The Reliability Of the Moral-Intellectual Compass

A recent discussion on the putative attitude of some (religiously traditional) Jews that the more sense something makes, the less “frum” it is:
R. Natan Slifkin:

Pesach is approaching, which means that many people will be obsessing over the size of the olive-sized amount of matzah which is the minimum quantity to be consumed at the seder. My monograph “The Evolution of the Olive” is the most popular post ever on this blog. It has nearly 5000 views, which doesn’t count all those who received it via e-mail. Countless people have expressed appreciation of it.

Why is this monograph so popular? Perhaps it is because so many people have wondered at the strangely large size of the kezayis given in most halachic works today. The mind cannot help but reel when confronted with a kezayis-book presenting, in pictures, a kezayis as being the size of several olives. And the historical explanation for this incongruity makes so much sense that it is immensely satisfying. “There is no pleasure like the resolution of doubt,” as Redak famously stated (except that most people think that Chazal said it). Likewise, my Matzah Chart for Rationalists is also extremely popular.

Of course, there are some people who dislike the monograph (and it was rejected from a certain halachic journal). In some cases, this is because it reveals that the great Rishonim of Ashkenaz were not omniscient. But I wonder if in other cases the dislike is precisely because it makes so much sense. In a previous post, I asked why a certain theory is regarded as frum when expressed by kabbalists, but quasi-heretical when expressed by Rambam. One person [DF] suggested as follows:

Because one makes sense and one doesn’t, and religious matters do not have to make sense… If it made perfect sense, it would be mathematic, not religious. By contrast, matters which today we call “kabbalistic” [even though they were never received from anyone] you can say literally anything you want, and adherents will nod enthusiastically. The less comprehensible it is, the more kabbalistic is it said to be.

I wonder if that might be the case here too. Perhaps it is precisely the mysteriousness and incongruity of the large kezayis that shows dedication to a higher authority.


שהמון אנשי התורה הנאהב שבדברים להם והערב לסכלותם שישימו התורה והשכל שני קצוות סותרות …
רמבם, מאמר תחיית המתים


Thanks for the cite, though attribution would have been nice. My legions of fans know exactly who “DF” is. (grin.)

The instinct of orthodoxy to adopt the illogical is very strong. That is what is meant by “da’as torah hefech mi’daas ballei battim.” It has nothing to do with whether one works or is in koillel. It simply means the Torah is not logical. Because if something is logical, there is nothing religious about doing it. It is, as I say, mere mathematics.

This can be seen in myriad ways, big and small. Tying your shoelaces – why did the halacah develop such that you put on your right shoe first, but tie it second? Sure, pesukim were found as justification, but the reason people looked for pesukim in the first place, rather than simply doing it the normal way, is because now putting on shoes is something holy. Doing it the normal way would just be…putting on shoes.

This is all part of the allure of “mystery” in religion, as I wrote in my original post, as echoed by someone above me here. Please note, this doesnt mean the fundamentals of the religion itself are wrong. But it does mean that, as far as the practices each religion develops for itself goes, there will forever be an unbridgeable gap between rationalists and non-rationalists.

Actually, the expression “da’as torah hefech mi’daas ballei battim” does not refer to the “[very strong] instinct of orthodoxy to adopt the illogical”, but is rather a contemptuous, elitist disparagement of lay opinion in matters of (civil) halachah; here’s the original statement in context:

ואם תשמע לעצתי ולדידי צייתת לא תשב אצל הקהל בשום דין דידעת שפסקי בעלי בתים ופסקי לומדים שני הפכים הם ואמרו פרק זה בורר כך היו נקיי הדעת בירושלים עושין לא היו יושבין בדין אלא אם כן שיודעין מי ישב עמהם ונאה לתלמיד חכם שלא יכניס עצמו בעסק הבעלי בתים אלא ישגה באילת יעלת אהבים ובזה תמצא חן ושכל טוב וגו’1

In any event, a fascinating counterpoint to this view is that of Rav Avraham Yitzhak Ha’Cohen Kook:

דבר מוכרח הוא שיסגל האדם לעצמו את המוסר הטבעי הפשוט, בכל רחבו ועמקו, ואת יראת ד’, ותמצית הטהור של האמונה הפשוטה, וכל מדותיה ברוחב ובעומק, ועל גבי שתי הסגולות הללו יבנה את כל מעלות רוחו העליונות.

