Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Wait Your Turn!

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

No doubt that at one time or another you were standing patiently in some line, and then all of a sudden out of nowhere, somebody “butted” into the line. Perhaps complete chutzpa, perhaps someone trying to assist a friend in quickly completing his business. I actually see this happen often, referred to in Israeli parlance as the "ani acharecha" syndrome. Frightening screaming matches often break out over the issue. What does halacha have to say about this?[1]

Although it may be hard to believe, butting into a public line is actually a full Torah prohibition just like any other! More precisely, it falls into the category of theft. Time is money, and butting in front of someone is a theft of his time. It is also a second violation of the Torah prohibition of “taking advantage of another person.”[2] Those who “butt in” are halachically required to reimburse those people in line for their time.

Click here to read moreHalacha is so tough on this rude behavior that it is even forbidden for you to tend to your friend’s business for him even when it’s your turn in line. Say, for example, you’re waiting in line at the bank to conduct a routine bill payment, when all of a sudden, a friend walks up to you and asks you to do the same for him. This would be strictly prohibited, as he is required to wait in line just like everyone else! If your intention when arriving at the bank was to do so, however, then it would be perfectly acceptable. These rulings and their parameters are discussed in the Shulchan Aruch.[3]

The Talmud actually introduces these halachic regulations in the context of procedures in a beit din, a rabbinic court. It says there that rabbis must receive congregants and inquiries on a first-come-first-served basis. [4]

Another interesting source for these rules is from a passage in the Talmud, which deals with marine traffic.[5] Say that there are two boats that arrive at the same time to pass through a narrow canal – who goes first? How is a compromise to be found? The answer is that one boat is to proceed first, while compensating the other one for the time it lost while waiting for its turn. You see, no boat truly had the right of way over the other – therefore, the one who chooses to pay for the time saved is entitled to go ahead. Can you imagine what could happen if one boat was actually in line first with the second boat butting in?

Now, in the ideal world, the one who pushed ahead of you in line at the grocery store would be willing to pay you the appropriate Torah-mandated damages. The question is, what’s your time worth? Although this may not sound too attractive, halacha defines all cases with respect to time reimbursements to be based on the salary of a simple unskilled laborer, and in this specific case – half of it. Say the minimum wage is $10 per hour and you were kept waiting one more hour than necessary – you would only be entitled to $5.


[1] This posting is based on an article by Rabbi Aron Tendler, which was based on an article by Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, available at http://www.torah.org/advanced/business-halacha/5757/vol1no04.html.
[2] Vayikra 25:15.
[3] CM 272:14.
[4] Sanhedrin 8a.
[5] Sanhedrin 32b.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More