Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Ethics and Halacha

I would like to share with you an ethical dilemma I had last year. I received a parking ticket (unfairly I might add, but that's another story). Parking fines in England are very expensive. The fine was £80 (around $150) but would be reduced to £40, if I paid within fourteen days.

As I picked up the phone to pay, I noticed that the parking attendant erred in my car's license number. The only identifying feature about the car was the license number. It meant that I was off the hook. Or was I? I checked online to see if another car with the license number on my ticket existed. I saw that there did.

I faced a dilemma: should I pay the ticket or not? On the one hand, I could not get caught, but on the other hand, another person would be sent a large fine in the mail. While this person would presumably be able to prove that they were not guilty of the fine, they would nevertheless have to waste precious time and presumably some expenses, proving it,

I posed this dilemma to a number of friends. All my orthodox friends told me not to pay the fine; their argument being that I have no legal obligation to pay it and that the unknown person would get out of it. On the other hand, all my secular friends told me to pay the fine because the person would face much stress and after all, I was guilty of parking illegally.

The response of my secular friends was more ethical than that of my orthodox friends. I believe that it was because my orthodox friends tackled the dilemma from a halachik, legal angle, while my other friends, who did not have this halachik training, dealt with it from a moral, right vs. wrong angle.

If this is the case, what does it tell us about our halachik and ethical education? Is there an ethical dimension missing in the way we teach halacha?

1 comment:

  1. (disclaimer - I am Orthodox and yeshiva-trained, so this may end up being legalistic...)
    Your secular friends were being nice, but more than ethical.
    Seems to me the ethical thing to do is to fight the ticket in court - you did say that the ticket was unfair - and thus correct the lic# mistake and let the innocent guy off the hook. In the US, I believe that pointing out the technical error alone would be enough to get the case dismissed.
    However, what about a case where the ticket was justified? In that case I suppose you would be obliged to just pay up. Although it would be interesting to consider the ethics of fighting that one on the technicality issue.
    I must admit that I would not be likely to live up to the ethical standard here - perhaps there is such a strong cultural bias against paying parking tickets that it has overwhelmed my usual good sense of right and wrong. Such assimilation! :-)