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Thought for the Day: Admitting to a Fine That Doesn't Incur a Cost

A car without brakes is not a vehicle anyone with a brain in their head wants to drive; so what would be its value in case someone runs into it (while it's parked, obviously) and totals it?  On the one hand, it wasn't driveable as it was, on the other hand it could have been fixed.  Now, what if it had been missing the engine?  Obviously, it was not much more than scrap before it got smashed, so its value hasn't changed much and the drunk driver who smashed it doesn't owe much to the owner.  One more step (bear with me, please)... suppose that engine-less vehicle was also missing brakes.  How much value is taken away by not having brakes, if any?  You could certainly hear that it either way... does the bum who hit that car pay the cost of brakes or not?

You've waited so patiently, and I thank you.  When one party damages another (either through negligence or stealing), the Torah's main concern is to make reparation to the damaged party.  In addition, the Torah sometimes slaps on fine (k'nas) on the damager as a deterrent.  Since the k'nas is levied as a deterrent, the damager is generally not required to pay the k'nas if he admits to his crime/negligence.  This is known as "modeh b'k'nas patur" -- admitting to a crime exempts one from whatever fine the Torah may impose.

For example, if someone who stole a 1000$ ox is caught and found guilty by beis din on the basis of the testimony of two witnesses, then he must pay a 1000$ k'nas in addition to returning the ox (or paying it's value if the ox cannot be returned).  The Torah also mandates an extra large fine of an additional three times the cost of the animal -- 3000$, in this case -- if the thief slaughters or sells the animal before being brought to justice.  If the theif turns himself in and admits his crime, however, then he is only required to return the ox (or its value if the ox cannot be returned).  If he admits to the crime after the sentencing, however, he still has to pay the fine.  It's only called an admission if his admission will make him pay (the value of the ox, in this case), but cannot be used as a subterfuge to get out of the k'nas.

Now comes the fun.  Suppose the thief admits to his crime and then witnesses appear?  Let's suppose the thief even sees the witnesses coming, so he knows he's in trouble.  Pretty much as long as he makes his admission before they testify and a decision is rendered, he's off the hook for the k'nas.  But suppose he is charged with stealing and slaughtering the animal, and he sees witnesses coming who saw him steal the ox.  He jumps up and says, "Yes.  I stole the ox and I also slaughtered it."  At this point, of course, he only has to pay the value of the animal back to the owner.  NOW another set of witnesses come to testify that he slaughtered the animal.  This is like our vehicle with no engine or brakes.  On the one hand, he did admit to the crime of slaughtering a stolen animal before we had witnesses.  On the other hand, that admission didn't cost him anything -- he could have been using it as in insurance policy to avoid future k'nas in case witnesses did show up (which they did).  That's a machlokes chachamim and Sumchos.  See Bava Kama 75b.

In case you are really up for some fun... what about if one of those groups are found to be eidim zomemim (plotting witnesses)?  What if the thief himself charges the witnesses for the plaintiff as eidim zomemim?  What if he admits his crime but says they weren't there, but another group was there?  I know!  So much fun, so little time.


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