May 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Recently, we have been reading about a 91 year old rabbi, Rav Meyer Leifer, and his family, who took in a 67 year old woman into their two bedroom Manhattan apartment at the beginning of the pandemic, because she had no place to go. She is still there on account of the New York Squatters Laws.

It is a powerful indictment of our legal system and the need for fairness and truth.

The idea is further clarified by Rabbi Nosson Ordman zt”l, the former dean of Yeshiva Etz Chaim in London, England. “And these are the laws that you shall place before them (Exodus 21:1).” Rav Meir Leibush ben Yechiel Michel Weisser (1809-1879), better known as the Malbim, explains the words of Tehillim (19:10), “Mishpetai Hashem Emes Tzadku Yachdav (Exodus 21:1) the judgements of Hashem are true and righteous together,” to apply to the laws of the Torah and how they are fundamentally different than the laws of other nations. The Malbim further explains that the depths of truth inherent in the Torah’s laws and the punishments for not keeping those laws are beyond our ability to fully comprehend.

Rav Nosson Ordman, zt’’l, a student of the great Lithuanian Yeshiva in Telze, and the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Etz Chaim in London, England, helped clarify the words of this Malbim (see Sefer Nosson Da’as p. 252). He explains that the criminal justice systems of the nations of the world are designed only for “takanas hamedinah,” to preserve and sustain the social culture and ethos of that particular society. However, they are not necessarily designed to be inherently just, or to sustain and promote the truth. The laws found in the Torah are fundamentally different. They are designed and exist to exemplify the truth and to promote its ideals.

For example, one of the backbones of the Western world’s system of justice is “Adverse Possession.” Adverse Possession is one of the concepts that is taught in the first year of law school in almost every law school in the United States.

According to the Legal Information Institute (housed in Cornell University), “Adverse Possession is a doctrine under which a person in possession of land owned by someone else may acquire valid title to it, so long as certain requirements are met, and the adverse possessor is in possession for a sufficient period of time, as defined by a statute of limitations.”

In other words, by merely being on someone else’s land for a certain continuous time period, the “squatter” can actually become the legal owner. In New York State, the time period is 10 years, but next door in New Jersey, it is 30 years. In California it is five years (but the squatter also has to pay the taxes on it). In Illinois it is 20 years, but in Florida it is seven years.

These squatters can become legal owners of property with no claim of having bought it from the owner. This “Squatter’s Law” is a fine example of a law that is not designed to stand for truth and what is just, but merely, as Rav Ordman says above, for takanas hamedina, with each state arbitrarily choosing the amount of time the squatter needs to live on someone else’s land before they can legally take it from the owner.

This is absolutely not the case in Jewish law, which is designed to embody truth and justice. In Jewish law, one generally needs an actual claim of sale in order to obtain ownership.

Rav Ordman concludes his explanation of the Malbim referenced above with the following two thoughts. We must distance ourselves from any matter of deception, and we should focus our thoughts on praising the Master of All that he did not make us like the nations of the world, as we say in the prayer of “Aleinu L’Shabayach.” This means that unlike the other nations of the world, He implanted within us everlasting life and gave us a Torah (and its laws) that embodies emes—the truth.


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