Is a person obligated to shovel his sidewalk after a snow storm? Is that considered a “Bor B’rishus Harabim”, even though he obviously didn’t put it there? What if the sidewalk is not the homeowners property (it belongs to the city) but he may be fined by the city for not keeping it clear and clean? Also, what if there are two sides of the street, one is clean/clear from snow and one is filled with snow, could the homeowner tell the passerby to go to the other side of the street so not to get hurt, is that considered “Darka Achrini”? If clearing snow is a chiyuv, is it M’hilchos Chesed to M’hilchos Choshen Mishpat or something else?
Is it mesirah to go tell the authorities (non-jewish) that a homeowner has not cleared his sidewalk from snow and thereby resulting in a Jew getting fined?
The general principle of hilchos sheceinim – laws of neighborly relations – is that the common custom is binding.
For instance, when a person buys an apartment in an apartment building, he does so in acceptance of the general customs that apply to shared buildings, and cannot do “whatever he wants.” Similarly, a person cannot make noise into the night and disturb the peace in other ways, etc.
Thus, if there is a local custom that each person clears his sidewalk for the benefit of the public, every person will have to do it.
This does not mean that not doing so will give the snow the status of a “bor.” The person didn’t dig the “bor,” and it isn’t even in his property but on the public sidewalk. Nonetheless, if it is clearly his responsibility to clear the snow, it is possible that it will be considered his “bor,” since the general principle in the Gemara is that the person who is responsible for the “bor” is liable for its damages.
After warning the person involved, it is permitted to inform the authorities, because of the threat to the public.
Concerning the question of informing the authorities, the Tzitz Eliezer (vol. 19, no. 52) writes that the prohibition of handing over somebody to the authorities only applies when one hands him over on account of his very wickedness. When, however, he is handed over because of the threat he presents to potential victims, the prohibition does not apply.
This principle is expressed by Rema (Choshen Mishpat 388:7), who states that when a person’s property is threatened, it is permitted to inform the authorities of the threat, and allow them to deal with it – even if this will lead to punishments that are not sanctioned by the Torah. This is the more so true of cases where a public threat it involved.
A similar principle is found in Kovetz Teshuvos (Rav Elyashiv z”l, vol. 1, no. 188), who explains that the concern over turning a person in to the authorities is that “should he confess his crime, they might sentence him to death.” This concern does not apply today, and it is therefore permitted to use the authorities for purposes of investigating the accused criminal.
The idea has already been stated by Aruch Hashulchan (388:7), who writes that the stringency of handing a person over to non-Jewish authorities applies primarily to decadent countries, and not to enlightened countries in which a person receives a fair hearing.
Therefore, if asking nicely doesn’t help, it is permitted to turn to the authorities to deal with the issue.