Reporting to the Authorities
This is the approved revision of this page, as well as being the most recent.
Prohibition to Report to the Authorities
- It is forbidden to inform upon another Jew to have him taken by non-Jews. Anyone who does so loses their share in Olam Haba.
- If a Jew owes a non-Jew money and is running away, another Jew who knows shouldn't inform the non-Jew of the whereabouts of the Jew. If he does he isn't obligated to pay for his fellow's loss since that person didn't lose any money.
- A landlord who doesn't properly take care of his tenants such as if he doesn't heat the buildings (which is illegal) some say that it is forbidden to inform upon him to the government without first asking a bet din.
- Someone who tells his friend that he's going to report him to the government some say that he is considered a moser. Others argue.
- Someone who threatens giving people to the authorities isn't disqualified for being a witness.
- Some poskim hold that there is no prohibition of mesira in a Western country where the laws are just and equally applicable to Jews and non-Jews and aren't anti-Semitic. There would not be a prohibition if in the case that the criminal was convicted he would be punished according to the law. However, if he would be punished in excess of his crime in an unfair manner there would be a prohibition of mesira to report him to the authorities. Before engaging in mesira one must consult with rabbis and the relevant professionals. Rav Elimelech Schachter (Bet Yitzchak v. 39 p. 105) writes that mesira generally doesn't apply in a fair society such as America, but during the Red Scare in the 50s there was a bias against communists especially Jewish ones, and so mesira would still apply.
- A minority of poskim disagree and apply mesira to America.
Menace to the Public
- Someone who is engaged in forgery and endangers the public he should be warned and if he continues he can be informed upon to the authorities. This establishes the rule that it is permitted to report a public menace.
- Someone who is driving recklessly even after being warned should be reported to a bet din and with approval reported to the police because of the danger it poses to the public.
- There is a communal responsibility to confront and curtail child abuse. There is a biblical obligation to help someone in danger and not stand idly by.
- Even if the victim says that they should leave the perpetrator alone there is nonetheless an obligation to help the victim.
- A teacher who is abusive to children can be reported to authorities since he is damaging the public. It is important to deal with the issue immediately to help the victims and to get accurate testimonies.
- A parent who is physically or sexually is abusive to his child can be reported to the authorities. However, if there is a concern that if they are reported the child will be removed from his parent's house which was a religious house and placed in a non-religious house it is only permitted if there is a concern of a fatal danger. A rabbi should be consulted.
- It is permitted for a doctor who knows that a woman is being beaten up by her husband to report it to the authorities.
- If someone is aware of someone who is spying for another country, whereby they could reveal important information of one government's army, weaponry, etc it would be permitted to do mesira on such a person since they are endangering the lives of the public.
Testimony from Invalid Witnesses
- Testimony from a child can be accepted in a case where no other witnesses are available. However, in cases of uncertainty one should consult a professional communal figure or bet din who deals with these issues before reporting.
Reporting a Thief or Someone Cheating on Taxes
- If they suspect that a jew stole something, it is permitted to give in the thief so that they don’t suspect all the Jews. It is removing a chilul Hashem.
- If a criminal is cheating on taxes or another illegal business if the sentence he would receive isn't unfair it isn't mesira to report him. Nonetheless, it is an issue to report him because it is considered returning a lost object to a non-Jew. It is only permitted to report him if there would otherwise be a chilul Hashem. For example, if a person is subpoenaed to testify against someone who is stealing from the government he should comply because otherwise there would be a chilul Hashem.
- It is permitted to work for a tax collection agency and report Jews cheating on taxes.
Aiding a Thief
- It is forbidden to inform a thief of the whereabouts of your fellow Jew's property and if someone does so and the thief takes away his money the informer must repay for his fellow's loss. That is true when the informer volunteered the information. If he was forced by the thief he is exempt. If he was forced to show them his own property and he instead showed them his fellow's property he is liable to pay.
- It is forbidden to report a fellow Jew to the authorities or government if he injured or damaged you or your property without first consulting a bet din. If the bet din agrees they can authorize a person to go to the authorities if they see fit.
- If an employer and employee get into a dispute they should go to a bet din. If one of them sues the other in court they should be put excommunication until they removed that suit.
Obligation to Report a Public Menace
- Shulchan Aruch CM 388:9
- Rama 388:12
- Mishneh Halachot 12:451
- Rama C.M. 388:8. Chelkat Yakov CM 5 quotes two explanations of when the lenient opinion would agree and offers his own. 1) If he always keeps his word (Mahari Asad YD 299), 2) He reported to the government previously (Bet Yosef 34:32), 3) If he stated that he was going to report to the government if the other party didn't do something.
- Chelkat Yakov CM 5 writes that since many kosher people think that it is permitted to report to the government someone who does so isn't disqualified as a witness.
- Shach 388:20, Aruch Hashulchan 388:7 in footnote, Tzitz Eliezer 19:52, Rav Schachter ("Should I Call the Police?" min 7-8) on torahweb.org
- Rav Schachter ("Should I Call the Police?" min 7-9) on torahweb.org explained that if on the books the criminal deserves to sit in the prison for 10 years and if convicted he would get that sentence then it isn't an issue of mesira. However, if in prison he’ll be abused then it is mesira since he is getting an unfair sentence. To determine what his sentence might be it is important to consult with rabbis and social workers.
- Mishneh Halachot 12:451 maintains that the prohibition of informing upon another Jew to the authorities obviously applies to America. Chelkat Yakov CM 5 (regarding Antwerp) writes that mesira to the authorities today is prohibited even if the laws aren't antisemitic because there is a concern that they will take advantage of the Jew once he's convicted.