אסור ליראת שמים שתדחק את המוסר הטבעי של האדם, כי אז אינה עוד יראת שמים טהורה. סימן ליראת שמים טהורה הוא כשהמוסר הטבעי, הנטוע בטבע הישר של האדם, הולך ועולה על פיה במעלות יותר גבוהות ממה שהוא עומד מבלעדה.

אבל אם תצוייר יראת שמים בתכונה כזאת שבלא השפעתה על החיים היו החיים יותר נוטים לפעול טוב, ולהוציא אל הפועל דברים מועילים לפרט ולכלל, ועל פי השפעתה מתמעט כח הפועל ההוא, יראת שמים כזאת היא יראה פסולה.2

Prof. Marc B. Shapiro comments:

The upshot of this passage is that some (much?) of what passes for piety today is really nothing more than a corrupted religiosity.

This natural morality that R. Kook spoke of was not only in nature, but also in people. This led R. Kook to a unique understanding of the relationship between scholars and masses. Anyone who has studied in a yeshiva knows that it inculcates a certain amount of condescension for the masses. For what could the masses, the typical am ha-aretz, possibly have to offer the scholar? Yet R. Kook saw matters differently, and recognized that there was an element of natural Jewish morality in the masses that was no longer to be found among the scholars, and the scholars ignored this to their own detriment. And let us not forget that the masses that R. Kook was referring to were not like many of our masses who go to day school, yeshiva in Israel, and attend daf yomi before going to work. The East European Jewish masses never opened a Talmud after leaving heder. They were pious and recited Psalms and came to a shiur in Ein Yaakov or Mishnayot, but without having studied in yeshiva, and lacking an Artscroll, the Talmud was closed to them. Incidentally, the rabbis had no problem with this arrangement, unlike today when Talmud study has become a mass movement.

Had the masses in R. Kook’s day had any serious learning, then he couldn’t have said what he did, because his point is precisely that learning “spoils” some of the Jew’s natural morality.

An even more remarkable, incredibly provocative, radically anti-elitist passage from Rav Kook:

האנשים הטבעיים שאינם מלומדים, יש להם יתרון בהרבה דברים על המלומדים, בזה שלא נתטשטש אצלם השכל הטבעי והמוסר העצמי ע”י השגיאות העולות מהלימודים, וע”י חלישות הכחות וההתקצפות הבאה ע”י העול הלימודי, ומ”מ הם צריכים לקבל הדרכה בפרטי החיים מהמלומדים. והמלומדים צריכים תמיד לסגל לעצמם, כפי האפשרי להם, את הכשרון הטבעי של עמי הארץ, בין בהשקפת החיים בין בהכרת המוסר מצד טבעיותו, ואז יתעלו הם בפיתוח שכלם יותר ויותר. וכן הדבר נוהג אפילו בצדיקים ורשעים שישנם רשעים כאלה, שהחלק הטוב שנשאר אצלם הוא מבונה בכח טבעי עצמי וטהור כ”כ, עד שצדיקים צריכים ללמוד מהם ולקבל מהם, ואז דוקא יתעלו הצדיקים במעלתם העליונה. וכן הדבר נוהג גם בכלל האומות ביחש כל אחת מהם לחבירתה, וביחוד בין אוה”ע לישראל.3

Prof. Shapiro:

This is a an anti-intellectual passage, in which we see R. Kook favoring the natural morality and religiosity of the simple Jew over that of his learned co-religionist. (It was precisely this sort of sentiment that was expressed by Haym Soloveitchik at the end of “Rupture and Reconstruction.”) Can anyone be surprised that this passage was not published by R. Zvi Yehudah? He recognized all too well the implications of these words, which I am only touching on here.

R. Kook continues by saying that the masses need the guidance of the learned ones when it comes to the halakhic details of life. That we can understand, since the masses can’t be expected to know, say, the details of hilkhot Shabbat. But in a passage quite subversive to the intellectual elite’s self-image, R. Kook adds that the learned ones also have a lot to learn from the masses. In fact, if you compare what each side takes from the other, I don’t think there is any question that what the masses give the learned is more substantial than the reverse.

