z2Halachic Musings

By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

It is frustrating to see illegally or thoughtlessly parked cars. It is quite maddening to see someone who parks his car so inconsiderately that he makes it difficult for others to get through a narrow crossway.

To address this issue, some entrepreneurs have conceived of a sticker that can be placed upon the offender’s windshield or driver-side window with an extra-strong adhesive backing. The stickers take quite some time for the driver to remove. The upshot is that a driver will think twice before parking inconsiderately again.

It must also be noted that parking illegally is a form of trespassing, which is a form of actual theft. How do we define trespassing? From an American law perspective, trespassing is the act of illegally going onto somebody else’s property without permission, which could just be a civil-law tort (allowing the owner to sue for damages) or it could be a criminal matter.

What exactly is the halachic violation? The violation is that of stealing. The Talmud (Bava Basra 88a) records a debate between Rabbi Yehudah and the Sages as to whether borrowing an item without permission renders a person a gazlan, a thief, or whether he simply has the status of a borrower. Rabbi Yehudah maintains that he does not have the halachic status of a thief, while the Sages maintain that he does. The Rif and the Rambam both rule in accordance with the Sages–he is considered a thief. Indeed, this is also the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch in four different places (CM 292:1, 308:7, 359:5, 363:5).

Does this apply in all cases? In the case of trespassing, there is no value per se in setting foot on the person’s property. While this may be the case, the Chazon Ish (BK 20:5) writes that the prohibition of sho’el shelo mida’as (one who borrows without permission) applies even when the item is not something that generally has a market value, or even if the value is less than that of a perutah.

How do we know that borrowing without permission also applies to being on someone’s land, or parking illegally? Maybe it can be argued that in order to “borrow,” you have to physically take an object; here, you are just taking up space on someone’s land.

The Rashbam in Bava Basra 57b discusses a case of a piece of property owned by two partners. The Rashbam writes that we are lenient and assume that one partner allows the other to place his animals on the land even without explicitly giving permission. In such a case, he would not be considered a sho’el shelo mida’as since they, in general, are partners, and would let the other do what he wants with their property. According to the Rashbam, therefore, when not dealing with two partners of a property, trespassing would be subsumed under the concept of sho’el shelo mida’as. Therefore, the one who parks in such a manner is guilty of theft.

So clearly, no one is arguing that the person has a right to park in that manner. The question is, may we sticker him?

The temptation to sticker an offending automobile is quite great, indeed, almost overwhelming. And, of late, some shuls have posted signs to that effect–that if anyone is either illegally parked or is blocking or partially blocking access, they will be stickered. Nonetheless, it seems that it is clearly forbidden.

The Shulchan Aruch (CM 378:1) writes: “It is forbidden to damage the property of his friend, and if he does so he must pay full damages.” The Sma points out that the Shulchan Aruch mentions both a prohibition as well as a financial obligation to pay in order to highlight that both of these issues are pertinent–it is both a halachic prohibition as well as a financial issue.

The Gemara (Bava Kamma 48a) discusses a case where a person brought his bull onto the private property of another and the owner of that property damaged the bull–the owner is exempt from paying damages. Rav Pappa, however, qualifies it and says that it is only true when the owner damaged the bull without knowing about it. But if he damaged the bull knowing about it, the owner of the bull may say, “Granted you have the right to throw me out, but you do not have the right to damage me.”

The statement of Rav Pappa is wholly applicable in our case. The placing of a sticker on the windshield or window is damaging because the glue must be carefully removed and the time that it takes to remove it is not insignificant.

Possible Counterarguments

One might point to the Shulchan Aruch (CM 412:2), where it states, “If someone had filled and placed pitchers across the public thoroughfare in a manner that others cannot pass, even if another broke them with his hands that person is exempt from payment.” The problem is that in the Shulchan Aruch’s case, the breaking of the pitchers serves to allow access. Here, however, the stickering of the car does not help anyone get through. So it is tantamount to just plain damaging or vandalizing.

One might also make the argument based upon the Gemara in Bava Kamma (28a) that a messenger of a beis din is even permitted to damage if there is no other way to save an item (see Sma 8:25). But again, the stickering does not help the situation now and, secondly, the shul officers are not a beis din.

What about the shul acting in a capacity to enforce halachah? There is a debate between the Nesivos and the Ketzos HaChoshen (CM Chapter 3) in regard to whether individuals can take upon themselves to stop someone from doing something wrong. The Nesivos is of the opinion that individuals do have this “citizen’s arrest” type of power. The Ketzos HaChoshen, however, writes that this power is unique to beis din, and the halachah is in accordance with the Ketzos.

Perhaps there is another angle. There is a halachic tool called an anan sahadi, which literally means “the entire world testifies.” The anan sahadi is not a tool of little consequence. In theory, one can argue that there may be a legal form of acquiescence here.

How so? One could perhaps make an argument that there is an anan sahadi that a person would rather be stickered than towed, and, therefore, there should not be a prohibition in stickering their car. The counter to this is that, when dealing with a shul, the person parking is expecting that the shul administration will perhaps be upset, but they will not tow him. The anan sahadi, therefore, does not really exist.

There is one last attempt. If we look at the driver as not just someone who is damaging now, but someone who does so continuously, then perhaps we can utilize the principle of Rav Nachman (Bava Kamma 27b) entitled, “avid inesh dina d’nafshai” that a person is allowed to take action outside of court in order to prevent himself from sustaining damage. However, the Sfas Emes (Berachos 5b) states specifically that the parameters of “avid inesh dina d’nafshai” that a person is allowed to take action outside of court is only in terms of taking back his own item.

More Than Halachah

Stickering is also illegal in New York State. When a person destroys property illegally, it is not called vandalism–in New York it is called criminal mischief. There are four levels of criminal mischief in New York, and they range from the lowest level, criminal mischief in the fourth degree, which is a misdemeanor, to criminal mischief in the first degree.

The lowest level covers any destruction of property by vandalism with a value up to $250. It is a separate criminal charge if someone is caught with possession of a graffiti tool. The question whether the sticker is considered a graffiti tool would be what the judge would decide. Regardless, this is a misdemeanor, and is punishable by up to one year in jail with the possibility of probation, community service, and fines.

The next level of criminal mischief is criminal mischief in the third degree, a felony. The violator faces a minimum of a year and a day in prison. This covers destruction of property of over $250 and up to $1,500.

Criminal mischief in the second degree is damage to property over $1,500 and is a Class D felony.

The final level of criminal mischief is criminal mischief in the first degree, which is a Class B felony. This occurs when property is destroyed by use of explosive. Hopefully, shul officers are not so angered that they would resort to this level of deterrence.

Last Issue

There is one final issue. Depending upon the intention of the stickerer, he could very well be violating a Torah prohibition of seeking revenge (see Rambam Hilchos Deyos 7:7). What would be the halachah if he has two intentions–one of revenge and the other of trying to prevent further parking abuse? The Mishnah Berurah 38:24 cites a Magen Avraham about a person’s double intention when performing a mitzvah, and states that it generally follows one’s main intent. v

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