What are the specifications of Dina Dimalchusah? A more targeted question to answer would be: If I ripped off the label of my mattress — the label that says its removal is punishable by federal law — am I also doing a sin? If so, why; if not, why not?
I heard this from Rav Shmuel Eliyahu:
Dina D'malchuta Dina is limited to laws that are:
- Enforced in practice by the government,
- Apply equally to all citizens,
- and do not contradict Torah.
Even if a consumer of a mattress were forbidden by law to remove the label there would have to be some kind actual enforcement of that law to bring it under DDD (at least according to this opinion).
As stated, in the mattress example, that tag is there to prevent mattress manufacturers from putting all sorts of awful stuff in their mattresses and consumers not knowing. Once you've read the "ingredients label" and have bought the mattress, you can do whatever you want with it. (Well if you go to sell it to someone else it gets tricky ...) So rip away!
The Gemara's discussions of dina d'malchusa apply to paying your taxes (pay them).
Rabbi Aharon Soloveichik was of the opinion that dina d'malchusa means halacha absolutely requires you to come to a full stop at every stop sign, even at 3AM when there's no one anywhere in a mile radius.
Other authorities say it's limited to things vital to the state (such as taxes), or things significant enough that the state would actually punish someone for.
To start, it is pretty settled that dina d'malchusa dina applies to paying taxes. According to the Ran in Nedarim 28a, "paying taxes is like paying rent, it is the cost you pay for living in that country." (see also the Rama in Choshen Mishpat 369:6). Rabbi Joseph Solovechik also held that one should not shop at a store where you know the owner does not pay taxes because you are being lifnei iver (assisting him to sin).
Unfortunately, there are many people, rabbis included, who hold that dina d'malchusa dina applies only to financial laws. That argument, more or less, coincides with the Mechaber who says that dina d’malchusa dina is limited to government interests.
The Rama disagrees and says that it applies to anything that is designed to promote the well being of society. According to Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, most poskim agree with this definition which includes but is not limited to, criminal law, minimum wage laws, environmental laws and child labor laws. My Rav, Rabbi Gedaliah Anemer, zt'l, held that secular laws designed to keep people safe -- e.g. traffic laws -- are especially important to observe. Crossing against the light, for example, was not only illegal under Jewish law by application of dina d'malchusa dina, Rabbi Anemer told me, but the act might be a hillul Hashem if observed by non-Jews as it appears to demonstrate Jewish contempt for the civil laws. That issue was especially personal for Rabbi Anemer who lost his brother, sister-in-law and their entire family in a car crash eruv Pesach in 1957.
- The Rashbam (BB 54b, “v’ha’amar Shmuel”) is of the opinion that DD applies to taxes, etc., that everyone accepts upon themselves.
- The Ran (Nedarim 28a, “b’muchseh ha’omed me’eilav”) and the Rambam (Hil. Gezeilah VaAveidah 5:11) hold that DD applies to anything instituted by a non-Jewish government. Since all Jews share a portion of Jewish-controlled Eretz Yisrael, a Jewish monarch can’t threaten to expel a Jew if he doesn’t obey, while in any other country, that is perfectly legal.
- Rabbeinu Kerashkash (Gittin 10b, “v’ha d’amrinan dina d’malchusa dina,” often misprinted as the Ritva) learns that anything which is within the king’s power to impose (taking דינא דמלכותא to mean “the law placed on the king”) is binding (דינא), and if the king does something extralegally (what he terms חמסנא דמלכא), it is not binding. It seems that this is the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch (CM 369:8) as well.
- The Rashba (Gittin 10b, “v’i’ba’is eima”) places no restrictions on this. Anything which the government demands is law. The Rema’s personal opinion (CM 369:8) is this way as well.
- The Rosh (Nedarim 3:11) rules that DD applies only to taxes and property law.
- The Sma (CM 369:12) says that ultimately he is there at the pleasure of the king, but he can do whatever he wants in his own, private domain.