We close with a wonderful statement of Rav David ibn Zimra (Radvaz) that is truly קילורין לעיניים; in the course of refuting his correspondent’s technical argument in favor of requiring one to give up a limb to save the life of another, he insists that this simply cannot be correct, as “[the Torah’s] ways are ways of pleasantness, and it is necessary that the laws of our Torah should be consistent with intellect and reason …”:

שאלת ממני אודיעך דעתי על מה שראית כתוב אם אמר השלטון לישראל הנח לי לקצץ אבר אחד שאינך מת ממנו או אמית ישראל חבירך. יש אומרים שחייב להניח לקצץ האבר הואיל ואינו מת והראיה מדאמרינן בעבודה זרה חש בעיניו מותר לכוחלה בשבת ומפרש טעמא משום דשורייני דעינא בלבא תליא משמע הא אבר אחד לא והשתא יבוא הנדון מקל וחומר ומה שבת החמורה שאין אבר אחד דוחה אותה היא נדחית מפני פקוח נפש אבר אחד שנדחה מפני השבת אינו דין שנדחה מפני פקוח נפש ורצית לדעת אם יש לסמוך על טעם זה:

תשובה זו מדת חסידות אבל לדין יש תשובה … [ועיין שם שהאריך לדון בזה, ולבסוף כתב:] ותו דכתיב דרכיה דרכי נועם וצריך שמשפטי תורתינו יהיו מסכימים אל השכל והסברא ואיך יעלה על דעתנו שיניח אדם לסמא את עינו או לחתוך את ידו או רגלו כדי שלא ימיתו את חבירו4

The reader is also reminded of Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson’s remarkable assertion that halachah necessarily incorporates a notion of intellectual property since “ולא יהא תורה שלימה שלנו כשיחה בטילה שלהם וזה דבר שהשכל מכחישו”.

  1. שו”ת מהר”י ווייל סוף סימן קמ”ו עמוד צד – קשר, הובא בסמ”ע סימן ג’ ס”ק י”ב []
  2. אורות הקודש, חלק שני – מוסר הקודש, כרך שלישי (ירושלים תשמ”ה – הדפסה תשס”ו) ראש דבר, מוסר ויראת אלה-ים, פיסקא י”א עמוד כז, הובא פה, פה, פה,ופה []
  3. שמונה קבצים א:תסג – קשר []
  4. שו”ת רדב”ז חלק ג’ סימן תרכ”ז [אלף נ”ב] – קשר []

A Man’s Word Is His Bond

We have previously discussed the derivation of Halachic and ethical principles from the moral sensibilities of non-Jews and their culture, and particularly the question of whether non-Jewish reprehension of conduct that we consider acceptable means that we must abstain from it to avoid engendering a חילול השם. I recently encountered several additional sources on this topic, which we shall consider in this and several follow-up posts, בג”ה.

The ספר חסידים forbids breaking a promise made to a captor as a condition of regaining one’s liberty, on two grounds:

  • This will engender a חילול השם.
  • The parole of Jews will no longer be trusted in future cases of captivity.

שר אחד היה רע ליהודים שבעירו והיו רוצים לברוח משם ותפשם עד שנשבעו לו שלא יברחו משם

ואם תאמר ישאלו על השבועה ויתירו להם היה חילול ד’

ועוד שלא יאמין ליהודים יותר ושמא יתפוש אחד ולא יניחו עוד בשבועה

אלא יתעסקו עם המלך או עם שר גדול לקחת אותם משם על כרחו.1

Rav Ya’akov Emden raises two objections to the חילול השם consideration:

  • An oath taken under duress is inherently void (and does not even require התרה).
  • There will be no חילול השם, as the non-Jew understands the previous point.

