Is it Halachically permitted to cut ahead of others waiting on line?
What is the Halacha?
It is definitely forbidden! It is an Issur D'Oraysah (a Torah
prohibition - [as opposed to an Issur D'Rabbanan, a Rabbinic prohibition])
to go ahead of others waiting on line. Someone who does so, transgresses
the prohibition of theft, and is obligated to reimburse the people behind
him for the time that he stole from them, unless they unanimously agree
to forgive him.
If you are standing on line in a bank, and your friend asks you to
take care of some business for him as well, if there are people behind
you, you are not allowed to do so. However, if you were asked to do so
before you got on line, this would be permitted.
The Gemara in Sanhedrin (8b) tells us that a Dayan (Religious Judge) must
take the litigants waiting on line, on a first-come-first-served basis.
However, it can be argued that this Halacha is specifically for Dayanim,
and does not obligate other people to act in this way. Therefore, there
is no clear proof from this Gemara regarding our question.
However, the Gemara in Sanhedrin (32b) tells us that if there are two
boats simultaneously approaching a bottleneck in a river, and it is
impossible for both to pass together, they should compromise in the
following way; one boat should go first, and they should compensate the
second one for the time that it lost waiting for the first boat to go
through the bottleneck. This is learnt from the Possuk of "B'Zedek
Tishpote Amisecha" (You Shall Judge Your Friend Righteously)[Vayikrah
19:15]. This is brought down as the Halacha in Choshen Mishpat 272:14.
See there and in the S'MA (25).
If so, it is clear that according to the Torah, if someone is ahead of
someone else on line, they "own" a "time advantage", and that time
advantage is worth money! In the case of the boats, although the second
boat had no more right of way than the first boat, we still say that the
first boat must compensate the second one for the time delay. How much
more so, had the second one been lined up to go through first, it would
have been forbidden for the first one to go ahead of it. And if it were
to do so, it would have to compensate the second boat for the time delay.
How do we estimate the monetary value of time? We take the average salary
for the common laborer on the market, and we halve it. E.G., if the
average salary for the common laborer is $6 an hour, and you caused
someone to wait an additional 20 minutes on line, you would have to
compensate him for 1/2 of 20 minutes work ($2) and actually pay him $1.
We don't estimate the loss based on the person who actually incurred the
loss, rather the estimation is based on the wages of an idle common
laborer, which is 1/2 of what he would ordinarily get if he were working.
(See Taz in Choshen Mishpat 333:1 for an elaboration on this).
Therefore, if someone were to go ahead of someone else on line, even if
he knows that the person that he is going ahead of won't press a
financial claim against him, he is transgressing at least 2 negative
prohibitions, and one positive one ["Lo Sigzol" - You Shall Not Steal,
and "Lo Sonu Ish Ess Amisoh" - You Shall Not Take Advantage Of Your
Friend, are on the negative side, as is clear in Shulchan Oruch 228. The
commandment of "B'Zedek Tishpote Amisecha"-You Shall Judge Your Friend
Righteously, is being transgressed on the positive side.] It follows that
it would similarly be forbidden to take care of your friend's business if
you were standing on line in a bank, if it will cause a delay to the
people waiting behind you on line. However, if it was given to you before
you got on line, it would be permitted, since it is very common for
people to run errands for one another. It is impossible to elaborate on
all of the possible scenarios involved in this Halacha, but each person
is obligated to gauge his own actions with honesty and fairness.
This week's class is based on a column by Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, who is an
Av Bet Din and Rosh Kollel in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. His
column originally appears in Hebrew in Toda'ah, a weekly publication in
Jerusalem. It has been translated and reprinted here with his
permission and approval.
This class is translated and moderated by Rabbi Aaron Tendler of Yeshivas
Ner Yisroel in Baltimore. Rabbi Tendler accepts full responsibility for
the accuracy of the translation and will be happy to fax originals of the
articles in Hebrew to anyone interested.
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Please Note: The purpose of this column is to make people aware of Choshen Mishpat
situations that can arise at any time, and the Halachic concepts that may be used to resolve them. Each
individual situation must be resolved by an objective, competent Bais Din (or Rabbinic Arbitrator) in the
presence of all parties involved!