|Center For Halacha and American Law
Isaac M. Jaroslawicz, Esq
Institute's Center for Halacha and American Law
The Law Of The Land
Since 1981, the Aleph Institute has provided humanitarian, educational and religious advocacy assistance to thousands of Jewish men and women in state and federal prisons, and to their families. Most recently, Aleph has established a Center for Halacha and American Law, dedicated to enhancing awareness within the Jewish community of American civil and criminal law and its intersection with Jewish religious law.
In its new Questions And Answers Series, Alephs Director of Legal Affairs, Isaac M. Jaroslawicz, Esq., and other guest writers, will answer questions about the criminal justice system and involvement by the Jewish community. Topics will include an understanding of how Halacha imposes an absolute obligation on Jews to follow the civil and criminal law of the land.
Mr. Jaroslawicz may be reached at 9540 Collins Avenue, Surfside, Florida 33154; (305) 864-5553.
To learn more about The Aleph Institute and its important work on behalf of families, you can visit Alephs Internet site at http://www.aleph-institute.org.
Q. I'm not quite sure how I feel after reading your column last issue. It seemed to me that a fine young Yeshiva boy's life was essentially being ruined by the government because of some minor financial indiscretions. But what concerned me even more was that even you were smearing his reputation by calling him "otherwise-observant" -- because you said he failed to obey a "religious requirement" to follow the law of the land. Where is there any halacha to follow rules imposed by a non-Jewish government?
A. First, with respect to the halachic sources: In the inaugural issue of our Journal of Halacha and American Law, Rabbi Aaron Rakefet-Rothkoff spends over twenty pages dissecting and discussing in depth the halachic imperative of *dina d*malchusa dina* -- "the law of the kingdom is the law."
In his introduction alone, Rabbi Rakefet-Rothkoff cites the Meiri's position that the rights of a king were expressed by the prophet Samuel, who lists a host of powers of a monarch, and ends with the words, "and ye shall be his servants" (I Samuel 8:11-17). Commentators indicate that those privileges were also granted to gentile monarchs. Maimonides (the Rambam) apparently agrees that a ruling authority is granted the right to do all that is described by the prophet Samuel.
There are other places in the Torah where Jews are told to be loyal citizens of the lands in which we are dispersed. For example, the prophet Jeremiah, in his epistle to the Judeans who were exiled to Babylonia, wrote:
"Seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray unto the Lord for it, for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace." (Jeremiah 29:7.)
The Mishna in Pirkei Avot records the famous epigram of Rabbi Chanina, the S'gan HaCohanim (deputy High Priest), who said:
"Pray for the welfare of the non-Jewish government, since were it not for the fear of it men would swallow each other alive." (Avot 3:2 and Rashi's commentary.)
The Talmud quotes the Babylonian sage Samuel in no less than four tractates as to the principle of dina d*malchusa dina.
While we are not permitted to waive issues of issura (rituals such as kashrut or Sabbath observance) to follow contemporary statutes, there appears to be little question that the principle of dina d'malchusa applies to dinei mammanot (the monetary, civil and real estate laws of the Jewish legal system).
Second, and somewhat more disturbing, is that the tone of your question is reflected in many of the letters I've received since.
Let's be clear: with all due respect, that young man's life was not "being ruined by the government." I would hope that you can recognize that he has to take responsibility for his actions. Moreover, fraud is not a "minor financial indiscretion."
Indeed, I had a wonderful conversation some weeks ago with Rabbi Mordechai Willig, a Rosh Yeshiva at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary of Yeshiva University. He told me he enjoyed the column to which you are referring, but had one critique: "Why was the principle of dina d*malchusa dina implicated at all? The situation you described was outright geneivah (theft)!"
He's absolutely right. Unfortunately, many have reached the point where we fail to recognize that overstating a financial statement to obtain a loan is outright geneivah; understating income to obtain benefits or pay less tax is outright geneivah; not paying sales tax is outright geneivah; filing false papers of any kind to obtain a financial advantage is outright geneivah.
I would be very interested in hearing any Rabbinical authority for the proposition that there are circumstances in which such activities are permitted, such as to afford tuition or to otherwise "survive" in a competitive world. Until then, I will stand by my description of "otherwise-observant."
Sometimes we chastise others for not observing mitzvos in the way we deem appropriate -- while rationalizing our own violations of other halachas because the situation involved money. We simply cannot afford to lose our balance and forget that the laws of Choshen Mishpat are part of the Shulchan Aruch too.
Answers provided in this column are general responses to issues and should not be construed as rabbinic or legal advice, which can only be provided by your rabbi or lawyer after careful analysis of the specific facts and law involved in your case. For a free copy of a recent issue of Alephs Journal of Halacha and American Law, or to have your own questions answered in future columns, write to Isaac M. Jaroslawicz, Esq., Director of Legal Affairs, The Aleph Institute, 9540 Collins Avenue, Surfside, Florida 33154. Visit Alephs website at www.aleph-institute.org.