היה חילול השם. באמת חסידות יתרה היא זו כי שבועת אונס לא כלום היא ואפילו התרה אינה צריכה גם אין מקום לחילול השם בכך כי גם העכו”ם יודע שאין שבועה באונס שבועה2

I am somewhat perplexed by R. Emden’s language in his initial point: insofar as he concedes the basic assumption of the ספר חסידים that even in the absence of a Halachic imperative to keep one’s promise, the necessity of avoiding חילול השם can still compel one to do so, what difference does it make whether the oath is valid, requiring התרה, or not? His entire objection to the stance of the ספר חסידים seems to hinge on his latter point, that there will be no חילול השם since the non-Jew understands the illegitimacy of his position, but whether or not the oath is valid and needs התרה, or is inherently void seems irrelevant.

The latter point of the ספר חסידים touches on a moral / game-theoretical paradox with which I have long grappled:

The perpetrator of a crime realizes that his crime has been witnessed, and that his only chance to escape the consequences is by ensuring the permanent silence of the witness. The criminal can threaten to kill the witness unless he promises to remain silent, to which the latter will certainly accede, but both are perfectly aware that the witness may subsequently repudiate his oath, on the grounds that it was entered into under duress, and the criminal therefore has no choice but to kill the witness.

Both players in this ‘game’ would clearly be better off if the witness could somehow render his promise binding, or otherwise guarantee his silence – the criminal would not have to commit a second murder, and the witness would escape with his life – yet there is no apparent way for the witness to irrevocably bind himself to the mutually desired course of future (in)action.

Ultimately, this paradox is the same one that is at the heart of the Prisoner’s Dilemma:

The prisoner’s dilemma is a canonical example of a game analyzed in game theory that shows why two individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interests to do so. It was originally framed by Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher working at RAND in 1950. Albert W. Tucker formalized the game with prison sentence payoffs and gave it the name “prisoner’s dilemma” (Poundstone, 1992). A classic example of the game is presented as follows:

Two men are arrested, but the police do not have enough information for a conviction. The police separate the two men, and offer both the same deal: if one testifies against his partner (defects/betrays), and the other remains silent (cooperates with/assists his partner), the betrayer goes free and the one that remains silent gets a one-year sentence. If both remain silent, both are sentenced to only one month in jail on a minor charge. If each ‘rats out’ the other, each receives a three-month sentence. Each prisoner must choose either to betray or remain silent; the decision of each is kept secret from his partner until the sentence is announced. What should they do?

Both players would ultimately be better off if cooperation were the rational strategy – but that indubitable fact cannot make it so, and so cooperation remains irrational, and two rational players will therefore suffer suboptimal outcomes.

In our situation, too, both players would be better off if the witness’s strategy of keeping his promise and remaining silent would be the rational one – but it is not, as once the witness is out of harm’s way, it will typically be in the interest of both himself and society in general to report the crime – and both players therefore end up with suboptimal outcomes: death, in the case of the witness, and the need to further entangle himself in crime and subterfuge, in the case of the criminal. This often insoluble problem is nicely articulated in Nobel Laureate (along with our own Robert Aumann)3 economist and game theorist Thomas C. Schelling’s classic An Essay On Bargaining (the work he “believe[s] the Nobel selection committee considered [his] contribution to “understanding cooperation and conflict”” but which he “completed before [he] had more than a smattering of acquaintance with formal game theory”):

Among the legal privileges of corporations, two that are mentioned in textbooks are the right to sue and the “right” to be sued. Who wants to be sued! But the right to be sued is the power to make a promise: to borrow money, to enter into a contract, to do business with someone who might be damaged. If suit does arise the “right” seems a liability in retrospect; beforehand, it was a prerequisite to doing business.

In brief, the right to be sued is the power to accept a commitment. … The promise is a commitment to the second party in the bargain, and is required whenever the final action of one or of each is outside the other’s control. It is required whenever an agreement leaves any incentive to cheat.

