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.
Sources: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!