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Does Judaism Allow Jaywalking or Speeding?

Does Judaism Allow Jaywalking or Speeding?

 Email

I admit, not only do I sometimes drive slightly over the speed limit, I also jaywalk in the streets of my quiet neighborhood. Recently a friend told me that while the police don’t generally give tickets for either of these things, they are technically illegal and therefore forbidden for Jews under the halachic obligation to follow the law of the land (dina demalchuta dina). Is my friend correct? If yes, how far does this rule extend?

Reply

Both laws you mentioned were put in place to keep people safe, so it goes without saying that driving at a reckless speed or crossing in a place where an accident can be caused is forbidden under the Torah obligation to safeguard your life and the lives of those around you.

Now, how about jaywalking where there is nary a moving car in sight, or going just a bit above the speed limit?

The Law of the Land

Your friend is correct in that there is indeed a dictum in Jewish law that dina demalchuta dina, which translates as “the law of the land is the law.”1 Thus, one is generally obligated to adhere to any just civil laws of the land, provided that they don’t contradict Torah (for example, if the government were to make a law outlawing circumcision or the Sabbath, the dictum “the law of the land is the law” would obviously not apply, since it is in violation of Torah law).2

But what if the government doesn’t even enforce its own jaywalking law? Does the Torah expect us to comply nevertheless?

Weird Laws

The truth is that this question is not just about jaywalking (which in many situations is arguably an issue of protecting one’s wellbeing), but may be extended to many other laws that are still on the books but are never enforced.

For example, Google searches for “weird laws” yield results such as “Slippers are not to be worn after 10 PM” (New York), or “Hamburgers are not to be eaten on Sundays” (St. Cloud, Minnesota). Assuming these laws actually exist, would Torah really expect me to follow them since they are the law of the land?

Laws That Are Not Enforced

There is much discussion about the parameters of the rule dina demalchuta dina, and most (albeit not all) are of the opinion that it does not apply to laws that the government itself is not particular about and does not enforce.3 So when it comes to the question of jaywalking or going just a bit over the speed limit, it would really depend on each particular locale. (And eating a hamburger on Sunday is fine, provided that it is kosher.)

Interestingly, just a few weeks ago, while hearing oral arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States, Chief Justice John Roberts admitted to driving 60 miles an hour in a 55-mile-an-hour zone.4 The point that he was trying to make was that, in his opinion, if there is a government form asking you to list any illegal activities you may have done, it would obviously not include such activities, even though they are technically “illegal.” Thus, even the courts recognize that not all illegal activity is included in the term “illegal activity.”

Footnotes
1.
Talmud, Gittin 10b and Nedarim 28a.
2.
See Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 73:14 and Siftei Kohen (Shach) ad loc 39.
3.
See Nachalah L’Yisrael, p. 43, citing the opinions of Ramban, Nimukei Yosef, Rabbeinu Yonah and Beit Yosef, among many others. See there where he explains that the authorities who disagree (including Rabbi Moshe Isserles (Rema) and Rashba) do so only in situations dealing with laws of acquisition and the like: since people are engaging in commerce based on these laws, it wouldn’t matter that the government isn’t particular to enforce these specific rules. Thus, even these opinions would agree in other situations that it depends on whether the government enforces these rules.
4.
“Transcript—Supreme Court of the United States.” https://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/2016/16-309_b97c.pdf (accessed June 15, 2017).
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Rosanne Stinchcombe UK. June 29, 2017

The whole law is of course summed up in ' You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart , soul and mind and love your neighbour as yourself.' so - anything that endangers life or the quality of life of others is an infringement of the law - that simple . Reply

Chaim OK June 24, 2017

Are we pleasing G-d with our actions? This article really tried not to answer this question, so allow me to try to do what the author did not. Is Jaywalking and speeding breaking the law? Yes. Therefore it is a violation of dina demalchuta dina a breaking of Jewish law.

However. We do have tiers of laws in the USA. Speeding is a minor moving violation (unless you are 15 or more MPH over the limit). Jaywalking is a misdemeanor offense. Unenforced law is a cannard, if there is a legal statute that you violate, then you have broken the law and thus broken dina demalchuta dina.

