Halacha for Sunday 13 Tevet 5778 December 31 2017

The Laws of Stealing from Non-Jews

Question: Is it permissible to steal money from a non-Jew?

Answer: There is a Torah prohibition to steal any amount of money or even an object that seemingly has no value from a Jew. We do not find a distinction in the Talmud between Jews and the other nations of the world regarding the prohibition of stealing. Just as is forbidden to steal from a Jew, it is likewise forbidden to steal from a non-Jew.

Nevertheless, we find in the Shulchan Aruch Even Ha’Ezer (Chapter 28) that a man can only betroth a woman using an object which belongs to him. The Rama (ibid.) writes that if one steals an object from a non-Jew and uses it to betroth a woman (even if the non-Jewish owner has not given up hope of retrieving the object and still hopes that it will be returned), the woman is indeed betrothed to the thief. It seems from the Rama that the prohibition to steal from a non-Jew is only rabbinic, however, it is permissible to steal from a non-Jew according to Torah law. It is for this reason that if one betroths a woman using an object stolen from a non-Jew that the woman is considered married.

However, most Acharonim are puzzled by the words of the Rama, for most Acharonim understand that the Rambam’s opinion is that stealing from a non-Jew is a complete Torah prohibition. The Siftei Kohen (Choshen Mishpat, Chapter 348) writes that the Samag, Tur, and Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch rule likewise. (See Halichot Olam, Volume 2, page 212)

The Sefer Atzei Arazim explains the opinion of the Rama and writes that even the Rama agrees that stealing from a non-Jew is a Torah prohibition. However, the Rama is of the opinion that the obligation to return the object one has stolen from a non-Jew is only rabbinic and not Torah law. Thus, if one betroths a woman with an object that has already been stolen from a non-Jew, since the obligation to return it to the non-Jew is only rabbinic, the woman is indeed betrothed to him.

Nevertheless, even this explanation is subject to disagreement, for the great Chatam Sofer (in his commentary on Sukkah 30a) writes that according to the Rambam, the obligation to return a stolen object to a non-Jew is a Torah obligation. Only the Sefer Yere’im is of the opinion that it is merely a rabbinic commandment. Indeed, Hagaon Maharam ben Chaviv and the Sefer Sha’ar Ha’Melech disagree about this issue and the Maharam writes that the obligation to return a stolen object to a non-Jew is rabbinic while the Sha’ar Ha’Melech is of the opinion that this obligation is indeed Torah law.

The Poskim discuss this matter at length, however, all agree that it is absolutely forbidden to steal money of any other object from a non-Jew. The only disagreement is whether or not the obligation to return the object is a Torah or rabbinic commandment. Thus, halachically speaking, it is certainly forbidden to steal from a non-Jew and if one has done so, one must return the stolen object to him.

Nonetheless, we must point out that all of the above applies regarding stealing from a non-Jew; however, it is likewise forbidden to utter a lie from one’s mouth besides for several very select situations. Once, an Avrech was halachically exempt from paying property tax on his apartment inquired from Maran zt”l, “Can I declare on my affidavit to the authorities that I earn less than I actually do so that they exempt me from paying a tax that I am exempt from paying?” Maran zt”l replied in surprise, “Do you want me to tell you that it is permissible to lie? How can I say such a thing?!”

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