The Drunk-Driving Brooklyn Cop and the Anonymous Heroes: A Halachic Analysis

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By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

It was a very bizarre scene involving two anonymous heroes, a drunken cop, and the video that captured it all.

Apparently, one of the heroes was driving with his friend and noticed a very erratic driver. The driver was obviously drunk and two anonymous heroes decided to pursue the drunken driver.  One also filmed it – with his girlfriend along for the ride.  The incident occurred in the heart of Jewish Flatbush – at the corner of Ocean Parkway and Avenue P.

The drunken driver, 28-year-old Tanvir Ahmed, who turned out to be a cop from the 67th Precinct, continued driving down Ocean Parkway and smashed into a car parked across from the Bnai Yoseph Shul.  The religious Jewish hero actually opened the door of the drunken driver – only to see the drunken driver speed off.  He motioned to the other anonymous man to pursue him again while went to his car.

The drunken driver continued down the service road of Ocean Parkway, but at the intersection with Quentin Road, the other anonymous hero angled the car so that the drunken driver could not proceed further. The two anonymous heroes then approached the drunk driver, opened his door and demanded that he exit the vehicle. One of them (not the Orthodox one) noticed that the drunk driver was actually a police officer and expressed his shock in ‘unYeshivish’ language while waiting for other, more sober officers to arrive.

Police eventually arrested and charged officer Ahmed with assault, driving while intoxicated, leaving the scene of an accident ,and refusing to take a breathalyzer test.

WHAT’S THE HALACHA?

So, what is the halacha in all of this?  Should the anonymous heroes have pursued the drunken driver?  What Mitzvah or Mitzvos were they performing – if any?   Should the gentile hero have taken along his girlfriend?  Is the drunken police officer exempt from responsibility because he was drunk?

SAVING LIFE

Let’s start with the anonymous hero.  He was fulfilling a Mitzvah in pursuing the drunk driver – because a drunk driver endangers human life.  Saving life is a fundamental Mitzvah. What is the source of this Mitzvah? The verse in Parshas Ki Taytzai (Dvarim 22:2) discusses the Mitzvah of Hashavas Aveida – returning an object with the words, “Vahashaivoso lo – and you shall return it to him.” The Gemorah in Sanhedrin (73a), however, includes within its understanding of these words the obligation of returning “his own life to him as well.” For example, if thieves are threatening to pounce upon him, there is an obligation of “Vahashaivoso lo.” In other words, this verse is the source for the Mitzvah of saving someone’s life. This, in all probability, is the general Mitzvah that the Shulchan Aruch refers to in Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim 325.

LO SAAMOD AL DAM RAYACHA

There is a negative Mitzvah of not standing idly by your brother’s blood as well. This is mentioned in Shulchan Aruch (CM 426:1) and in the Rambam.

LO SUCHAL LEHISALAIM

There is yet another negative commandment associated with the positive commandment of Hashavas Aveida, and that is the verse in Dvarim (22:3), “You cannot shut your eyes to it.” This verse comes directly after the Mitzvah of Hashavas Aveidah. The Netziv (HeEmek Sheailah) refers to this Mitzvah as well.

V’CHAI ACHICHA IMACH

The Sheiltos (Sheilta #37), based upon the Gemorah in Bava Metziah 62a, understands these words to indicate an obligation to save others with you. The Netziv in his He’Emek She’ailah understands it as a full-fledged obligation according to all opinions. He writes that he must exert every effort to save his friend’s life – until it becomes Pikuach Nefesh for himself.

V’AHAVTA LARAYACHA KAMOCHA

The Ramban, Toras haAdam Shaar HaSakana (p42-43) understands the verse of “And love thy neighbor as yourself” as a directive to save him from danger as well. Although he discusses the issue of medical danger, it is clear that this is an example, and it would apply to danger from physical enemies as well. Even without the Ramban, however, it is clear that defending and protecting someone from danger is a fulfillment of this Mitzvah.

SHOULD HE HAVE TAKEN ALONG HIS FRIEND IN THE CAR?

This is a difficult question.  While the anonymous hero was justified in risking his life to save others – he was risking his life in case the drunk had a knife or a gun – something that is not uncommon.  Did he have a right to bring his friend along in the pursuit and subject her to such a danger?  For the time being, we can assume that since she did not voice an objection and the chance of danger to her was somewhat remote – it was permitted.

THE DRUNKEN OFFICER

A drunk driver is a rodaif because he endangers human life (See Teshuvos V’hanhagos Vol. I #850 from Rav moshe Shternbuch Shlita).

The Vilna Gaon on Choshain Mishpat 388:12 rules that even if the person is unaware that he is endangering people – he is still considered a Rodaif.  It should be noted that a rodaif must first be stopped in other ways before applying deadly force. There is also a fascinating Ohr Sameach that states that one can even employ deadly force to a rodaif even in a situation where what the rodaif has done is exempt from financial liability (See his words on Rambam Hilchos Rotzaiyach 1:8).

Being drunk is no excuse for anything – neither the car damage nor the assault on the minyan attender – Adam mu’ad l’olam – a person is always responsible for his actions.

THE MINYAN ATTENDER

He too was involved in the performance of the Mitzvah in attempting to stop the drunken driver.  Unfortunately, he was not successful – apparently not having anticipated the punch and the escape.  In terms of schar, merit – it does not matter.  The great Rosh Yeshiva Rav Avrohom Pam zatzal once remarked that we can appreciate the reward one gets from trying to save life from the punishment that is meted out to a maisis umadiach.  He incurs the death penalty for an action that didn’t happen and the very person that the Maisis tried to lure was the person who turned him in.  If this is true for an aveirah – how much more is the reward for trying to save life!

The author can be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com.




3 COMMENTS

  1. Why make every story an Halachic Analysys? You have a drunk putting people lives in danger so the moral thing to do is to stop it. Why make derishois vechakirois on a straight forward story?

  2. SHOULD HE HAVE TAKEN ALONG HIS FRIEND IN THE CAR? Absolutely! Because if his friend had not filmed this, the reality is, that no-one would believe a word of this, especially as it turns out to be a cop, and certainly no-one would believe that the other fellow was punched.