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The Good Samaritan: Monetary Aspects
Rabbi Aaron Kirschenbaum

Additional Halachot

The rescuer's right to compensation for expenditures and losses incurred are alluded to rather briefly and superficially in the sources. It could be that rabbinic authors found it unnecessary to go into detail because it is part of the mitzvah of restoring lost objects to their owners, which is spelled out in great detail in the Talmud, commentaries and codes. The same principles could be applied, where necessary and appropriate, to cases involving the saving of life -- with proper provision being made occasionally for the special significance of the latter.29

In formulating the rules of compensation we notice the occasional construction of the finder as an implied employee of the owner of the article - for the "labor" expended in finding, maintaining and restoring the article to its owner.

An examination of these rules yields the following conclusions:

  1. The actual act of rescue, being the fulfillment of a religious duty (mitzvah), warrants no monetary compensation. 30
  2. If the act of rescue takes place during working hours and therefore requires the sacrifice of the rescuer's pursuit of a livelihood, he is entitled to a minimal wage. 31 If this amount is not enough, he must receive court permission for full compensation for the loss involved in leaving work. If the court is not in session, the law of lost objects declares that his own economic interests take priority over the economic interests of his fellow. 32 This declaration is obviously inappropriate in the case of the peril of one in distress; it seems clear that in the latter case full compensation for the labor of the rescuer would be the rule.33
  3. Expenditures made legitimately by the rescuer would also be recoverable in full.34
  4. The cost of damages and disabilities incurred by the rescuer in the course of the rescue operation, however, could not be recovered by the rescuer. The Jewish law of tort obligates the tortfeasor, and the tortfeasor only, for damages incurred; no one else -- not even the one as interested as the rescued party himself -- is so obligated.35

Although the above is but a broad outline, it suffices to give us a general view of how Jewish law copes with the problem of the losses incurred by the Good Samaritan.

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