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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.

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  • 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
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+50

Perhaps the best analogy off-hand would be a Gemara in Bava Kama -- beis din could see that someone's tree looked diseased and likely to fall on people, and tell the fellow: you have (x) days to cut that down, as it may endanger others.

If they can obligate someone to actively get up and cut down a tree (though it is currently in their own private property) to prevent damage, they should certainly be empowered to order someone not to go endanger others.

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I believe it is within the Beit Din's power.

In Shemos 12:22 it states “And you shall not leave the opening of your homes until morning…

Rava during times of wrath [Rashi=plague] would close his windows.” In Hilchos Shemiras Haguf Vehanefesh Halacha 13 it states, “When there is a plague in the city, one should not walk in the middle of the road being that the angel of death walks down the middle of the road, as he now has permission to pass One is to escape from a city when the plague first begins, although if one did not escape when it began then he should not run away towards its end."

In the Zohar Rav Avraham Azulaiy says the Zohar implies the best way to avoid a plague is to seclude themselves in their room and study Torah: Chesed Leavraham Mayan Chamishi Eiyn Mishpat Nehar 28.

A more recent example is when Rebbe Akiva Eiger did not allow many people in Shul during Rosh Hashanah in a Cholera outbreak.

I am no Talmid Chacham but this is what I found from research online, majority of which was from an article by Rabbi Yaakov Goldstein.

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  • Where does it speak of a Beit Din?
    – mbloch
    Jul 28 '20 at 3:29
  • I am just saying it could be argued that quarantining is Jewish law.
    – Mosh
    Jul 28 '20 at 5:01
  • This isn't exactly talking about quarantine so much as semi-lockdown, like what's going on now
    – Lo ani
    Jul 28 '20 at 8:23
-1

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.

-1

One doesn't need a bais din for enforce a quarantine. Even if a regular person would have a way to get the person in quarantine, they are permitted to do it as an infected person who walks around is a rodef and a suspected infected person is a safek rodef (in doubt). This should be no different than if someone see a rodef attempting to kill another person. One does not wait to see if the rodef is successful. One just takes action to prevent them. See Rambam Murderer and the Preservation of Life 1:8

What's more, a Ben Sorer uMoreh is given capital punishment for something he didn't do yet. Bais Din administers this (Sanhedrin 71a). So we see that bais din can do preventive measures to prevent a public menace. So quarantining a possible Ebola patient is no less than killing a possible future killer.

So to summarize, anyone who is able to do something to prevent serious harm is allowed to do it. And we see that bais din does not need to wait until something already happened before it may enforce what needs to be done.

The problem is that the civil courts and activist groups would not let them get away with it without serious backlash so they can not take action these days.

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  • Is Ben Sorer uMoreh really a carte blanche permission for the court to punish anyone for suspected future sins?
    – Double AA
    Jul 28 '20 at 17:02

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