This need for promises is more than incidental; it has an institutional importance of its own. It is not always easy to make a convincing, self-binding, promise. Both the kidnapper who would like to release his prisoner, and the prisoner, may search desperately for a way to commit the latter against informing on his captor, without finding one. If the victim has confessed to an act whose disclosure could lead to blackmail, he may confess it; if not, he might commit one in the presence of his captor, to create the bond that will ensure his silence. But these extreme possibilities illustrate how difficult, as well as important, it may be to assume a promise. If the law will not enforce price agreements; or if the union is unable to obligate itself to a no-strike pledge; or if a contractor has no assets to pay damages if he loses a suit, and the law will not imprison debtors; or if there is no “audience” to which one can pledge his reputation; it may not be possible to strike a bargain, or at least the same bargain that would otherwise be struck.4

The ספר חסידים sidesteps this whole issue by pointing out that our situation is actually analogous to the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma, in which cooperation may indeed be the optimal, perfectly rational strategy; as Schelling puts it:

The tactic of decomposition applies to promises as well as to threats. What makes many agreements enforceable is only the recognition of future opportunities for agreement that will be eliminated if mutual trust is not created and maintained, and whose value outweighs the momentary gain from cheating in the present instance. Each party must be confident that the other will not jeopardize future opportunities by destroying trust at the outset. This confidence does not always exist; and one of the purpose of piecemeal bargains is to cultivate the necessary mutual expectations. Neither may be willing to trust the other’s prudence (or the other’s confidence in the first’s prudence, etc.) on a large issue. But if a number of preparatory bargains can be struck on a small scale, each may be willing to risk a small investment to create a tradition of trust. The purpose is to let each party demonstrate that he appreciates the need for trust and that he knows that the other does too. So if a major issue has to be negotiated, it may be necessary to seek out and negotiate some minor items for “practice”, to establish the necessary confidence in each other’s awareness of the long-term value of good faith.5

R. Reuven Margolis’s characteristically erudite gloss to the above passage from the ספר חסידים includes a reference to an interesting responsum of Rav Yehudah Assad, who was asked about a Jewish barkeeper who sued a non-Jewish customer for a claimed unpaid tab of “one hundred and thirty three gold in money” (!). The customer denied one hundred of the claim, and the court ruled that the Jew could collect if and only if he took an oath to the veracity of his claim, which he was reluctant to do, since it was his family members who had actually served the patron, and his tally was based on their reports, so he could not be quite certain of its accuracy. After an intricate discussion of the laws of oaths taken under undue duress and the possibility of voiding an oath by the instantaneous articulation (either mental or sotto voce) of its nullification, the Mahari Assad rejects any possibility of taking an oath that may not be wholly true, ruling that the plaintiff may only swear to the sum that he is absolutely sure he is owed, even if this will result in the forfeiture of the entire claim. In addition to his technical halachic arguments, he adds that “Regardless, it is prohibited to publicize to an ignoramus any sort of permission in this matter, and a wise man’s eyes are in his head”:

ועל דבר שנשאל שאינו יהודי שתה יין אצל חנוני מוכר ישראל בהקפה וכשבא לתבוע חובו סך קל”ג זהב כסף כפר לו מאה זהב ונתחייב ישראל בדיניהם שבועה והוא ירא מלשבע לפי שב”ב [בני ביתו] נתנו לו והוא כתב על פיהם בפנקס שלו ואולי טעה ורצה היהודי לפשר עמו ואינו רוצה האינו יהודי בשום אופן רק שישבע הישראל …

[ועיין שם שהאריך לפלפל בסוגיא דשבועת אונסין וביטול בלחש ובלב, והעלה:] מכל הלין טעמי אין אני מסכים עם הדר”ג ני’ בדין זה לא למעשה וגם לא להלכה

מלבד זה אסור לפרסם לעם הארץ שום היתר בזה הענין וחכם עיניו בראשו

אלא על סך מה שהוא ישער בעצמו שודאי אצלו ממש בברי גמור ישבע עליו והשאר יפסיד ואם גם יפסיד כל המנה לא יכניס את עצמו בהיתר הביטול

וכבר הוי עובדא בק”ק שאדם גדול בישראל ידוע זצוקלה”ה שנפסקה לו שבועה בערכאות ונתיעץ עמי על רזא דנא ושמע לדברי ועצתי ועלתה בידו לטובה כי ד’ הי’ בעזרו.6

