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?


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.”