Yisro: Business on the Up & Up- Lifnim Mishuras Hadin

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The Journal of Talmudic Law & Finance

Business on the Up & Up – Lifnim Mishuras Hadin


In this week’s Parshah the Torah relates the episode in which Yisro suggests to Moshe Rabbeinu to set up a judiciary to judge the Jewish nation. Yisro told Moshe that he should instruct the judges, “את הדרך ילכו בה ואת המעשה אשר יעשון- The way in which they shall go and the action that they shall do.”  The Gemora (Bava Metziah, 30b) explains that the Torah is giving two instructions here: Firstly the judges should adhere to the law as laid down by the Halachah. Secondly, there is a Mitzvah from the Torah to act לפנים משורת הדין – to go beyond the strict letter of the law.

Above the Letter of the Law


In this week’s issue, we will clarify and explore the Torah’s view on going above and beyond the actual Halacha & conducting our businesses and social lives on the ……up and up.


 Click here for this week’s Featured Audio Shiur by Rav Yosef Greenwald:

Above the Letter of the Law

Choshen Mishpat Chiddush

Choshen Mishpat ChiddushHeavenly Obligations

Many Choshen Mishpat obligations or Bais Din awards are categorized as a “Chiyuv Latzes Yidei Shamayim” – heavenly obligation. In those instances Bais Din cannot obligate or enforce a specific obligation, but rather the defendant would have a moral obligation to pay. There is a difference of opinion if this obligation is one of monetary nature between “man and his friend”, or rather a Mitzva between “man and his Creator” similar to Tzedaka or the satisfaction of a Neder- a personal vow. This distinction carries with it many technical differences in regards to these types of awards.


Click here for an audio in depth analysis.

Choshen Mishpat Chiddush
Special Tu B'Shvat Audio Shiur by Rav Shrage Kallus Tu B’Shvat Audio Shiur
Parsha Perspectives from the Archives
Parsha Perspectives Parshas Yisro:

Taking the Call


Halachic Headlines: Lost Wallets in the News & in Halacha

Lost Wallets in the News & in Halacha

By: Rabbi Yitzchok Grossman


A classic ethical dilemma of the modern American zeitgeist is whether to return a lost wallet full of cash that one has found.  A quick search of the news turns up several recent examples:  Earl Weldon, an off duty security officer, returned a wallet that he found containing more than $200 in cash;  Brian Christopher, a

49-year-old homeless Navy veteran, turned in to the police a wallet containing $172, even though he was tempted to use the money to buy “nice presents” for his three children, because he knew that keeping it “wasn’t the right thing to do”, and a Baltimore couple who found a vacationer’s wallet went home, Googled the owner’s name, and promptly returned the lost property. [1]


Lifnim Mishuras Hadin


It is interesting that the lost wallet scenario is such an iconic moral dilemma, since the Halachah is often that the finder is not actually obligated to return it “midina”, since there is generally an assumption that the owner has given up hope of regaining his property (“yeush”), which removes the normal obligation of a finder to return lost property. [2]


Note that we have said “midina”, for there still remains an

obligation to return it “lifnim mishuras hadin”.  What, exactly, is

this category of obligation?  Is it purely optional, and, as former

Vice President Cheney infamously once said of conservation, merely

“a sign of personal virtue?”


It seems that the distinction between “din” and “lifnim mishuras hadin”cannot be simply that the former category is mandatory, while the latter is non-binding, for there is actually a dispute among the Rishonim whether a court will compel one to act “lifnim mishuras hadin”, with some maintaining that it will.  If such conduct is, indeed, enforceable by the court, what distinguishes the two categories?

