Hilchos Choshen Mishpat
Volume III : Number 9
A. Are traffic laws that were enacted by a secular government binding
according to Halacha? What should a person do if he sees a person driving
recklessly and endangering other people's lives?
B. A person recklessly drove through a red light, crashed into another
car that had the right of way, and killed one of the passengers in the
other car. Would this person be considered a murderer in the times of the
Sanhedrin when such cases were being judged? What would the Halacha be
regarding such a person today?
- A. Traffic laws that are enacted to save human lives and property are
obligatory according to the laws of the Torah on every person, at all
times and everywhere in the world. It makes no difference what type of
government enacted them. (1)
- B. If a person knows of someone who drives recklessly and endangers
people's lives, he must do everything within his power to prevent the
reckless driver from driving in this manner. Therefore, if he is able
to personally warn the driver, or summon him to appear before a Rabbi
or Bais Din to warn him to refrain from driving recklessly, he must do
so. If he is certain that these steps will not be effective, the Halacha
requires him to inform the police of this danger to the public safety, so
that the reckless driver and others like him can be prevented from
causing tragedies. (2)
This is true any time a person causes a danger to the public. Even if he
only causes danger by parking improperly on a sidewalk, for example, in a
manner in which pedestrians will have to walk in the street to get by,
steps must be taken to prevent him from doing so. (3)
- C. The case of a person who drives recklessly and kills someone is in the
category of "Shogeg Korov L'Maizid", unintentional but caused by
negligence (lit. "close to deliberate"). This means that, in the times of
our Sanhedrin, although he could not be found deserving of capital
punishment, as in a case of deliberate premeditated murder, nonetheless,
a "Go'el HaDam" (lit. redeemer of the blood, i.e. a heir of the person
killed) would be permitted to kill the reckless driver wherever he may
find him, even in an Ir Miklat (city of refuge). This is because an Ir
Miklat only provides protection for someone who killed in an entirely
unintentional manner (Shogeg), and not for someone who killed
unintentionally but was reckless. (4)
- D. Today, when we don't have Dayanim (Rabbinic judges) authorized to
judge cases of capital punishment, a Go'el HaDam is not permitted to do
anything to someone who killed his relative through reckless driving.
However, the driver must repent in a manner that is befitting his
terrible action. He also must financially support the family of the
victim, especially if the victim was the bread winner of his family.
Torah Sages should be consulted to advise him what actions he must take
to repent, and how to make sure that this does not reoccur in the future
(1) This is discussed in the Teshuvos Chassam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat 44.
(2) The Rema in Choshen Mishpat 388:12 states that a person may inform on
money counterfeiters that live in his community in order to save himself
from danger, since the money counterfeiters have the status of a Rodef
(lit. pursuer, someone who is trying to hurt you, since if the authorities
find out they will hold the entire community liable). It would logically
follow that this is true all the more so in a case of a reckless driver,
where he is directly endangering lives with his actions. The Minchas
Yitzchok (Vol. 8 Siman 148) states this unequivocally, and states that if
such a person pays no attention to warnings he must be reported to the
authorities, even though this will result in his arrest and incarceration.
The Minchas Yitzchok there also discusses numerous situations that must be
avoided by drivers according to Halacha, so as not to present a danger to
pedestrians and other drivers.
However, this is only if the driver is violating laws that affect others.
If he violates a law passed for his own safety, e.g. wearing a seat belt,
it would be forbidden to report this to the police, even if he pays no
attention to your warnings.
(3) Since a sidewalk is public property designated for pedestrians only,
it is absolutely forbidden by our Torah to place something there that
endangers people who are walking, even if he does so only temporarily.
Such a person is a Mazik, a damager, just as if he had dug a pit (Bor) in
the public property. Additionally, such a person is a thief, since he is
stealing the public's ability to use something that they own (public
property). This is similar to the case of someone who builds his Succah
in public property without permission from the proper authorities. In
this case, the Rema (Orach Chaim 637:2) rules that such a person does not
fulfill the Mitzvah of Succah in this manner, as it is a "stolen Succah".
(4) The Gemara in Makkos (8a) which is quoted in the Rambam (Hilchos
Rotzeach 6:4-6) states that if someone were to carelessly throw a rock
from his home into a public area, and it hit someone and killed him, the
thrower is negligent, and is considered a Shogeg Korov L'Maizid. This
means that he may be killed by a heir of the deceased, and the Ir Miklat
does not offer refuge for him. It makes sense to say that there is no
difference between someone who recklessly throws a rock into an area
where the public has a right to go, and someone who recklessly drives in
such an area.
It makes no difference if the driver was driving at a high speed and
crashed into someone or something, or if someone else stopped and he back
ended that person because he was unable to stop in time. Since it is
common that people must make quick stops, drivers must make sure that
they are maintaining a speed and distance from the car in front of them
so that they can make a quick stop, if necessary.
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.
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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
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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!
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