Thursday, July 2, 2009

When reporting abuse is permitted - gedolim should not do it

Rav Tzvi Gartner (Yeshurun 15 page 637) notes that the Maharam Shick (C.M. 50) was asked about the case of someone’s brother who had died suddenly and the deceased brother’s wife was suspected to having poisoned her husband. There was much circumstantial evidence and a partial confession that she had in fact murdered her husband. Gedolim wrote to the Maharam Shick that they were astonished why he was silent when it was obviously a mitzva to destroy evil. He replied that he was silent because there weren’t any witnesses to the killing and even if she had in fact poisoned her husband it was only gramma (indirect killing). Therefore according to the Torah she was not liable to the death penalty. Consequently she should not be reported to the secular justice system since they make judgments based on confessions (which is not accord with Torah law). However the Maharam Shick ultimately decided that it was permitted to report her to the police based on the gemora (Bava Metzia 83b) concerning R’ Eliezer ben R’ Shimon who reported Jewish thieves to the government because he was authorized by the king. However the Maharam Shick noted that while reporting her was definitely permitted according the halacha, but the gemora in Bava Metzia also indicated that it was inappropriate for gedolim to be involved in reporting others to the secular authorities. He noted that this was also the view of the Rashba that was cited by the Beis Yosef in Choshen Mishpat 338. An even greater proof that it is not desirable to inform on others to the secular authorities - even when there is a possible danger not to report - is found in the Rambam (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 5:5). Rambam rules that if non‑Jews have specified that they are looking for a certain Jew and that they will kill all the Jews unless he is handed over to them - if that Jew is deserving of the death penalty he can be given to them to save the others. However the Rambam notes that this halacha is not to be taught in advance. This is also the view of the Yerushalmi (Terumos 8:4) which says that even though informing is permitted in this case but it shouldn’t be done by pious people…. Therefore the Maharam Shick concluded that even though one can not protest if other’s inform the police in these cases because they are following the halacha and they have many poskim to rely on – nevertheless gedolim should not actively involve themselves in reporting but should rather do nothing.


  1. When it comes to being m'challel Shabbat in cases of Pikuach nefesh, the standard recommendation is that the most chashuv Jew around do it, rather than ask a non-Jew or a child, to emphasise how important pikuach nefesh is. I wonder if this principle should also be applied here.

  2. 1) The legal circumstances vis a vis the reporting to secular authorities is different nowadays. We have a government (at least in North America) that applies justice independent of ethnic background. A Jew brought up on charges is treated the same as a non-Jew.

    2) So I can poison someone and get away with it? Really?

  3. Poisoning is gramma? what about suffocation?
    Joel Rich

  4. This is not just the issue of mesira - which he says is clearly permitted in this case. The question is whether you are permitted to report, obligated to report or let some one else do it?

    As opposed to Shabbos where violating it saves a life and thus it is advisable for gedolim to do it - mesira (even when permitted) means that someone suffers.

    The gemora clearly indicates from Eliyahu's comdemnation that not every action which is permitted is desirable for you to do.

    There is a related issue of whether a teacher should ask students to inform on each other. Rav Moshe says it is technically permitted but it has a bad impact on midos while Rav Sternbuch says that there is nothing wrong with it since it is for to'eles.

  5. Bava Kama (47b)For it was taught: If one places deadly poison before the animal of another he is exempt from the judgment of Man, but liable to the judgment of Heaven.8 Now, that is so only in the case of deadly poison which is not usually consumed by an animal, but in the case of products that are usually consumed by an animal, there appears to be liability even to the judgment of Man. But why should this be so? [Why not argue:] It should not have eaten them? — I may reply that strictly speaking even in the case of produce there should be exemption from the judgment of Man, and there was a special purpose in enunciating this ruling with reference to deadly poison, namely that even where the article was one not usually consumed by an animal, there will still be liability to the judgment of Heaven. Or if you wish you may say that by the deadly poison mentioned was meant hypericum,9 which like a fruit [is eaten by animals].

  6. How can you compare an animal to a human? If I put the food down, maybe the animal will eat it and maybe it won't. If I hand a poisoned chalice to someone and say "Drink up buddy!" he will do so without question.

  7. 1) You should not report without a din torah permitting you to do so
    2) a godol should not be involved in reporting
    3) so the beit din will not allow you to go to the police
    4) so you are on the wrong track anyway as soon as you ask.
    "Wer viel fragt, geht weit irr".

  8. Whether the result is certain or not is only relevant to determination of גרמא vs. גרמי in נזיקין according to some Rishonim. But regarding רציחה it has to be a מעשה בידים, otherwise there is no מיתת בית דין.

    Of course, Hashem has it in for the murderer. (See Rambam Rotzeach 3:10,11)

  9. Daniel - Daas Torah,

    What is your personal perspective, devoid of gedolim - In the case of Rabbis not drawing a line, with respect to the "starving mother" affair... Fuel to the parking lot debacle - Are we really witnessing sanctioned anarchy?


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