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The Poskim deal with when do we say the law of the land is binding. Rav Moshe Feinstien was asked about a bankruptcy case. One of the creditors had taken the money he was owed. This was against the law, for the company was protected under bankruptcy laws. On the other hand, according, to Torah law, he was entitled to the money.
Rav Moshe brings two opinions found in the Rema. The first opinion is that we only say the law is binding when the king has direct benefit like paying taxes, otherwise, we go according to our laws. The second opinion is that we always say the law is binding. Rav Moshe qualifies this opinion. This means that the king has a right to make laws so that commerce runs orderly. If there are no uniform rules for commerce and debt collection, the country would fall apart. The laws of the land would not be binding, however, in laws of damages or laws governing marriage and divorce. In these areas, one must follow Torah laws. Since we hold like the second opinion, Rav Moshe ruled that the debt could not be collected and had to be returned.
Obeying a Jewish King
in Eretz Yisroel
It is evident from the Gemora that the law of the kingdom has the full force of halachah behind it. The Ritva writes that we do not find anyone that disagrees with this principle.
The Rashbam explains the rationale for this halachah: All citizens of a country voluntarily accept upon themselves to obey the king’s decrees and laws. All of their laws are therefore binding. Accordingly, one who possesses his fellow’s property based upon that particular country’s law, does not violate a prohibition of stealing at all.
The Rashba explains it differently: Since the entire land belongs to the king, he is entitled to chase anyone away from his land if he wishes, and he has the right to tax everyone for the privilege of residing in his land.
A difference between these two opinions may be if this halachah would apply in Eretz Yisroel with a Jewish king. According to the Rashba, it might not apply in Eretz Yisroel, for every Jew has an inalienable right to live there, and no king would have the jurisdiction to banish anyone from the Land.
The Ra”n in Nedarim (28a) rules that this principle applies only in the lands of the exile. The reason for this, he explains, is that in these countries, the land is the property of the kingdom, and one is therefore obligated to abide by the laws and ordinances of the country in which he resides. But, in Eretz Yisroel, which belongs to the entire Jewish nation, there is no obligation to comply with the laws of a Jewish king. The Rambam and Shulchan Aruch both rule that this principle does apply to a Jewish king in Eretz Yisroel.
The Law of the Kingdom is the Law
Shmuel states: The law of the government is the law (even according to our law).
The Gemora in Shabbos (88a) teaches that when Bnei Yisroel stood at Mount Sinai and heard the word of Hashem, He held the mountain over our heads. Hashem declared, “If you’ll accept the Torah, all will be well. If not, this will be your burial place!” Rav Acha bar Yaakov said: This can now be used as an excuse for Klal Yisroel when they do not perform the mitzvos. For when they are summoned for judgment, they can claim that they were coerced into accepting the Torah; it was not done willingly.
The Perashas Derachim asks from our Gemora which states that the law of the kingdom is the law. If so, this should certainly apply by The Holy One blessed is He, Who is the King of all Kings. How could Klal Yisroel use the coercion as an excuse? The law of the kingdom is the law, and they took an oath obligating themselves to perform His mitzvos!
He answers that Rabbeinu Tam holds that the principle of the law of the kingdom is the law is only applicable if the king decrees on all his subjects. However, if the decree is issued only on part of his kingdom, this principle does not apply. Since Hashem is the King over all the nations of the world and He only forced Bnei Yisroel to accept His mitzvos, this principle would not apply and hence, a claim of coercion can be effective.
It emerges that regarding the seven mitzvos that were given to all Bnei Noach, the principle of the law of the kingdom is the law would apply, and a claim of coercion would not be valid.
According to this, the Ketzos HaChoshen explains the argument between Pharaoh and the midwives. Pharaoh asked them, “Why didn’t you listen to my commandment? The law of the kingdom is the law and since I the king decreed that all the Jewish children should be killed, you are obligated to listen to me!” They responded to him, “Your decree is not a universal one; it was only issued regarding the Jewish children and not to any others. Accordingly, the principle does not apply and we are not obligated to adhere to the laws of the kingdom. Thereupon, Pharaoh immediately decreed that all children born must be thrown into the sea.
Reb Shlomo Kluger uses this principle to explain Adam HaRishon’s response to Hashem. He answered, “The woman that you gave to me gave me from the tree and I ate.” What kind of answer was this? Adam HaRishon was saying that since his was wife was here as well and she was not commanded not to eat from the tree. Therefore, the law of the kingdom does not apply and that is why he ate.