Revisited: When is an Act Deemed Moral Turpitude?



Inevitably, the indictment against former President Katsav includes overtones concerning the amorphous legal term “Moral Turpitude.”

The article below sets forth definitions by prominent “expert” members of Israel’s secular political legal, judicial establishment. This blog did it’s own search for a definition of moral turpitude some 11 months ago.

What it comes down to is that what Moshe Katsav is accused of, and even that which he has admitted to, no more and no less meets the criteria of moral turpitude than that which Haim Ramon, Yitchak Mordechai or Shmuel Flatto-Sharon were all found guilty of.

In a just, democratic society there are bounds and ethics by which assertion of one’s moral turpitude fall.

However, in Israel “morality” seems determined by the political agenda of those in control — for purposes of their own ends or agendas. Those in control label individuals or groups as “of moral turpitude” when they dissent from the regime and partake in civil non-violent protests. i.e. blocking traffic on main streets or highways to express that dissent either from a regime or from a moral injustice done against the Jewish people. This aggregious misuse of the term “moral turpitude,” such as against Moshe Feiglin, is itself sufficient proof that democratic discourse in Israel is systematically squashed. It is sufficient proof that those attributing moral turpitude to those who dissent from them are themselves not only guilty of moral turpitude, but are guilty of projection of their own moral turpitude onto others. In so doing, they make a mockery of the term and its meaning. MB

Analysis: What is the Definition of Moral Turpitude?, by Dan Izenberg (Jerusalem Post)


According to legal experts, “moral turpitude” is not a legal term and has no legal definition. Deputy Supreme Court President Haim Cohen once wrote that “moral turpitude is a moral flaw that signals that the one afflicted by it is unworthy of walking among honest people.

This label must stick to such a person because of his sin even after he has served his punishment for it.”

According to another definition, “A crime that involves moral turpitude points to a grave moral flaw in the defendant and the nature of the crime he has committed.”

Law professor Ruth Gavison wrote: “There is no group of actions that is defined by law as involving moral turpitude because the concept does not come from the realm of law but from the realm of morality. There are two problems with moral points of view in terms of clarity and stability.

“In the natural course of events, they change from time to time and place to place and they differ from one man to another and one judge to another.”

Former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak also stressed the relativity of the concept. “The cut-off point between crimes that involve moral turpitude and those that do not is essentially a moral one. Thus the determining point is not the formal definition of the crime but the circumstances in which it was carried out,” he said.

These definitions indicate that while the decision as to whether to brand a specific crime as involving moral turpitude is subjective, the term is associated with a crime of a relatively high degree of severity. Such a crimes includes an “added value” element that raises it above “normal” crimes and gives it an extra dimension of moral reprehensibility that does not disappear on the day the perpetrator completes his sentence.

Katsav is a proud man who perceives himself as having devoted his life to the public good. The fact that he has been accused, and been forced to admit to, sexual crimes, has proved devastating to him, as all of us saw in his embarrassing appearance on television after Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz announced the grave charges against him included in the original draft indictment.

But for the court to now declare that his moral reprehensibility is worse than the legal punishment he has received for his crime and that he is, and will continue to be “unfit to walk among honest people,” would likely be a much greater blow to him than even his plea of guilt and conviction.

Will the court in fact rule that his crimes involved moral turpitude?

Not necessarily. Despite all that we have head and read about Katsav and his alleged treatment of female employees over the past year-and-a-half, the judge is supposed to decide on this matter according to nothing more nor less than the description of his actions in the plea bargain indictment. As Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch pointed out in her ruling Tuesday, the actions described in the plea bargain indictment were not very serious. Indeed, they were on the lowest rung of sexual crimes.

On the other hand, the stark contrast between what the president of Israel stands for as the symbol of the national and moral consensus in society, and even those acts to which Katsav confessed, could be enough to persuade the judge that, all things being relative, his deeds do involve moral turpitude.