if, while he was pulling up the roller, it fell back on someone, killing him, or while he was raising a bucket the rope snapped and the bucket killed somebody in its fall…He doesn’t go into banishment (Talmud Ma’akot 7a-b). 

The general idea is that a death caused by a downward motion requires the arei miklat, perhaps because it could have been prevented with more care. A death caused by an upward motion is exonerated, because it is totally accidental and non-negligent.

Needless to say, each case needs to be considered individually, but the parameters set in the Talmud seek to define the type of negligent accidents that could be prevented by being more careful. 

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