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Korach-Informing the authorities that he was fined for another person’s offense



I live in chutz lo’oretz and recently received notice in the mail that I owe a fine for littering. After investigating, I determined what really happened. A Jewish neighbor had placed his garbage in the public thoroughfare and when the police sifted through the garbage in order to determine who was the offender they found a letter that bore my name. However, it was just a letter that I had given to my neighbor and it was he who was the true offender. If I just tell the police that I am not the culprit they will not free me from paying the fine. However, if I reveal to the police the identity of the real culprit they will free me from paying the fine and fine the true offender. Am I allowed to reveal the correct information to the police or am I a moseir-an informer because I will cause a fellow Jew to pay a fine? And if I am a moseir will I be liable for my neighbor’s loss? Perhaps, I should just pay the fine and then force my neighbor in beis din to reimburse me for my loss?


The first point that we wish to clarify is that the government has the right to impose this fine under the rule that dina demalchusa dina-the government’s rules are valid and Torah law obligates Jews to abide by them. Even though there are various opinions exactly which laws are included in the rule that dina demalchusa dina, all poskim agree (See e.g. Sefer Haterumo 46, 8, 5) that rules concerning the public thoroughfare and fines which are imposed on violators of the rules are included since public areas certainly fall under the public jurisdiction. Thus, under Torah law one is not allowed to litter public property and if one receives a fine for violating the law, he owes this money to the government according to Torah law.

The second point that we should clarify is that if a Jew is moseir in a prohibited manner he will often be liable for the damage he causes to his fellow Jew since the Gemoro (BK 5A) includes moseir in its list of acts of damage.

Turning to your second question, in your case there are two reasons you will not owe any money to your neighbor if he is fined on account of your informing the police of his identity, even if your action is improper.

One is a ruling of the Ramo (CM 28, 3) that if a gentile sues Jew A in court and Jew B is the sole witness against A, even though B is not allowed under Torah law to testify in court (since under Jewish law one witness is insufficient), if he does so and A then has to pay his gentile plaintiff, B is not liable if his testimony was true. The reason is because A was only forced to pay what he actually owes. This principle is also the reason for the Ramo’s (CM 388, 12) ruling that if Jew B reveals the location of Jew A who was trying to flee and thereby avoid paying his debts to a gentile, B does not owe any money to A since A only lost what he really owed.

In both of these cases, A was allowed, under Jewish law, to avoid paying the gentile since one is allowed (see BK 113B) to avoid paying a debt that he owes a gentile, if it does not cause a chillul Hashem. The Gemoro calls this hafko’as halvo’oso. However, even though B prevented A from taking advantage of this rule, nevertheless, B is not liable because he only forced A to pay his debt. The reason why we consider A as only having been forced to pay his debt to the gentile is because many opinions (e. g. Nesivos 72, 52 Sharei Yosher 5, 5) maintain that even though a Jew may avoid paying his debt to a gentile, the debt is not canceled.

A third illustration of this rule is the implication of the Shach (388, 20) that if Jew B informs on Jew A who was trying to avoid paying a just tax, B is not liable for A’s loss. This is basically the same as your situation.

In all these cases B did the wrong thing but he is not liable. Similarly, even if you had not needed to inform the government of the culprit in order to save yourself from paying the fine, you would still not be liable if you informed the government.

Thus, one reason you do not owe any money if you inform on your neighbor is that you will only cause your neighbor to pay what he really owes.

A second reason is that the Rishonim dispute (both opinions are cited by Ramo in CM 388, 5) whether A who informs on B is liable for B’s loss if he informed in order to avoid his own loss, even if he was definitely not allowed to inform and he caused B a larger-than-justified loss. This applies to your situation because the only reason for your informing is to avoid your own loss.

Thus for two reasons you will not be liable for your neighbor’s fine, even if you are not allowed to inform.

However, we will now answer your first question by proving that you actually are allowed to inform the police that your neighbor is the true culprit.

The reason you are allowed to inform on your neighbor is because of a combination of two factors-one that you are only informing the authorities of your neighbor’s identity in order to prevent your own loss, and two, your neighbor will only be forced to pay what he really owes.

