By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com
It is an unfortunate reality that happens, although, thankfully they are happening less and less. Robberies do take place and they can be pretty scary. According to the FBI’s statistics there were only 685,766 home robberies in 2018 with an average haul of $8,407 worth of merchandise. Since there are 128 million households in the United States, this means that 1 in 200 homes will be robbed each year. In 2018, most of them (61.4%) were in the daytime.
Our question is, what may one do if the robbery takes place on a Shabbos or Yom Tov? May one call the police?
THE SOURCE IN SHULCHAN ARUCH
The source that contemporary Poskim rule upon regarding such matters is a Shulchan Aruch and Ramah that address a related point in Orech Chaim Siman 329:6-7. He writes that if the enemy is coming regarding matters of money we do not violate the Shabbos, but if they come regarding matters of life and death then we do violate Shabbos. If it is a peripheral or border city – then we violate the Shabbos even if they come only in regard to matters of money. The Ramah adds that in our times, we violate even if they only come for money – because if someone will resist then the robber will surely get violent and it is a risk of life and death.
From this Ramah it seems that one should always call the police even if the matter only pertains to monetary matters.
The Mogain Avrohom (329:5), however, poses a question. Why not just let him take the money and not violate the Shabbos? He answers that perhaps since a person cannot hold himself back when it comes to monetary loss – we are concerned that one of the assembled might take a stand against the robber and it could lead to loss of life. The Mogain Avrohom, therefore, concludes that when there is only one person present – he should let him take the money and not violate the Shabbos – but when others may be present – then on should violate the Shabbos. The Mishna Brurah (329:16-17) rules in accordance with this Mogain Avrohom. He adds that it depends upon also upon the anger and unpredictability of the personalities involved.
The author of the Tzitz Eliezer Vol. II 9:1 applies the same criterion to contemporary Eretz Yisroel, and is generally lenient about calling the police.
It must be made clear that whenever there is even a remote chance of danger to life – one may violate the Shabbos. Indeed, one who does not do so is in violation of “lo saamod al dam rayacha – do not stand idly by your brother’s blood” – a Torah prohibition.
WHAT ABOUT AFTER THE ROBBERY?
Interestingly enough, when the discussion is after a robbery has already taken place – some Poskim take a stringent view and do not allow for any Shabbos violation. The Shmiras Shabbos K’hilchasa (41:24) writes that when there is no danger whatsoever, such as after a robbery has already transpired – it is forbidden to violate the Shabbos.
In a publication printed by Baltimore’s North West Citizens Patrol, whose text was approved by Rav Moshe Heinemann, the following guidelines appear:
- If a crime has recently occurred and one has information that may lead to the apprehension of the perpetrator, one should ask a non-Jew to call the police (for example, if one has the license plate number or the description of the perpetrator).
- If a crime has recently occurred and there is reason to believe that if the police are called, the perpetrator might be prevented from committing another crime (e.g. either because the police might catch the perpetrator or because a heightened state of alert might prevent him from committing another crime), one should ask a non-Jew to call the police (for example, someone’s house has recently been burglarized).
- If enough time has passed since the crime occurred that the perpetrator is probably out of the area, one may not ask a non-Jew to call the police (for example, if one wakes up in the morning and finds the window of their car smashed). However, one may mention the incident to a non-Jewish neighbor and if that neighbor chooses to notify the police, it is his prerogative.
- In all of these situations, when the police arrive, one should answer all of the questions he is asked, in detail, even though the police are writing every word being said.
This author would like to provide sources that suggest that the afore-mentioned views are not universal and there might be ample room to violate the Shabbos in these circumstances as well – the reason being is that we may actually be misjudging the true danger to life in these situations. Of course, each person should ask his or her own Posaik and not rely upon printed articles as in all matters of halacha. Let’s take cases #1 and #2. If a crime has recently occurred – they may very well enter another house in the area and loss of life can chas veshalom ensue. In this situation, the sources found below would indicate that one should not look for a gentile but should call the police on one’s own. In case #3, there may be a difference between a house window being smashed and a car window being smashed. It is this author’s view that a home window being smashed may result in a future robbery where one may, in this author’s view, ask a gentile to call the police even if the perpetrator may be out of the area.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach in Minchas Shlomo Vol. I #7 cites a debate between the RaZa and the Ranban regarding whether a Bris Mila that was to take place on Shabbos morning. The problem was that the herbs and paraphernalia that were prepared beforehand somehow disappeared. May one proceed with the Bris while knowing that the Pikuach Nefesh situation might would necessitate them obtaining new herbs? The Razah forbids it but the Ranban permits it entirely.
Rav Aurbach zt”l also discusses the possibility of the gentiles finding out that Jews will not be calling the police and thus Shabbos robberies might increase. Rav Aurbach concludes that one could in such a situation call the police. He argues that even according to the Razah the prohibition is Rabbinic in origin. It could very well be that this was the meaning of the Mishna Brurah himself when he stated the notions of anger and unpredictibility of the individuals involved. It should also be noted that in contemporary times the technology is such that informing the police is a Rabbinic violation not a Torah one.
Once again, the reader is urged to ask their own Rav or Posaik regarding this matter.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org