Traffic Laws and Judaism

Question

Dear Rabbi, according to Jewish law is there an obligation to obey all traffic laws without exception? For example, is a pedestrian permitted to cross on a red light when it is clear that no vehicles are approaching?

6 months

Answers

  1. Good question! In fact, many people have asked me this question over the years.

    I’ve heard that the main basis for your question is that there is no section in the Code of Jewish Law that seems to deal with DMV and traffic laws. However, one should surely note that this Code was written in the 16th century by Rabbi Yosef Karo (authored in Tsfat, Israel and first published in Venice two years later). This was obviously way earlier than the invention of cars. Another reason for this question is that some people see religious Jews not obeying traffic laws and wonder if, in fact, they are binding according to Jewish law.

    A number of years ago I asked your question to a noted halachic authority in Jerusalem. He responded that one must observe traffic laws for two reasons: One is the concept of Dina d’malchuta dina, that the law of the land prevails. Secondly, other people (especially children) can learn from your actions, so disobeying the laws could bring others into danger.
    It’s important to note that although traffic laws in particular may not be mentioned in the Code of Jewish Law, these two principles that the great Rabbi applied to obeying traffic laws are in fact taught clearly in Jewish law. It’s just a matter of applying the principles to modern day cases.

    Therefore, in your particular example, a pedestrian may not cross against a red light even when it’s clear to him that no vehicles are approaching. One must worry that others will learn from his behavior and cross also when crossing is dangerous. And, it’s also breaking the law of the land. In fact, the reason for the law of the land forbidding this seemingly harmless crossing, may actually be for this very reason!

    However, the definition of “breaking the law” depends on the way the law is enforced. If the authorities are not so strict for instance, and it is clear that they would not stop you or fine you for going 60 in a 55 mph zone, it would be halachically permitted to go 60. (Important note: We don’t advocate that you do so; and we’re not saying you don’t have to pay the fine if you do get fined for doing so!)

    I personally am very meticulous about obeying all the traffic laws. For example, when I’m driving down the highway and I pass the sign that says “State Police,” I immediately state “Police.”

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team