One source for this ruling is a responsum of the Chacham Tzvi (Res. 68). In his situation, Jews A and B independently sold horses to a local gentile ruler. Among the horses that B sold the ruler was one that was defective. When the ruler discovered the defect he incorrectly assumed that A had sold him the defective horse and he gave him “back” the defective horse and deducted its value from the money he owed A.

The Chacham Tzvi ruled that B does not need to reimburse A for the money that the ruler took from him since B did not directly take the money from A. (This is based on the ruling of the SA in CM 128, 2.) However, he ruled (without offering any proof) that A is allowed to inform the ruler of his mistake even though the ruler will then force B to reimburse him for the cost of the defective horse, since B really owes the ruler this money since he sold him the defective horse which allows the gentile to invalidate the sale.

Thus, we have an important principle that applies in your case as well. The principle is that one is allowed to inform on another if the victim will only lose what he really owes and the informer is doing so in order to prevent his own loss.

In a sense you are in a much stronger position, since in your case the government did not yet take any money from you and you are only seeking to prevent them from charging you for someone else’s fine, whereas by the Chacham Tzvi the informer was attempting to recover money that he had already paid and he could not even have gotten it back by suing in beis din.

This principle is stated by the Nesivos (194, 7), as well. In his situation, a gentile asked A, who was holding that gentile’s object with the gentile’s permission, to give his object as a present to B. For technical reasons (nichsei akum harei heim kemidbar), under Jewish law A was not obligated to give the object to B and he was actually allowed to keep the gentile’s object since it was halachically ownerless. The Sema (note 15) nonetheless rules that B is allowed to inform the gentile that A did not give him the present even though this will cause the gentile to force A to give the object to B, even though under Jewish law A is permitted to keep the object. The Nesivos asks why this is permitted since by B’s informing the gentile, he is causing a loss to A and, as we saw above, one is at least not permitted to inform a gentile if it will result in a loss to another Jew.

The Nesivos answers with the same principle as the Chacham Tzvi. He argues that if the gentile wanted to give a present to B, B must have previously done him a favor. Therefore, by A’s failing to give B the present he was causing B a loss of that favor (or the goodwill it engendered for B) that he earlier did for the gentile. Therefore, B was informing the gentile in order to avoid his own loss and one is allowed to cause a loss to a fellow Jew in order to avoid his own loss. This is very similar to your case where you are informing the authorities in order to avoid having to pay the fine.

This principle explains a well-known but unproven ruling of the Chafetz Chaim (Loshon Hora 10, 17). The Chafetz Chaim rules that if someone is incorrectly suspected of an inappropriate action he may only say that he is not the true culprit, but he may not identify the true culprit. Moreover, (Be’eir Mayim Chaim 43) if there are only two possible culprits he may not even clear his name since he will thereby incriminate another Jew and be guilty of loshon hora. However, in case the action was improper he permits the suspect to clear his name even if he will thereby incriminate the true offender. The Chafetz Chaim does not cite any source and does not clearly explain what constitutes an “improper” action.

We note that the source (B’eir Mayim Chaim ibid) for the other rulings that the Chafetz Chaim gives concerning one who is wrongly suspected of an action are laws in CM concerning damages. Therefore, it is reasonable to understand that the source for this ruling is the principle that we derived from the Chacham Tzvi and Nesivos that one is permitted to inform on another who acted inappropriately in order to save himself from a loss. The only difference between the Chafetz Chaim’s situation and the Chacham Tzvi and Nesivos is that in their situation the one who is being informed on will need to pay money whereas the Chafetz Chaim is ruling in the lesser case where the one informed on will not suffer a monetary loss. Based upon what we learned we can state that the Chafetz Chaim’s ruling is valid even if there are monetary repercussions.

In conclusion: You may inform the authorities that your neighbor is the offender, if that is necessary in order to avoid paying the fine. We note that if you pay the fine and then sue your neighbor in beis din, beis din will not force (CM 128, 2) your neighbor to reimburse you.











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