IMO not all of Jewish law concerns itself directly with pleasing Hashem. We need to ask ourselves if Hashem is pleased with us. Do our actions bring credit and glory to Hashem, or does it bring shame. Ask yourself these kinds of questions: am I speeding to prevent being late to an important meeting to help someone, or am I always speeding because I am habitually late? What is in your heart when you do what you do. See the difference? Reply

Anonymous June 23, 2017

The problem with this article and discussion is that these days the public laws almost never exist to protect us. Most of them, including "safety" laws, exist only to concentrate power in the hands of bureaucrats, officials, and other elites, at the expense of ... all the rest of us.

It shouldn't be that way, it wasn't always that way, but that's the way it has been, all around the modern world, for at least the past several decades. As a Jew who accepts "Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof" as a command, these facts make my blood boil and leave me feeling somewhat helpless. Reply

Yoel Leib June 22, 2017

On the topic of speeding, Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat was once stopped for speeding while trying to rush back to the scene of a terrorist-attack. He wasn't in a car that the police recognized and hence was pulled over for speeding.

This is funny not just because he was a politician stopped for speeding, but also that in Israel its not super common to be stopped for speeding like it is in America! Reply

David Palo Alto June 23, 2017
in response to Yoel Leib:

About speeding in Israel Knowing Israel, let me tell you even more than that. In early times of Israel we had this joke: "A driver is pulled over by the police. The policeman asks the driver: Do you know why I stopped you? The driver answers: Because I drove too fast? The policeman answers: No, I am going to write you a ticket for flying too low." Reply

Anonymous June 21, 2017

I think if you follow the Commandments to the letter of the Law, recognize the Feasts, Tithe to the T, forgive and pray for those who insult you, love your neighbor and most of all. love our G_D with all your mind, soul and strength.. You'll have your hands full.

Reply

Karen E Brooklyn June 21, 2017

perhaps this is a good time to remind people that texting while driving is illegal and endangers lives. Reply

Alan Klein June 20, 2017

Two weeks ago I got a speeding ticket from a Connecticut State Trooper. He would have been amused if I gave him this explanation. Well I was going 20mph faster than the limit. As a New Yorker who has jaywalking in his genes, I was once in St Paul Minn, and jaywalked across a street that was completely empty of cars, parked or moving. I was stopped by a policeman who told me to wait for the light. fortunately, I held my tongue. But seriously, aren't we putting ourselves on a slippery slop when we decide which laws to follow. How about padding our expense accounts, just a little like everyone else? What about inflating our charitable contributions on our tax returns? Eating out Chinese once in a while isn't really non-Kosher is it? Reply

Joe westcliffe CO June 27, 2017
in response to Alan Klein:

What eating Chinese is forbidden? what is wrong about it? I pretty much get the vegie chow mien. maybe once I a great while the sweet and sour chicken. I don't know of where those would break Torah. Please enlighten?
Reply

David June 20, 2017

According the Rambam: "Dina the Malchuta Dina". That means that Jews have to obey all public laws of the land (as long as it doesn't conflict with the Torah's laws). Let alone that those laws exist to protect us and the laws of the Torah explicitly require us to protect our lives. Reply

Dr. Katherine Hans Von Rotes Schild Zitler-Rothschild San Francisco June 20, 2017

The law of the land is important, however sometimes the law of the law is immoral such as the case in Nazi Germany. Reply

Michael Sydney June 21, 2017
in response to Dr. Katherine Hans Von Rotes Schild Zitler-Rothschild:

100 percent hope history doesn't repeat it self? Reply

J. Sheff Santa Rosa June 20, 2017

In general, does Halacha supersede local laws?

If so, what differentiates the stance of Orthodox Judaism from that of Islam, which is said to believe that Sharia is the only just law.?

If a secular law could be interpreted as as conflicting with a Noachide "mitzvah" would the rabbis state that no one of any faith should obey that law? Reply

Yosef Broward June 19, 2017

What about the present laws that make certain natural homeopathic life saving drugs and non toxic treatments illegal?

Two of these holistic medicine and natural medicinal treatments are: Cannibas oil extract a known cure for epilectic humans and cancer patients. Also extreme high doses of vitamin C to cure simplex herpes virus and the pig flu?

What about these life saving drugs among other natural drugs that are illegal and draconian laws are enforced unto it. What does the law say against life saving medicine? Should they be banned by secular law and Torah law? Reply