Ein Shaliach Lidvar Aveirah “I Was Only Following Orders” – The Criminal Agent (Kiddushin 42b).

If your Super Bowl winning football coach offers you money to injure an opposing player during a game, can you do it? If you’re caught, who’s responsible — “coach” or you?

The New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, widely dubbed Bountygate, was an incident in which several defensive players on the National Football League’s New Orleans Saints were accused of operating a slush fund that paid out bonuses, or “bounties”, for in-game performance in violation of NFL rules. The pool was alleged to have been in operation from 2009 (the year in which the Saints won Super Bowl XLIV) to 2011. Among other things, Saints players allegedly earned bonuses for inflicting injuries on opposing players that forced them to leave games; however, none of the hits in question were ever penalized or deemed illegal by in-game officials… NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell responded with some of the most severe sanctions in the league’s 92-year history, and among the most severe punishments for in-game misconduct in North American professional sports history. Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, appointed to hear appeals [on the case] , cancelled all of the players’ suspensions, saying that the coaches were primarily responsible for the scheme. (Wikipedia.org)

According to Jewish law, a person may appoint a shaliach (agent) to act on his behalf in carrying out various tasks. Through an agent one can conduct business (e.g. sell property), perform many mitzvot such as brit milah, and could even theoretically (though not advised) get married by means of an agent!

What about performing a transgression on behalf of somebody else? What if someone tells you to do a crime for him and you do it – who is the guilty party? The person who desires and asks that the crime be done, the one who actually accomplishes the misdeed, or both?

To complicate matters, someone might inadvertently find himself doing a criminal act on behalf of another without even knowing it, such as working on a computer with stolen software. Who then is held responsible?

In this class we will delve into a passage in the Talmud and look into what commentators and contemporary halachic (legal) authorities say about an issue that we will discover can often hit close to home.

Key Questions:

  • When one person orders another to do something wrong – and he goes and does it – who is the guilty party?
  • Does it make a difference if the agent does the action reluctantly or willingly?
  • What if one person got another to unknowingly do something wrong on his behalf? Who then is guilty?
  • Are there some transgressions for which we hold the agent culpable and others where we hold the one who ordered him responsible?

Whereas this NLE Thinking Gemara shiur does not directly address the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, the contemporary cases and source materials cited can certainly be applied to it.

Click here to access the new NLE Thinking Gemara Shiur “The Criminal Agent”



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