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Shabbat Parashat Balak | 5769
P’ninat Mishpat: Damage Payment for One Who Hit Another
(based on Halacha Psuka, vol. 59- a condensation of a p’sak by Beit Din Mishpat V’halacha B’Yisrael)
Case: The defendant (=def), an educator in the community, hit the plaintiff (=pl), a youngster who hit def’s son. Pl was injured, causing medical expenses and some long term damage. Def says that he acted in an accepted educational manner within his community, which feels that only strong action deters aggression among their youngsters.
Ruling: There is a question of jurisdiction, as batei din in our times (without semicha that goes back to Moshe) cannot rule on damages that man inflicts on man (Bava Kama 84a). The Rambam (Sanhedrin 5:10) says that they can rule on the elements of medical expenses and missed work, whereas the Rosh says that no payments are made in man to man damages. The Shulchan Aruch (CM 1:2) rules like the Rambam; the Rama says that we force the damager to monetarily appease the injured. Some Acharonim say that if the two sides agree willfully to take part in proceedings, then modern batei din may rule on these damages. Since the sides signed an arbitration agreement that allows for rulings based on the strict law or compromise and since compromise takes moral obligations into account, beit din can levy a monetary obligation instead of forcing def to appease pl.
Def claims that his violence in response to violence was justified. The Shulchan Aruch (CM 421:13) says that if Reuven attacked Shimon and Shimon hurt him in self-defense, he is exempt, if he was unable to protect himself with less damage. The Rosh implies that this is only if Shimon hit Reuven at the exact time of the conflagration, but the S’ma and Gra (ad loc.) say that it can come right afterward as well. The poskim indicate that it is not permitted to hit an attacker hard to deter him from attacking in the future. Such long term measures are to be taken by law enforcement officials; the individual is to be concerned with immediate self-defense. The Rosh says that one can hit his relative’s attacker, but this is within the framework of preventing the attacker from sinning. In our case, this does not apply because the sin was finished and there is no way to know that he would attack again in the future.
A community can decide that it is appropriate to hit youngsters if it is needed for their education or because they are causing consistent damage (see Shulchan Aruch, CM 349:5). However, it is beit din who may carry this out. Even if one wants to claim that beit din can give over authority to others, since there was no formal decision in this community but just an atmosphere that this is a good approach, def certainly was not authorized formally. Furthermore, the case was not one that would fall under a community need, especially because pl is not a member of the community.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
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and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.