- Rama C.M. 388:12, Taz YD 157:8
- Rav Schachter ("Should I Call the Police?" min 9) on torahweb.org. Erech Hachaim Bhalacha cites Rav Yakov Emden in Even Bochen 1:75-6 who writes that it is permitted and proper to report someone who is endangering the public by injuring non-Jews or defrauding them. One proof is that the Jews gave Shimshon to the Plishtim because he killed sixty plishtim and he endangered the Jews. Rav Emden cites Sefer Chasidim 699 as a support.
- Minchat Yitzchak 8:148
- Rav Asher Weiss and Rav Zalman Nechemya Goldberg in Yeshurun v. 15 pp. 634-666 cited by Rabbi Reiss (Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Spring 2012 pp. 6-21)
- Vayikra 19:16
- Rabbi Reiss (Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Spring 2012 pp. 6-21) writes that just like we find with respect to a rodef that there is an obligation to rescue a victim even if the victim says to leave the assailant alone (Rambam Rotze'ach 1:13) that is also applicable to abuse cases. The Sama CM 426:12 explains that we're concerned that the victim merely says not to pursue the abuser out of fear that he will become a victimized further if the assailant is irritated.
- Tzitz Eliezer 19:52, Rav Schachter ("Should I Call the Police?" min 4) on torahweb.org. Rabbi Reiss (Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Spring 2012 pp. 6-21) supports Rabbi Asher Weiss, Rav Zalman Nechemya Goldberg, and Rav Elyashiv who hold that there is not mesira when reporting a child molester. He explains that the government needs to deal with criminal law since bet din today can only deal with civil law. Second since the Gemara Bava Metsia 83a explains that a government worker can hand over Jews to the authorities a mandated reporter might have that same status. Third, sexual molestation is a crime with severe punishments. Fourth, mesira doesn't apply to a country with a fair government. Lastly, a child molester is a public menace. However, Mishneh Halachot 16:58 writes that a doctor who figures out about sexual abuse can't report it to the government since he found out from the child and that isn't two kosher male adult witnesses who witnessed the sin. Therefore, they should report it to the bet din and not government.
- Nishmat Avraham v. 4 CM 388 quotes Rav Elyashiv that if someone knows about abuse of a teacher he should report it to the principal and if they don't take care of the issue he should report it to the police.
- Rav Schachter ("Should I Call the Police?" min 9-12) on torahweb.org
- Tzitz Eliezer 19:52. Nishmat Avraham v. 4 CM 388 quotes Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach that if a doctor sees that a child is physically abused by a parent and there is a pikuach nefesh concern it is permitted for the doctor to report an abusive parent to the government even if that means that they might remove the child from being in a Jewish home. Afterwards one should endeavor to get the child to a religious home.
- Mishneh Halachot 16:58 writes that it is forbidden to report a parent who is physically abusive to his child since he could just be hitting him for chinuch. Even if the parent is hitting out of anger you can't report them since the government might take away the child and that would constitute kidnapping. Rather they should report it to bet din and they should determine what to do. The Torah empowers parents to raise their children. By reporting them and having children taken from their parents it is negative for several things: 1) It is kidnapping, 2)It is preventing the father from fulfilling chinuch, 3) It is robbing the children of parents. It is important to report it to the bet din. They should first warn the parents. Even if it is pikuach nefesh they should go to the bet din. Mishneh Halachot 14:60 writes that a woman who reported her abusive husband to the courts and police violated mesira. He goes further that a get that she would give is invalid until the pressure from the police is removed.
- Rav Schachter ("Should I Call the Police?" min 12-13) on torahweb.org explained that it is permitted to report physical abuse since it is preventing further abuse.
- Rav Elimelech Schachter (Bet Yitzchak v. 39 p. 104)
- Rama C.M. 35:14. Rav Elyashiv (Yeshurun v. 15 p. 640-643) writes that it is permitted to report to the government when there is a certain knowledge that someone is physically or sexually abusing children. He cites Rashba 3:393 that in certain cases the rabbis of the generation can permit litigate based on invalid testimony for the need of the time. Rabbi Reiss (Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Spring 2012 pp. 6-21) writes that even in uncertain cases there are the following considerations to pursue an allegation based on unclear evidence: 1) if the accused is really innocent the authorities will acquit him, 2) in most cases of an allegation there is truth to the claim, 3) even though one can't accept lashon hara he should take the proper precautions (Shoel Umeishiv 1:185). However, each of these claims are questionable. Therefore he suggests consulting a professional community liason, bet din, or posek.
- Rabbi Reiss (Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, Spring 2012 pp. 6-21) defends the idea of checking with an authority first partially based on concerns of chilul Hashem.
- Rav Schachter ("Should I Call the Police?" min 7) on torahweb.org
- Rav Schachter ("Should I Call the Police?" min 3-7) on torahweb.org
- Shevet Halevi 2:18
- Shulchan Aruch CM 388:2
- Rama 388:2
- Rama 388:5 writes that it isn't considered mesira if report another Jew in order to get back your money as long as your intent isn't to injure him. But some disagree and consider it mesira if he was warned. Shach 388:26 is strict. He says that even the lenient opinion isn't lenient if there is another option. Mishneh Halachot 14:191 writes that if you could have gone to bet din and instead went to a non-Jewish court you are in violation of mesira. Teshuvot Vehanhagot 5:362:5 concludes that if you have a claim against another Jew you need to first go to a bet din and not to the authorities.
- Igrot Moshe CM 1:6 writes that one can't sue another Jew in secular court to retrieve his money and if he does he should be put in excommunication until that is retracted based on Shulchan Aruch CM 388:5.