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The Good Samaritan: Monetary Aspects
Rabbi Aaron Kirschenbaum

The Good Samaritan: Monetary Aspects
Rabbi Aaron Kirschenbaum

In the 1960's, American society was deeply shocked to read about the tragic death of Kitty Genovese, a young woman who was murdered by a mugger on the streets of Queens, despite 38 witnesses who saw what was happening or who heard her cries for help and did not so much as lift a finger to call the police for assistance. In the wake of that horrifying callousness, many conferences were held, much soul-searching took place, to probe the causes and the frequency of this type of behavior.

The position of Jewish law in such a case is well known, being based on the biblical imperative "lo ta'amod al dam re'echa" (Leviticus 19:16) - a person must not stand idly by while he sees his fellow Jew in danger of life or limb.

Not only his life, but even his possession must also be saved if possible. This law has been discussed previously in this Journal, in Volume IX, "The Sotheby's Case -- A Halachic Perspective" by Rabbi Simcha Kraus.

In the present essay, I will focus on the monetary features of this halacha, which requires the bystander to make efforts to rescue, whether it be life, limb, or property. In this regard, three aspects of the halacha will be considered:

  1. The expenditures required of the rescuer.
  2. The compensation due to the rescuer.
  3. The damages caused by the rescuer.

The monetary rights and obligations arising out of a rescue situation are governed by three halachot: (1) The mitzvah nature of the act. The Torah commands, lo ta'amod al dam re'echa, Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor (Leviticus 19:16), which the Rabbis interpreted to mean that "if one person is able to save another and does not save him, he transgresses the commandment."1 (2) The construction of the duty to save life and limb as an extension of the well-known duty to restore lost articles (hashavat avedah). Thus, the Talmud explains: "Whence do we know [that one must save his neighbor from] the loss of himself? From the verse, and thou shalt restore it to him2 (Deuteronomy 22:2).3 (3) An implied employer-employee relationship, where the rescued is construed as the employer of the rescuer. The definition of the nature and rules of this relationship has been transmitted to us as part of the Oral Tradition (yored she-lo birshut).

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