Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Following the Laws of the Country -- Bankruptcy and Seat Belts

I was once heard to remark (I know this is true because I was there), "There is no inertia in gemara."  The remark was in response to once again having read one or two words further and -- again, once again -- finding myself in a brand new discussion.  No warnings, no dots... nothing; just a completely new discussion.  In fact, though, the frustration for us (relative) new comers to gemara, is that we think that the incidents and cases being presented are the rai·son d'ê·tre of this or that particular daf of gemara.  It's not.  The rai·son d'ê·tre for this or that daf of gemara is to discuss some deep Torah principle that is exemplified by the incidents and cases being presented.  Of course, Chazal are not going to actually tell you what deep Torah principle is being discussed (that's no fun); it is up to the interested reader to ferret that out by finding the common thread.

Many Torah lectures follow a similar pattern.  (After all, they great Torah speakers were educated bu the gemara itself.)  Usually, though, the speaker will tell you the common thread and then present the cases.  That is how I came to learn some interesting details in דינא דמלכותא דינא -- Literally: the laws of a country are (also) halacha/Jewish law.  Of course obeying your host country's laws is usually a good idea, but sometimes they are also transformed into laws incumbent on you by dint of decree by the Creator of the World -- disobeying that is reckless, self-destructive, and just plain stupid.

To be transform a law from just a good idea (i.e., law decreed by government) to a Law (i.e., HaShem Said so), the law needs to fulfill three criteria:
  1. provides a tangible benefit to the society
  2. is enforced by said government
  3. does not contradict the (Torah) Law
The decrees in the 30s that Jews should wear a yellow star, for example, does not fit the criteria.  Either you consider it simply an annoyance, so (1) knocks it out; or the government was was using it to enable them to more easily target Jews, so (3) knocks it out.  The law against jaywalking in downtown Chicago is most definitely knocked out by (2).  Seat belt (and infant seat) laws, however, are quite often enforced.  Those laws also provide a tangible benefit to the society, as they decrease the severity human carnage due to traffic accidents, thereby decreasing costs to the society in cleaning up messes.  Moreover, it supports the Torah Law of keeping yourself healthy.

Inheritance and bankruptcy present interesting challenges.  R' Moshe feels that bankruptcy laws do, in fact, provide a tangible benefit to society, given the American economic system.  The Torah does not, however, recognize bankruptcy -- if you owe money, you owe money.  There are two ways the poskim deal with that.  First, some invoke the principle of הפקר בית דין הפקר -- basically, the halachic version of eminent domain.  The Jewish court to can (automatically) declare all debts of one who declares bankruptcy to be null and void.  Another approach is that one is allowed to make any stipulation he wants on monetary transactions.  Some poskim feel that in America it is an implicit condition of all transactions that the become null and void if a party declares bankruptcy.

Then there's inheritance, which presents its own issues.


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Sometimes a Food Loses Its Identity When It Loses Its Bracha; Sometimes It Doesn't

Let's start with a question: Why are We Allowed to Drink Coffee and Whiskey Made by Non-Jews?  Before you ask,"Why would I think that I shouldn't be able to drink whiskey and coffee made by non-Jews?", I'll tell you. Simple, we all know that Chazal made a decree -- known as בישול עכו''ם/bishul akim -- that particular foods cooked by non-Jews are forbidden.  There are basically two criteria that determines if a dish falls into this category:
Is not consumed raw.Fit for a royal banquet. Cooked carrots, therefore, are not a problem since they can be eaten raw (I actually prefer them that way).  Baked beans are find because the are not prestigious enough.  (For great synopsis of the laws, see the article on the Star-K site, FOOD FIT FOR A KING, by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita.)  There are lots of cool questions and details (baked potatoes are prestigious, does that make even potato chips and issue?) which are for another time.  Clearly, though, both coffee an…

Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…