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    Stealing from the elderly – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. In Judaism, it any worse stealing from an elderly person than from someone younger?

    A. Robbery of any kind is immoral as well as illegal, but it is especially reprehensible when people exploit the weakness of the elderly. In Jewish tradition one of the worst villains is Amalek, whose method was to attack the weak and defenceless.

    A fascinating halachic exposition of the subject is found in “Timely Jewish Questions, Timeless Rabbinic Answers” by Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen, formerly of the Mizrachi community in Melbourne. He quotes a passage from the Talmud (Yoma 82a) which, analysing the Shema, says there are some people whose life is more precious to them than their money and some whose money is more precious than their life.

    Rabbi Moshe ibn Habiv suggests that the first category is the young, who say they have plenty of life left and can recoup any financial losses. The old, however, are in a fragile situation where any loss of material possessions may make them unable to sustain themselves properly. Thus robbing the old may constitute the creation of pikku’ach nefesh, a life-threatening condition, and thus would apply even if the senior citizen were still financially able to cope despite the robbery. In Jewish law, therefore, a crime against an old person is considered more serious than one against a young person.

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