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It seems that most people have an idea that you cannot report a Jew to the non-Jewish authorities (police, government, etc) except for extreme circumstances (imminent danger, abuse, etc). However, this does not seem to make sense to me in circumstances where the consequences are very minor.

For example, what about if my Jewish neighbor is causing me inconvenience by parking illegally or by violating a zoning law? The consequences of that reporting are most likely just that he will be forced to stop violating the law or at worst a modest fine. There is no possibility in our modern countries of the authorities throwing him in a castle dungeon or putting him to death, as in the classic cases of "mesira".

So is it really forbidden to report a parking violation?

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I wonder if someone can also comment on the difference (if there is one) between turning someone in to the authorities for major violations if the authorities can generally be trusted to be fair. The primary reason for the prohibition is to protect members of one's own community from harsh and/or unjust treatment, including but not limited to false charges, etc. But if, in a country with laws to protect against this, if one is a witness or a victim of a crime committed by a Jew that deserves to be punished, does the community - or the individual - have to stand by the perpetrator? –  Seth J Mar 9 '11 at 14:38
    
And does it matter if the perpetrator is religious or not (both in Desert Star's question and my question)? –  Seth J Mar 9 '11 at 14:38
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@Seth: on your last point, there doesn't seem to be a difference. Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 388:9 says that one may not inform on a Jew "even if he is wicked and a sinner" (and as in many other areas of halachah, most non-religious Jews today aren't even in that category, having been raised without adequate knowledge of Judaism). –  Alex Mar 9 '11 at 15:22
    
So if someone is accused of a heinous crime, the victim cannot seek justice? –  Seth J Mar 11 '11 at 19:46
    
@Alex, I realized I never tagged you. –  Seth J May 18 '12 at 12:06
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4 Answers 4

Rabbi Michael Broyde (a Justice of the Beth Din of America) has a full article of the topic available in English here.

He surveys a wide range of opinions from R Eliezer Waldenberg (author of Tzitz Eliezer), who holds that the prohibition of reporting does not apply in a just society, to that of R Moshe Feinstein (author of Igrot Moshe), who holds that the prohibition remains in full force even in a Just society, and many other modern authorities in between. However, even according to the more stringent view, reporting would be permitted under two primary exemptions: where the secular system judges by the same rule as a Jewish court would (as there is no damage caused), and a case where one reports a violent and potentially dangerous person. Rabbi Broyde elaborates at length about what constitutes such an exception, but notes towards the end of the article that even according to the most stringent view, someone who is known to regularly abuse others should be reported promptly to local authorities to prevent further physical harm as well as Chillul HaShem.

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Here's what I heard from Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz on the subject:

The Aruch HaShulchan (living in Russia a hundred years ago) wrote that if a government's laws are fair to everyone, "like England's laws, or the Glorious Czar's", then no prohibition of mesira ("snitching") applies.

Some feel that the entire sentence was written to placate the censor, and none of it is accurate.

Rabbi Breitowitz, however, felt that what happened was, Rabbi Epstein first truthfully wrote the following halacha:

If a country's laws are fair to everyone, like those of England, then no prohibition of mesira applies.

He then realized what would happen to him if he implied that the Glorious Czar's laws weren't so wonderful, so he added in "or the Glorious Czar."

Rabbi Breitowitz then stated that some poskim (Rav Wozner, if I recall) go further and say that any time halacha recognizes the state's laws (dina d'malchusa dina), then there is no prohibition of mesira to help the government enforce those laws.


Rabbi Hershel Schachter is known for pointing to a Gemara of a rabbi who would point the Roman authorities to circumstantial evidence that a Jew was a thief, for which the Romans could give the death penalty. Eliyahu HaNavi told the rabbi this was no job for a nice Jewish boy and distasteful, but not that it was prohibited.

Q: "But wouldn't the owner [i.e. G-d] of the vineyard [the Jews] prefer there be no weeds [thieves] in it?"

A: "You let the vineyard's owner sort that out for Himself!"


