Q. My son is pretty
quick, and his little league coach has been encouraging him to steal
bases. I'm worried that this is improper behavior. A player deserves to
advance if he earns it through a hit, or if the defense forfeits a base
through an error. But is it really ethical to steal a base? We always
try to discourage our children from stealing. TC
Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, The Jewish Ethicist responds.
A. Your query is most appropriate,
for Jewish law definitely differs from secular law in its approach to
ownership, particularly in the area of real estate. While every legal
system has to balance strict justice with a degree of expediency,
Jewish law tends more to the strict protection of property rights.
example, in secular law we have the doctrine of "adverse possession,"
whereby someone obtains valid title to real estate merely by virtue of
extended and unchallenged possession. But in Jewish law, such
possession confers title against a previous owner only if accompanied
by a credible claim to legitimate purchase. A known squatter can never
wrest ownership from a true title owner. So it sounds as though
stealing bases could be a serious problem.
when we examine this issue more carefully we see that this distinction
is valid only if the previous owner himself possesses clear evidence of
ownership. Otherwise, Jewish law affirms that mere possession may in
fact create certain rights. Indeed, in some cases where neither side
has convincing evidence of title, then Jewish law explicitly recognizes
that "might makes right" (kol de'alim gevar).
is obviously the case regarding the bases in a baseball match. While
the defending team carefully tries to prevent the offense from
obtaining possession of the bases, they certainly have no valid title
to these coveted lots. After all, the ostensible control of the bases
changes at least twice each inning.
additional lenient consideration is that since stealing bases is
accepted in custom and in the rulebook, and the defending team wants
the ability to steal bases when they are at bat, they presumably waive
any legal right they might have to prevent stealing. Jewish law
contains many instances where a fundamental legal right may be
considered waived if it is clearly in the interest of all sides to
So in this
case Jewish tradition affirms the practice accepted in secular
jurisprudence, and it is perfectly ethical and appropriate to steal
bases in accordance with the rules of the game. Your boy's coach is to
be praised for encouraging his ability. Just make sure that your
youngster shows good sportsmanship and doesn't spike or otherwise rough
SOURCES: Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra, third chapter.
About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir is Research Director of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem.
Rabbi Dr. Meir received his PhD in Economics from MIT, and previously
studied at Harvard. Rabbi Dr. Meir is also a Senior
Lecturer in Economics at the Jerusalem College of Technology and has
published several articles on the subjects of modern business and
economics and Jewish law. He writes a weekly column, The Jewish Ethicist, which provides advice on everyday business and work dilemmas.