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


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. (This shiur does not address the claim of exemption by “following superior orders” in criminal warfare such as in the Holocaust.)

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?


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