By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
When is it permitted to act upon a possible thief or con man in our midst? When can we warn others about those who engage in affinity crimes?
One example: An employer believes his employee has “sticky fingers.” Can he fire him? Can he force him (where it is legal to do so) to take a polygraph examination? Also, what is the status of a polygraph exam in halachah?
Here’s another: A person is suspected of taking investment money from people on false pretenses based upon the direct allegations of several trustworthy people. Can the person be identified publicly as a warning to others? More importantly, what are the criteria by which one can do so?
The following is this author’s understanding of the halachah. One should, of course, always consult one’s own halachic authority upon any matter that pertains to halachah l’ma’aseh.
A good place to start is the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries. The Rema (C.M. 421:6) rules that a person who has an employee he suspects will steal may ask that employee to leave prior to the termination of his employment contract. The Erech Shai on location (written by Rabbi Shlomo Yehudah Tabak, the av beis din of Sighet) asks how this can be. Based upon this ruling, any employer would be able to fire his employee if he found someone who would work for cheaper simply by stating that he is concerned about theft! The Erech Shai answers that it can only be done if he brings proof that the employee is a thief or if there is “raglayim la’davar,” a strong indication to that effect. Other Acharonim understand the Rema in this manner.
We find that the Rambam (Hilchos Geneivah 5:10) is a strong advocate of the idea of “raglayim la’davar.”
According to the Chofetz Chaim (Hilchos Lashon Ha’ra 7:11), if one’s intentions are truly to save others from losing money, one may relate the facts of the situation without embellishment.
Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, ruled that the polygraph test has the status of a “rov,” a majority, in halachah. The ruling is cited by his son-in-law, Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, in Chashukei Chemed, Bava Metziah 37a). A polygraph certainly has the status of “raglayim la’davar.”
There is also a fascinating Panim Meiros (Vol. II #155) which cites the aforementioned Rema and further states that although based upon “raglayim la’davar” one can actually use physical violence, one may still not use this level of evidence to permit going to the authorities against this person, out of a concern that he will incur a capital punishment.
Rav Elyashiv, zt’l (Kovetz Teshuvos Vol. I #198), used this Panim Meiros to permit a shul to go to the authorities regarding someone who steals pushkas from a shul. This is also indicated from the words of Dayan Weiss, zt’l, in Minchas Yitzchok, Vol. IX #9 s.p. 2 (as cited by Rav Asher Weiss in Yeshurun #15).
How Is Raglayim La’davar Determined?
A rather pertinent question is how to determine the parameters of “raglayim la’davar.” There is a responsum written by Rav Nissim Karelitz, shlita, to one of the dayanim of the well-respected Baltimore beis din, Rabbi Mordechai Shochotowitz, dated 4 Kislev 2008, that states that one may only go to arkaos based upon a written ruling from an experienced beis din and only after the other side had opportunity to present its case. Rav Karelitz thus gives three requirements: (1) The ruling must be written. (2) It must be written by an experienced beis din. (3) The other side must have been given the opportunity to respond to the allegations.
While these three requirements are quite prudent, it is unclear to this author whether other poskim agree to these three criteria based upon the aforementioned Panim Meiros. At times, in regard to financial matters especially, “time is of the essence” is a factor, and renowned gedolei ha’poskim have issued something called an ikul, a temporary injunction, so to speak, which would allow one to go to court without having met these three criteria.
Con Men Are Cunning
Professional con artists are quite adept at “gaming the system.” They can deftly utilize the combination of the laws against going to arkaos and relating “lashon ha’ra” to milk people of their hard-earned money. Unfortunately, media outlets that had originally tried warning the public against such dangers were “put in their place” by well-meaning individuals who trusted and believed the schemers. Ultimately, these outlets were so embittered by the experience that they stopped their efforts in publicizing the warnings.
Sadly, immoral individuals have often applied the following five-step method to ripping off substantial funds from members of our community.
- Give a large donation to an institution with a wealthy donor base. Do so magnanimously and genuinely try to help out that institution, showing that it is dear to your heart.
- Come up with a false, but effective-sounding business plan or investment strategy, and casually talk about it to wealthy individuals.
- Name-drop big company names or people who have signed on, and show false paperwork that “proves” the whole scam.
- Take investment money from others and, at the outset, pay a hefty return on profits. Do so from other moneys that you are receiving.
- Give a significant donation to the cause where a well-liked rabbinic leader stands behind the institution, and develop a relationship with him. You will need to use this relationship in order to attempt to influence him or others around him into helping defend you against those people who realize that you have stolen their money. Articles in the Jewish media can be squashed. This will also help you gain more people from whom to obtain more money.
The above is not a cynical view of the world. It is, unfortunately, a scenario that has been repeated numerous times. It is more prevalent than it should be, in this author’s view, because people are almost entirely unaware of a Torah obligation that is incumbent upon all of us.
Yes, there is a Torah obligation upon all of us to prevent the proliferation of affinity scammers and rip-offs within our community. It is called the obligation to be “chas al mamon Yisrael,” a fulfillment of the Torah mitzvah of “v’ahavata l’rei’acha kamocha.”
The Gemara in Moed Katan 27b tells us that when Jews were burying their dead in the finest clothing, Rabban Gamliel HaZakein arose and declared that enough was enough. The rising pressures, the “keeping up with the Joneses,” in how to dress the deceased was causing enormous economic pressure on the living. “It must stop,” declared the rabbi, and the tachrichim, burial shrouds, we now use became the norm.
The great Tzemach Tzedek (of 17th-century Poland), cited by the Magen Avraham in the beginning of hilchos Shabbos, once ruled (responsum #28) that when local fishermen collude and raise the price of fish excessively, a prohibition can be levied upon the consumption of fish on Shabbos. It may take a week or two or even three, but eventually the collective buying power of ordinary people would force the price back down.
Obligation Upon Everyone
We will see, however, that it is not just great Torah leaders who are concerned for the financial well-being of their fellow Jews. It seems that this is what is expected by the Torah of everyone.
The Gemara (Menachos 76a) tells us that Hashem commanded Moshe to also feed the nation’s livestock from the water that He had caused to come out from the rock at Mei Merivah. Also, Rashi (Rosh Hashanah 27a) points out that the kohen first removes the vessels from the house before declaring a house impure. So we see examples of the Torah being concerned with the financial well-being of the Jewish nation.
The difference between the two cases is that the former is for the entire nation, while the latter demonstrates that the Torah is concerned even for the individual’s finances.
The Chasam Sofer on Bava Basra (54b) states that, generally speaking, one can make the assumption that fellow Jews are concerned with the monetary well-being of their fellow man, and that this assumption has legal ramifications. So we see that it is the normal behavior expected of all Jews.
Rabbi Yaakov ben Asher, author of the Tur, discusses in the Choshen Mishpat section of Shulchan Aruch, chapter 35, a person who does not care about Jewish money. He writes that such a person will, in the future, surely answer for it. The Minchas Chinuch writes that one who is concerned about the preservation of his fellow Jew’s money fulfills the Biblical commandment of v’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha (see his commentary on that mitzvah).
The clear indication from these sources is that demonstrating concern for the financial well-being of others is not just a mitzvah; it is an expected social norm with reward for those who do it and punishment for those who do not.
May Hashem help us in ensuring that such devious activity is eliminated from within our community and our country.
Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com.