Kofin Al Midat Sedom

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

Would Halacha permit one to move to an unoccupied, better and far more expensive seat at a concert that is more than half over, when it is clear that no one will be sitting in those seats for the duration of the concert?

The nature of a Jew is to be benevolent and giving of ourselves to others. The Mishnah in Avot (5:10) condemns individuals who are stingy with their property or belongings, claiming “what is mine is mine, what is yours is yours”, in other words, don’t ask anything of me and I won’t ask anything from you, that the Mishnah calls- is a Midat Sedom. This attitude has to be negated and Beit Din has the authority to coerce individuals into giving and sharing when there is no inconvenience or loss of time or money, as long as Zeh Neheneh VeZeh Lo Chaseir.(Bava Kama 20a) This concept has been incorporated into Halacha by Rambam (Hilchot Shecheinim 7:8). Thus, we should not demand payment for gas and tolls from someone who asked us for a ride home, if he did not take us out of our way. The passenger benefits, Zeh Neheneh, and to the driver it’s no loss of time or money, VeZeh Lo Chaseir. So, perhaps we could argue that by moving into a better seat will be beneficial to me (Zeh Neheneh) and its no loss to the theater managers (VeZeh Lo Chaseir) and therefore, permissible. But that is not necessarily so.

Tosafot (B”K 20b) explicitly states that a property owner enjoys the right to keep people out of his property even though he does not want to rent his property. The Rama explains (Choshen Mishpat 359;1, 363), that just because the property owner chooses not to rent out a particular piece of property, that does not give the public a right to demand free access to the property.

Rav Soloveitchik explained that the rule of “Zeh Neheneh VeZeh Lo Chaseir” is only a question of BeDi’eved, once the event occurred. And the question would be, “Does the property owner have the right to demand payment after the fact?” But LeChatchila, (initially), it is forbidden to use someone’s property without permission.  As a matter of fact, Rav Soloveitchik would instruct community rabbis not to install any portion of the Eiruv without permission; otherwise, it would be a Mitzvah HaBa’a BeAveirah.

The concept of Kofin Al Midat Sedom only comes to play in matters of serious need, such as a place to live. The need for someone in a place of entertainment to move to a more expensive seat in order to enhance the quality of the entertainment is not an appropriate reason to coerce the management to allow seat changes without payment.

Finally, observant Jews tend to display their identity, wearing Kippot and modest dress. Since it is very noticeable when someone has moved to seats which were not paid for, the potential for creating a Chillul HaShem is very great. Changing seats is generally regarded as unrefined behavior and should be avoided, unless permission is given to do so.

(Source: Rabbi Chaim Jachter)

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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