Lastly, if the punishment given by the authorities would be no worse than what halacha would require (and a halachic court would have no way to enforce their decision), then it also wouldn't be a problem. In the case of a Jew who was caught stealing Torah ornaments and it's up to the synagogue to decide whether to press charges, Rav Moshe noted that halacha would require a monetary fine but no jail time; if pressing charges would send this fellow to jail (a potentially hellish experience), he recommended against it.

Traditionally there were also cases where a fellow's crime (e.g. counterfeiting) would reflect badly on the entire Jewish community and lead to more persecution; I don't know how/if that would apply today.

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btw, the Rabbi was R' Elazar, the son of the Rashbi. Moreover, even after this incident he continued informing! –  Shmuel Brin May 14 '12 at 2:24
    
@ShmuelBrin - Are you sure it was him? –  Adam Mosheh Nov 13 '13 at 19:50
    
Bava Metzia 83b – 84a... Doesn't it say R' Eliezer? –  Adam Mosheh Nov 13 '13 at 20:35
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@AdamMosheh ר' אלעזר ב"ר שמעון אשכח לההוא פרהגונא דקא תפיס גנבי hebrewbooks.org/… –  Shmuel Brin Nov 13 '13 at 21:28
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Shulchan Aruch Harav Choshen Mishpat, The Laws of Damages to Body and Soul, Paragraph 11, quoting the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch, writes:

וכן המוסר אפילו ממון קל של ישראל ביד נכרים אם הוחזק במסירות ג' פעמים מיתתו בכל אדם מפני שהוא כרודף כמו שנתבאר בהלכות נזקי ממון

Whoever reports even a small amount of Jewish money to the Non-Jews, if he did it 3 times anyone can kill him because he is like a Rodef (someone running after someone to kill him - the law is one can kill him first), as is explained in the Laws of Monetary Damages.

In the Laws of Monetary Damages he explains:

  • This applies even these days (when Beit Din does not have the power to kill) - see here.
  • One may pre-emtively kill him before he reports
  • After he reports one may not kill him, unless he's already done it 3 times, in which case it is assumed he will do it again and one may kill him. - see here.

As always, CYLOR.

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This would only seem to apply when reporting the money could lead to a danger to the reportee's life. Why else would ההולך למסור ממון ישראל ביד נכרים הוא כרודף אחר נפשו למסרה להם? –  In Search of EMeTh May 13 '12 at 3:05
    
I think you may have mistranslated "המוסר אפילו ממון קל של ישראל ביד נכרים". It looks as though it means "one who gives even a small amount of money over into gentile control". מוסר, that is, is to transmit, not to report, AFAIK. –  msh210 May 18 '12 at 14:59
    
@msh210: That's what Mesirah is. We translate it as "informing" but it means "giving over [to the Non-Jewish authorities]". In the beginning of this halacha you can see it more clearly: chabadlibrary.org/books/default.aspx?furl=/adhaz/sh/sh6/10/1/7 –  Menachem May 18 '12 at 20:21
    
@Menachem, yes, and where the target is a person, giving him over is allowing them to take him; when the target is money, giving it over is allowing them to take it. I was saying that, in the latter case (money), I'm not sure "report" is the best translation. As you note, though, the same is true of the former (person). –  msh210 May 18 '12 at 20:26
    
@msh210: I put the wrong link: chabadlibrary.org/books/adhaz/sh/sh6/10/1/6.htm . you could be right. I translated it as report because we usually translate mesira as "informing" –  Menachem May 18 '12 at 21:13
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hilchos meisira is very complicated and a rov has to be consulted. A mosser has a din of a non jew (yoreh deah 281:3) it is a very bad thing to be a mosser. However when there are laws in the land and chillul Hashem then it becomes a diff story.(choshen Misphat 388:12).

See meseches Bava Matzia 83b the story with Rabbi Elazar and the king and the Ritva on the issue of the law of the land.Also see Igros Moshe OC 5:9(11 in 9)meisira regarding a ganav who stole a sefer Torah and the silver. Kovetz Tshuvos (Rav Eliyashiv) 3:231,Shevet Halevi(2:58).

Also see this Teshuva on reporting unsafe driving http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=1600&st=&pgnum=610

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