Monday, August 31, 2015

Mesira I: Heter Mesira

Rabbi Moshe Grylak, Editor in Chief of Mishpacha Magazine, is one of the most astute as well as sincere people that I know. Thus it is rare that he should write anything in his weekly column that I would disagree with and, more so, that I would find objectionable.

Yet, something bothered me about something he quoted in a column he wrote in the 14 Tammuz (July 1, 2015) issue. The column dealt with the severity and subtlety of chillul Hashem. To this end, Rabbi Grylak was reviewing the latest volume of Harav Dovid Ariav’s multi-volume masterpiece – L’Reiacha Kamocha. This work is phenominal and should be a part of every Jew’s library. It is essentially what we call “the fifth Shulchan Aruch” put in clear writing.

I will first state that there was nothing at all objectionable about the column itself. It was spot on. But fine-schmecker, what I am, I felt he could have done a better job choosing excerpts. This is because some anecdotes convey more than one message and it can transpire that the one that you did not intend to convey is the one that has more impact (with apologies to Rabbi Dovid Kaplan).

When discussing the intricacies of chillul Hashem and how it can show up anywhere, he chose to quote the following excerpt:

A frum Jew was once caught speeding and received a traffic ticket. Since it happened that the policeman who issued the ticket was also an observant Jew, the driver took the policeman to [a] din Torah, claiming that he was a moser for reporting him to the secular authorities. The rav listened to the two men and ruled in favor of the policeman. “Not only are you not a moser,” he said, “but you ought to double his fine for the chillul Hashem he did by speeding.” 

Now this story was meant to illustrate that flagrantly violating civil laws together with neglect for safety constitute a chillul Hashem. I agree whole-heartedly! For this it is a splendid illustration. This revelation should not be a surprise to anybody.

But it also tells another message. Not related to chillul Hashem. But, perhaps a bit more of a chiddush (which is why it may make a bigger “splash”). In the story, the rav contends that the observant policeman is not a moser for reporting him to the secular authorities.

Why not?

There are no grounds to say that chillul Hashem and mesira are mutually exclusive. It is certainly possible to commit a chillul Hashem and still someone who informs will be a moser. Suppose a distinguished looking Jew with a langeh bordt mit payos is “doing business” in the red light district and another Jew sees him (he was running to catch a bus at Port Authority). This is undoubtedly a severe chillul Hashem. Now suppose there is a policeman nearby. May he be notified? It may be a toelles to tell this man’s rav (unless he is the rav) or even his wife, but is there a heter to turn him into the authorities?

And if you are a religious policeman, you are being paid to do it!

I approached Rav Dovid Ariav (on two occasions) and discussed this with him at length (the main question, not the allegory with the red light district). I also asked him where he heard the "speeding" story and if he knew who was the rav that is being discussed. He did not clearly recall his source. He did indeed tell me who he thinks the rav in question is (someone very distinguished) but since he wasn’t certain, I will not disclose it.

He told me what I had assumed – he thinks that because this situation involves safety and recklessness, it is justified to report him. Rav Ariav’s opinion, along with mine, is that it is very questionable if an Orthodox policeman can issue a summons for a traffic violation that cannot be deemed as a safety issue.

Two actual examples were discussed. One was the Mem-Gimmel trap and the other was the Najara trap. The Mem-Gimmel trap is the point where Rechov Rishon L’Tziyon feeds into Rechov Mem-Gimmel to form a “T” intersection. Any responsible driver must cut his speed to a crawl to safely turn onto Mem-Gimmel and every sensible driver does. Nevertheless, the powers-that-be put a stop sign on that junction which technically requires all drivers to come to a complete and full stop. Many drivers don’t see the stop sign (or ignore it) and turn on to Mem-Gimmel at a safe speed but without fully stopping. Experienced drivers know that very often, about 100 meters down, they’re waiting for you. And they catch many fish and fill many police pockets.

Najara Street is the most direct route between Givat Shaul and Kanfei Nesharim and a two way street. Over the past years there were on and off periods where the PTB decided to restrict the traffic in just one of the directions to public transportation only. This means a personal car is forbidden to go that direction and must undertake a lengthy detour. This caused so much inconvenience that this restriction came and went and later was put into effect after  going only half a block (don’t bother trying to figure that one out) and I think (not sure) the restriction was finally abandoned altogether. Again, in the enforcement days there would often be a cop just after the point of no return to get you.

Harav Ariav conceded that in his estimation, these kind of cases would not necessarily be even a chillul Hashem and, since safety is not involved, they are definitely contenders for mesira. He went on to say on his own that he thinks that if one is not recklessly speeding but merely is caught “exceeding the posted limit” by a reasonable amount, there is no justification for an observant policeman to turn him in.

