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The Torah or Talmud uses two terms for a thief -- the "Gonif", (which is the more familiar term) and the "Gazlin", and two corresponding terms for robbery "Genaiva" and "Gezaila". What is the difference between the two?

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  • I don't know if it's connected with the Halachik meaning, but my father, from Belarus, tells me that in Yiddish, "Ganavim" was used for Jewish thieves, while "Gazlonim" was used for non-Jewish thieves. Interesting note. – termsofservice Jan 16 '14 at 23:52
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A Gazlan is someone who steals openly (a robber), a Ganav is someone who steals quietly (a thief).

  • I think that's backwards? – Alex Oct 10 '11 at 15:38
  • @Alex fixed.... – Shmuel Brin Oct 10 '11 at 15:46
  • +1. But: While g'zela is robbery, I don't think g'neva is theft: theft is I think a more general term including robbery also. I don't know of a one-word English translation for g'neva, personally. Also, a source would be nice. – msh210 Oct 10 '11 at 16:29
  • Thank you. Let me refine my question a bit. If someone takes money from you and promises you a service, eg. mowing your law, and then fails to do what he promised, is that person a gazlin or a ganif? On the one hand, there is no force here, on the other hand, it is not secretive. – David Oct 10 '11 at 18:12
  • @David, or, perhaps, it's neither. In any event, if that's what you mean to ask, then please edit your question so it asks that — or ask another question. – msh210 Oct 10 '11 at 20:41
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This well-sourced article proposes the logic behind Shmuel Brill's distinction. It concludes that a ganav is one who steals while concealed from view such that he deprives the owner of property without even an objection. The use of force that characterizes a gazlan is comparatively less serious a concern because in such an action no insulting presumptions are made by trying to maintain complicity or subterfuge; objections are simply rebuffed by the use of force. Thus subversive means of depriving people of their property are considered g'neva while blatant ones are considered gazlanus.

  • I learned that we consider the gonav "worse" than the gazlen because the gonav fears people more than he fears G-d, whereas the gazlen fears them both equally (=not at all) – SAH Oct 10 '16 at 12:42

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