In this Issue:

Choshen Mishpat Chiddush

Related Video
Fundamentals of Returning Lost Objects
Fundamentals of
Returning Lost Objects

OU Choshen Mishpat Series
Related Audio
Hashavas Aveida: Lifnim Mishuras HaDin
Hashavas Aveida: Lifnim Mishuras Hadin
By: Rav Dov Kahan 
Parameters of Chessed: Obligations and Beyond
Parameters of Chessed: Obligations & Beyond
By: Rav Shrage Kallus 
Yerushalayim Second Seder Shiurim
Shiurim from the Yerushalayiim Second Seder Program

Rav Zalman Nechemiah Goldberg explains that indeed, the distinction is something else entirely: “din” is a set of sweeping, broadly applicable rules, and layered on top of them is the standard of “lifnim mishuras hadin”, situational guidelines that cannot be rigidly formulated in the abstract, but that instruct us to consider the individual circumstances of each particular case.  Thus, the Poskim direct us to weigh the relative wealth of the opposing claimants, as well as the level of piety of he who has the “din” on his side. [3]


Compassion and the Civil Court


Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court John Roberts eloquently presented his view of the judge’s duty, during his Senate confirmation hearings:


“I had someone ask me in this process – I don’t remember who it was, but somebody asked me, you know, “Are you going to be on the side of the little guy?” And you obviously want to give an immediate answer, but, as you reflect on it, if the Constitution says that the little guy should win, the little guy’s going to win in court before me. But if the Constitution says that the big guy should win, well, then the big guy’s going to win, because my obligation is to the Constitution. That’s the oath. The oath that a judge takes is not that, “I’ll look out for particular interests, I’ll be on the side of particular interests.” The oath is to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States. And that’s what I would do. …


And it’s, again, what’s carved above the doors to the Supreme Court:

“Equal justice under law.” And the judicial oath talks about doing justice without regard to persons, to rich and to poor. And that, of course, is critically important.” [4]


The Torah’s Perspective

On the one hand, this seems to be exactly what the Torah (L’Havdil) twice commands us, unambiguously:


ve’dal lo sehedar be’rivo (Shemos 23:4) lo sisa pene dal (Vayikra 19:15)


But on the other hand, we have already noted that some Poskim authorize the court to enforce an obligation of “lifnim mishuras hadin”, which will often derive from the indigence of one of the parties.


And so, Dr. Michael Vigoda argues, from this and other sources, that contrary to two separate rulings of secular Israeli judges that both invoked the above Biblical injunctions to impartiality as grounds for the summary rejection of appeals for clemency based on the poor financial circumstances of the defendants, the Torah’s true attitude is more nuanced:


“In summary, it seems that it is not correct to rely on the verse “ve’dal lo sehedar be’rivo” to justify the refusal to reduce the penalty that is assessed as a punishment against a poor man.” [5]


Lifnim Mishuras Hadin in the Responsa Literature


The requirement of acting “lifnim mishuras hadin” occasionally appears in formal responsa; we close with two examples.


Rav Moshe Teitelbaum (the Yismach Moshe) discusses an engagement contract that required the bride’s father to produce an agreed upon dowry by a specific deadline, which he failed to meet, and the groom’s father therefore wished to terminate the engagement contract.  After a lengthy analysis of the Halachos governing such contracts, Rav Teitelbaum concludes that insofar as the delinquent

was currently willing to provide surety for the dowry, it is inappropriate for the groom’s father to insist on breaking the engagement since the other party is now ready and willing to fulfill his obligation, “and especially a Ben Torah and a Yarei Shamayim, it is not nice for him to act so”. [6]


Rav Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal discusses a community that wished to reduce the fixed salary that its Rav had been receiving.  Rav Teichtal sides with various other Poskim who forbade this, for various reasons, and he adds that in addition to compelling a community to comply with the “din”, we may sometimes even compel it to act “lifnim mishuras hadin”.  He has a lengthy and valuable analysis of the topic, and he establishes two bases for requiring a community to go beyond “din”: it has the status of an “important person” (“adam chashuv”), and it is considered wealthy, or at least not poor. [7]




1 http://www.kfor.com/news/local/kfor-news-wallet-returned-story,0,333949.story,  




2 See Bava Metzia 24b and 83a, Tosfos (24b s.v. lifnim), Mordechai

 (#257), Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 12:5 (Rema), Pischei Teshuvah 6, Shulchan Aruch 259:5, Shach 3


3 http://www.yeshiva.org.il/midrash/Shiur.asp?id=350 ,




http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2005/09/15/AR20     05091501867_5.html


5 http://www.daat.ac.il/mishpat-ivri/skirot/62-2.htm ,

  http://www.daat.ac.il/encyclopedia/value.asp?id1=216 (my


6 Responsa Heshiv Moshe, #48

7 Responsa Mishnas Sachir, Choshen Mishpat #4

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