Incidentally, Dina d’malchusa dina – if applicable – is merely an obligation for Reuven to obey the civil secular law. It is NOT a heter for Shimon (or Officer Shimon) to report him if he doesn’t. This is especially true if the violation involves a fine (knas) since even a beis din cannot enforce a knas in our era.

Many readers may want to debate this point so now let’s thicken the plot.

You see, it was very easy for this prominent rav to declare this person guilty of chillul Hashem and justified to be fined (i.e., not a case of mesira) because the story implies that the driver did not contest the accusation that he was indeed speeding.

But suppose he did contest it. Suppose he denied that he was speeding at all.

And this observant cop with no supporting witnesses reports him to the secular authorities. Can he do that?

Well, you can say that a ticket is only a piece of paper – a summons – not a conviction. The driver can definitely fill out the section to request a trial and plead his case to the judge. So, if he is innocent, he will get off and if he is guilty, the ticket is justified. Yet, if this happens, the cop will be required to show up in secular court, and without supporting witnesses, testify (under oath?) that this person violated the secular law while he is denying it. The judge cannot convict him without this. And this unsupported testimony will probably prevail in court and extract substantial money from the driver’s pocket as well as giving him points on his record.

Can he do that? (Bear in mind that the money collected by the police department is partially used to pay the salaries of the policemen who write the tickets and, in some cases, policemen’s performance records require that they do a good job generating tickets – i.e., revenues. In an indirect way, he is putting the money in his own pocket.)

I discussed this with Rav Ariav in one of the conversations as well as with another Talmid Chacham – a local Rosh Kollel and member of Dayan Geldztaler’s Beis Din – and both of them said, “no way!” Along with the issue of mesira which may not apply if the driver was being unsafe and reckless comes a prohibition of “Lo yakum eid echad b’ish l’chol avon u’l’chol chattas…” This applies even to dinei mammonos in a true beis din, how much more so for dinei knasos in a secular court. And this is even if the driver was indeed totally reckless! Further, his “negios” makes him posul for eidus in any situation.

Hence, getting back to Rabbi Grylak’s column, I was bothered that this anecdote, while sending a strong meaningful message about chillul Hashem, may inadvertently send a distorted message about mesira. I will not argue with the rav’s psak that it doesn’t apply in all cases such as this one but the story makes it sound as if it would be a chiddush to call it mesira and the driver’s contention was totally baseless. But I think the truth is that it’s a chiddush that it’s not mesira. And that it is only because the violation involved recklessness and that the driver did not contest the charge.

The point of all this is that just like serious halachic issues of chillul Hashem can pop up out of the woodwork in everyday situations, likewise can many other serious halachic issues. And the issue of mesira is definitely in the category of “mitzvos ‘hakalos’ she’adam dash b’akeivav”. But be aware that this is more severe than chillul Hashem and most other mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro.


Because if one (ch”v) commits a chillul Hashem, all he has to do is genuinely regret his actions, do some sincere viduy, fast on Yom Kipper and klap “al cheit”, shed a few tears (real ones), perhaps undergo some yisurim and hold onto the sentiment until 120 and he’s good to go. That’s all it takes! But for a regular bein adam l’chaveiro, all of this doesn’t help. Besides regular teshuva he must placate the injured party. This is either a lot harder or a lot easier depending on who he is. But mesira is a lot different because it usually involves a loss of money, sometimes loss of a lot more (parnassah, marriage, whatever). But let’s say just money. Like a 1000 shekel unjustified traffic ticket for not making a full stop. If you want to get off the hook,  even after all the repenting and placating, you will also need to reimburse the 1000 shekels (unless the other person is mochel it). Imagine if it causes a bigger loss! (Or if you wrote lots of such tickets).

This is not something to trifle with.

If you are still reading this post, you are probably wondering why on earth, if I am only putting out posts on a yearly basis and barely have time to write, of all subjects, do I need to rant and rave about this obscure subject which was triggered by a Mishpacha article that is already two months old? Don’t I have anything more significant or current to write a yearly-or-so post on?

Three answers:

  1. My schedule has changed and I find myself with more time to write.
  2. My “chardali” son (accent on the ‘da”l’), Yaakov, who went through the army and is hopefully finishing up university this fall, IY”H, recently entertained the idea to join the Mishtara. So the subject came up. I told him that if he wants to do it for an administration job or forensics or something like that, it should be feasible (there are always halachic issues to deal with). But if he is going to be a street cop and do traffic duty or such and enforce the secular laws upon observant Jews for pay, he is treading on thin ice.
  3. MOST IMPORTANT – I do have something much more significant and recent to write about. But it also involves mesira, at a much more serious level. This entire post is only a preamble for the (bl”n) upcoming one.

Stay tuned.

And as for being a frum traffic cop, there are indeed issues of mesira, so...

…Don’t try this on the streets, boys and girls.

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