  1. ספר חסידים (ירושלים תשי”ז) סימן תכ”ג []
  2. מגדל עוז אבן בוחן פנה א’ סימן קי”ד – קשר, צויין בשו”ת זכר יהוסף אה”ע סימן נ’ סוף ד”ה והנה מה שנוגע, ועיין בפירוש מקור חסד על הספר חסידים []
  3. The two were awarded the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel in 2005. []
  4. Thomas C. Schelling, An Essay On Bargaining, in The American Economic Review, Vol. 46 No. 3 (Jun. 1956), pp. 299-300 – (PDF), (PDF). []
  5. Ibid. pp. 300-01. []
  6. תשובת מהרי”א / יהודה יעלה יו”ד סימן שכ”ז, הובא במקור חסד שם []

Ensuring That Good Deeds Go Unpunished

Rabbi Mark Dratch writes:

Moral development theorist Lawrence Kohlberg presented the following dilemma in order to measure the sophistication of a person’s moral thinking:

In Europe, a woman was near death from a special kind of cancer. There was one drug that the doctors thought might save her. It was a form of radium that a druggist in the same town had recently discovered. The drug was expensive to make, but the druggist was charging ten times what it cost him to make. He paid $400 for the radium and charged $4000 for a small dose of the drug. The sick woman’s husband, Heinz, went to everyone he knew to borrow the money and to try every legal means, but he could only get together about $2000, which is half of what it cost. He asked him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist said, “No, I discovered the drug and I’m going to make money from it.” So, having tried every legal means, Heinze gets desperate and considers breaking into the man’s store to steal the drug for his wife. Should Heinz steal the drug?

By rating responses to this and other stories on a six stage scale, Kohlberg measured the way respondents resolved issues that arose from the conflicts between respect for rules and society on the one hand and the demands of human rights and values on the other. The more a person felt bound by the absolute dictates of law the less sophisticated his moral development; the more he valued the rights and attitudes of all parties involved, the more advanced his moral thinking. …

May a person steal medication or money or food in order to save his life? …

Under what circumstances in Jewish law may the biblical prohibition “Ye shall not steal” be breached? Is it permissible to appropriate another’s property in order to save a life?

At first glance the answer appears obvious. “Thou shalt not stand by the blood of thy neighbor” is the biblical admonition for saving life. Furthermore, the Talmud posits that all biblical precepts may be violated in order to save a life except for three prohibitions: idolatry, murder, and illict sexual activity. Since stealing is not one of these three cardinal sins which require martyrdom instead of transgression, it appears that one may steal in order to save a life. …1

In the course of his comprehensive analysis of this topic, R. Dratch mentions the Rescuer’s Exemption:

[רודף] שהיה רודף אחר רודף להצילו ושיבר את הכלים בין של רודף בין של נרדף בין של כל אדם פטור ולא מן הדין שאם אי אתה אומר כן נמצא אין לך כל אדם שמציל את חבירו מיד הרודף:2

The Talmud then discusses the obligation of a third party who is saving not his life, but that of another:

But if one pursuer (a third party) was pursuing a pursuer to save [the latter’s victim] and broke some utensils, whether of the pursuer or of the pursued or of any other person, he is not liable for them. According to strict law this should not be so, but if you will rule thus, no man will save his neighbor from a pursuer.

In essence, the third party should be liable for the damages he caused and for the money he appropriated. However, in order to assure that a Good Samaritan, an uninvolved third party, will become involved and not refrain from helping someone in distress, he is relieved of liability.3

R. Dratch takes for granted that this applies to Heinz’s case:

Let us return to the cases under consideration. According to our evaluation, Heinz, finding no legal alternative, is permitted to steal the medication in order to save his wife’s life. … The halacha, furthermore, relieves Heinz of any criminal responsibility or financial liability, holding … that although third parties should be held liable for property they appropriate in order to save another’s life, declaring them financially responsible may retard, or even prevent, their involvement and lead to the loss of innocent life.4

But while R. Dratch apparently takes a broad view of the Rescuer’s Exemption, understanding it to be a general principle that no liability is ever incurred for action taken to save another’s life, Rav Moshe Feinstein has a much narrower understanding of the principle, limiting it to tortfeasance as opposed to theft and borrowing, and tortfeasance only in the context of an obstruction in one’s path, as opposed to the arbitrary destruction of property, even where necessary to save life. R. Moshe’s responsum is addressed to Rav Shlomo Halberstam, the Bobover Rebbe, who had borrowed money during the Holocaust for the purpose of rescuing Jews, and who apparently took for granted that the Rescuer’s Exemption applied to him, exempting him from legal responsibility for the repayment of the debt. R. Moshe dismisses this out of hand, insisting that he is absolutely responsible, and that “there’s nothing to talk about”:

בענין חיוב פריעת ממון שלווה להצלת נפשות

למע”כ ידידי הנכבד מאד הגאון מוהר”ר שלמה הלברשטאם הגאב”ד והאדמו”ר מבאבאוו שליט”א.

הנה בענין הממון שלוה מע”כ במשך המלחמה העולמית ושלח ליוראפ כדי להציל נפשות ישראל מן ההרגה וכונתו היתה שהצבור יפרע את חובו, וכעת נתבע מע”כ לפרעו, מה שכותב כתר”ה שטענתו היא שמדינא אינו חייב כלום אלא מחמת שהורגל להתנהג במדת חסידות לפנים משורת הדין, רוצה לשלם מעט מעט בסכומים קטנים ומטעם זה יוכל ליתן למי שירצה.

הנה במחילה מכ”ג חייב כתר”ה על פי דין התורה בחיוב גמור ואין בזה שום שקלא וטריא כי בין להציל עצמו ובין להציל אחרים כשהציל בממון אחרים חייב לשלם כידוע מגמרא ופוסקים. והתקנה שאמר רבה בבבא קמא דף קיז: וסנהדרין דף עד. ברודף להציל ששבר כלים של כל אדם פטור, שאם אי אתה אומר כן אין לך אדם שמציל את חברו מיד הרודף, הוא רק ליפטר מדין מזיק, ורק מהמונעים בדרכו, אבל להפטר מחיוב גזל והלואה לא תקנו. ואף במזיק שלא בעומדים בדרכו כהא דרודף ששבר נמי אינו בכלל התקנה ולכן אי לאו מדין מלך פורץ גדר לעשות לו דרך היו חייבין לשלם על שרפת הגדישין בבבא קמא דף ס: אף שהיה זה להצלת רבים ולא היה גם בזה התקנה.5

R. Moshe’s proof of his limitation of the Rescuer’s Exemption is from this Gemara:

ויתאוה דוד ויאמר מי ישקני מים מבור בית לחם אשר בשער ויבקעו שלשת הגבורים במחנה פלשתים וישאבו מים מבור בית לחם אשר בשער [וגו’]

מאי קא מיבעיא ליה …

רב הונא אמר גדישים דשעורים דישראל הוו דהוו מטמרי פלשתים בהו וקא מיבעיא ליה מהו להציל עצמו בממון חבירו

שלחו ליה אסור להציל עצמו בממון חבירו אבל אתה מלך אתה [ומלך] פורץ לעשות לו דרך ואין מוחין בידו6

But this is not at all compelling; to begin with, as my father notes, Hazal characterize the Rescuer’s Exemption as a תקנה, and it is certainly possible that it had not yet been instituted in King David’s time. Additionally, various Aharonim argue that since the entire basis for the exemption is the elimination of a disincentive for would-be rescuers, it does not apply where the rescuer himself is also in danger, as in such cases there is no fear of his reluctance to act. Since King David himself was also in danger, the Rescuer’s Exemption did not apply to him. This exact approach was already taken by פני יהושע in his commentary to the above passage:

ואף על גב דלאו הצלת עצמו בלבד היה אלא הצלת כל ישראל ואף דאם נאמר שבעל הגדיש לא היה שם מכל מקום תקשי לא יהא אלא רודף שרודף להציל את הנרדף מיד הרודף שפטור אף אם שיבר כלים של כל אדם .. אלא דהתם טעמא מאי משום דאם לא כן אין לך אדם שיציל את חבירו מיד הרודף והכא כיון שגם דוד עצמו היה בסכנה לא שייך האי טעמא:7

נתיבות המשפט, on the other hand, rejects out of hand the idea that the fact that the rescuer is saving himself negates the applicability of the Rescuer’s Exemption, although he gives no reason or argument, and does not acknowledge the King David anecdote:

