In light of the recent discussions about the legality of quarantining potential Ebola patients, I was wondering if Halacha has the mechanism for such a thing.

In an autonomous Jewish society, in which Beis Din had the authority to run things according to Halacha, would Beis Din have the authority to quarantine someone?

I am not talking about in the case of a Malchus, in which the king may have many extralegal powers. I am talking about a normal Jewish court. Answerers could consider a proper Sanhedrin as well.

  • 1
    If there's danger to other peoples' lives, we are מחלל שבת to quarantine [even someone who isn't sick, himself!!] (שמירת שבת כהלכתה, פ' לב הל' יג) .....while that doesn't answer your question, we definitely see that quarantining an individual for public safety trumps a lot of things....but it says nothing about the powers of Beis Din. +1 – MTL Oct 31 '14 at 1:46
  • Speaking of that שמירת שבת כהלכתה ....see judaism.stackexchange.com/a/47990/5323 – MTL Nov 24 '14 at 4:54

There are two ways to think about this situation:

  1. We do not see beis din proactively removing agents that posses the potential to cause damage beforehand - they don't fill up pits, confiscate animals, or remove public obstacles, though they can declare them ownerless. Infectious disease represents a damaging agent (most likely eish) that a person is culpable for. If his carelessness results in damage to others, he is fully culpable for those damages (see Bava Kama - one shita says it doesn't matter how deep into his own property the fire is lit, he is always liable). Since an unsuspecting person is incapable of "running away" from the "fire" of an infectious disease, they would be like an eved tied to a post and you would be liable for essentially murdering them PROVIDED that you knew you were infected and failed to properly notify. If you take appropriate precautions but STILL manage to spread disease, then you couldn't be held liable for ensuing damages. Regardless, this line of reasoning would suggest that Beis Din can only react to damages caused by a diseased individual, and would not have the power to quarantine.
  2. Lo Sa'amod Al Dam Rei'echa - Much more straightforward. If you pose a substantial threat to other people, anyone may act to mitigate the threat you pose as long as the action taken directly addresses the threat. This is true even when the person has no intent to harm. That is why late term abortions are explicitly permitted to save the mother - we treat the fetus as a rodef achar chaveiro lehargo. The caveat here is that after the emergence of the head we consider the child a separate person, and we cannot "choose" between the two lives. If a person is intentionally trying to harm, you absolutely have permission to kill them, but it is preferable to incapacitate if given the chance. See Sanhedrin 73a. The upshot here would be that anyone up to and including beis din can force you into quarantine if you pose a discernible risk to others, and possibly even in the case of a safek risk. If you are knowingly infected and attempt to infect others, they are even authorized to kill you assuming that would nullify the threat you pose.

So if a person knows they are diseased, they would be obligated to quarantine themselves or be held liable for the damages or deaths they cause. Anyone else who is aware of the potential threat may take action to initiate a quarantine in order to protect other people. Beis Din wouldn't even be required in this case since Lo Sa'amod is incumbent upon every individual.

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