Posts tagged " bribery "

Is a bribe always a bribe?

February 26th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 13 comments

My question is on Bribe and the Biblical application. It is a problem especially here in African countries. For example, I submit my Visa Application, and I’m all qualified and I give the official a gift. The immigration official did not do anything other than what his job prescribed; he just approved the visa faster than he might have otherwise done.

What does ancient Jewish wisdom say about this and how can we escape such in our day to day business?

Michael M.

What a fascinating question you ask, Michael. The Biblical prohibition on a judge accepting a bribe is extremely serious.  A judge is a person upon whom the entire system of justice depends; he strikes a fatal blow against his society and its vital institutions by accepting bribes.  The Bible is very clear on this. 

However, you describe not a judge but a public official.  Furthermore, your encounter might just as easily have occurred with a non-governmental official, say a loan officer at a bank or the representative of a building contractor.  In any of these interactions, a ‘gift’ might have been solicited in order to lubricate the process that the vendor is already being paid to facilitate.  The Bible does not prohibit you from giving any of these kinds of ‘gifts’ however it certainly does condemn the dishonesty of the employee who by soliciting and accepting your ‘gift’ just in order to do his job, is harming his employer.

Now back to the stern prohibition on judges accepting bribes (and also the equally stern prohibition upon us offering or paying a bribe to a judge).  This prohibition applies not only when a quid pro quo is clearly defined (I give you $1,000 and you declare me innocent) but, as the Bible verses indicate, judges are obliged to guard against any possible subconscious biases they may have. There is much discussion in ancient Jewish wisdom about how far-reaching this concern is, even citing an instance where a judge recused himself after an upcoming litigant extended a helping hand when the judge needed help alighting a vehicle.

The Bible is focused on helping us understand just how strongly gifts/bribes influence us.  At the same time, ancient Jewish wisdom recognizes that not all gifts are bribes.  As you well know, giving gifts to officials is the norm in some cultures. In the book, Little Soldiers: an American Boy, a Chinese School, and the Global Race to Achieve, the author discovers that her son will be penalized in school if she does not give an appropriate gift to his teacher. The other parents are shocked at her surprise.

While giving gifts to teachers is not formalized in the United States in the same way, in many schools it is customary to give holiday gifts to teachers. Do some parents do so out of fear that the teacher will, subconsciously or not, bear ill will to their child if they do not participate? Does a teacher, unwittingly or not, bestow a warmer countenance on a student whose parents gave him a much-appreciated gift? The more we thought and prayed about your question, Michael, the more we realized how subtle and nuanced the subject is.

While we would not advise you to do something illegal, if giving officials gifts is not illegal in your country and, what is more, it is even accepted procedure, then we do not think that you need to stack the deck against yourself out of fear of transgressing a Biblical law. As a business owner, you may need to give gifts in order to have a level playing field. However, when the situation is reversed, you can elevate your own behavior.  Make it clear to others that you will not accept gifts when you are looking to hire, give raises, or confer other benefits on those under your jurisdiction.

Thank you for an intriguing question,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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