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Hilchos Choshen Mishpat

Volume III : Number 7

"Don't Be A Litterbug!"


Question:

Is it permitted by Halacha for a person to litter public property by disposing of his paper wrappers, empty cans, etc., there? If someone has dirty water that he used to clean his house, store, or car, is he permitted to pour it out into the street? Is he liable for any injuries that he may cause by doing this?


Answer:

    A. It is absolutely forbidden to litter public property with any type of trash in any manner. This is true even if you are certain that the litter will not cause damage or injury to the public. (1)

    If there is an area in public property where trash has already been placed by others (even if not in containers designated for this), and adding to this pile will not cause a greater eye sore, nor will it increase the risk of damage or injury to those passing by, it is permitted to add trash to this pile.

    B. It is permitted to pour water used to clean one's home or car into the street, even though the water is not clean. However, this is only if the water will immediately drain down the sewer etc., and not pose a hazard to anyone passing by.

    Even though this is permitted, if someone would slip on this water and injure themselves, the person who put the water there is Halachically liable to compensate for the injuries.


    Sources:

    (1) The Gemara in Bava Kamma (6a) states: "All of those about whom they have said (i.e. our Rabbis have given permission) they may open their drains and rake their sewers (into public property), during the summer they may not do so, and during the rainy season they may. Even though they may do so (in the rainy season), if they damage, they are liable to pay." Rashi there explains that the reason that they may not empty their water and sewers into the street during the summer is because during the summer the streets are nice, and doing so will dirty them. However, during the winter the streets are muddy anyway, and no harm is being done. He adds that despite the fact that the Bais Din has given them permission to do so, the home owner is liable for damages.

    It is clear from Rashi that it is forbidden to litter and dirty public streets in any way, even if you are only damaging aesthetically. It seems from the language of Rashi that this would be equally prohibited in Israel and in the diaspora; anytime the street is not private property belonging to the person littering.

    It seems obvious that although our Rabbis permitted the pouring of the drains and sewers into the streets during the rainy season, this was only if it would not dirty the streets even more, rather it would be washed away by the rains and their accompanying winds. If the dirt would remain there and contribute to the mess, it would be prohibited to do so even during the rainy season.

    The Rema in Choshen Mishpat (414:2) quotes the Mordechai (end of Bava Metziah Siman 416) that even during the summer months, if a person will take care to remove the water as soon as possible, or if it will immediately drain off to the side, it is permitted to pour it into the street. However, if someone were to slip because of the water and injure themselves on the ground upon which the water is laying, he is liable. If someone would slip and injure themselves on something else nearby, he could not be held liable. This is because the liability here is the liability of a "Bor" - just as one who digs a pit in the public domain and causes injury is liable. However, this is only where he was actually damaged by the pit itself, as is stated in Tosafos (Bava Kamma 28b D"H V'Nashof), and the Sm"a (412:9).

    Likewise, the person who poured the dirty water can not be held liable in a Bais Din for damages that occur to the clothing and vessels (watch, jewelry, etc.) of the injured party. This is based on the law of the Torah (Gezeiras HaKosuv) that the person who digs a Bor is exempt from these things.

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    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. His columns have recently been compiled and published in a three volume work called Mishpetei HaTorah, which should be available from your local Sefarim store.

    Feedback is appreciated! It can be sent toatendler@torah.org.


    This week's class is based on a column by Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, who is an Av Bais 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.

    We hope you find this class informative and stimulating! If you do not see a subscription form to the left of the screen, access the Advanced Learning Network to subscribe to Business-Halacha.

    For information on subscriptions, archives, and other Project Genesis classes, send mail to learn@torah.org for an automated reply. For subscription assistance, send mail to gabbai@torah.org.

    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!

 
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