ומכל מקום נראה דמי ששאל חפץ לצורך הצלת דליקה דהוי כהצלת נפשות דהא מחללין עליה שבת וכן בשאר שואל כלי לצורך הצלת נפשות שפטור .. דרודף שרדף אחר רודף ושיבר כלים דפטור.8

אם שאל כליו להלחם עם השונאים ולקחו הכלי זיין … ונלפענ”ד דאם באו על עסקי נפשות דפטור … ואפילו שאל שלא לדעת ונאנס מידו פטור דלא גרע מרודף שרדף אחר רודף ששבר כליו בין של הרודף בין של כל אדם דפטור .. כיון שיש בזה גם כן הצלת אחרים ודוקא נרדף שבא להציל עצמו חייב אבל הכא שיש בו גם כן הצלת אחרים פטור דמשום שיש בו גם כן הצלת עצמו לא גרע …

וכן נראה לי גם כן בלקח כליו של חבירו להציל מן הדליקה דפטור בנאנס מידו דדליקה כסכנת נפשות דמיא דהא מחללין עליו שבת:9

Rav Meir Arik indeed disagrees, for exactly the reason we have seen:

דבריו צ”ע דהא טעמא דרודף פטור דאם לא כן אין לך אדם מציל את חבירו ואם יש בו גם כן הצלת עצמו לא שייך האי טעמא ושפיר חייב:10

It also seems clear from the remarks of נתיבות that he understands the Rescuer’s Exemption broadly, unlike R. Moshe, and that he would indeed apply it to the Bobover Rebbe’s situation, and there is no indication that R. Arik challenges this aspect of his position. The משובב נתיבות, however, does seem to feel that נתיבות is taking the Exemption too broadly:

[הגה. גם מ”ש הרהמ”ח דשואל חפץ לצורך הצלת דליקה פטור כמו רודף שרדף אחר רודף ושיבר כלים פטור .., אינו נכון דדוקא התם כדי שלא יהיו נמנעין מלהציל כיון שיהיו צריכין להתמהמה ולעיין בדרך כמ”ש הרמב”ם פרק ח’ מחובל ומזיק ע”ש וגם שם לא מן הדין אבל לשאול לו כלים הוי ממש מציל בממון חבירו, לא מצינו שתקנו על זה דאפילו בנרדף עצמו לא תיקנו זה על כן אין דינו של הרהמ”ח מחוור].11

The precise objection the משובב is raising is unclear; his initial wording can be understood along the lines of R. Moshe’s position, but the conclusion of his remarks suggests that he understood נתיבות to mean that the rescuer was borrowing the property for his own salvation, and not for the sake of anyone else, hence his objection that this is “precisely saving oneself with the property of another”. [Note that he is adressing the first of the above citations, in סימן ע”ב, and not the latter, in סימן ש”מ, and it is only in the latter that נתיבות explicates that his entire ruling is based on the fact that the rescuer is acting, at least in part, for the benefit of others.]

  1. Mark Dratch, His Money or Her Life? Heinz’s Dilemma In Jewish Law, in Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Number XX (Succot 5751 / Fall 1990), pp. 111-13. []
  2. בבא קמא קיז: – קשר, סנהדרין עד. – קשר []
  3. Ibid. pp. 118-19. []
  4. Ibid. p. 128. []
  5. שו”ת אגרות משה חו”מ (חלק ז’: בני ברק תשמ”ה) חו”מ חלק ב’ סימן ס”ג – קשר []
  6. בבא קמא ס: – קשר []
  7. פני יהושע בבא קמא שם בתוספות בד”ה מהו להציל עצמו – קשר []
  8. נתיבות המשפט סימן ע”ב ס”ק י”ז – קשר []
  9. שם סימן ש”מ ס”ק ו’ – קשר []
  10. מנחת פתים שם – קשר. ועיין עוד בספר פתחי חושן (נזיקין) פרק י”ב הערה ל”ו ד”ה ובנתיבות, ובספר משפטי הלוי פרק ב’ (מקורות ונימוקים אות ב’ ב2)‏ []
  11. משובב נתיבות שם []