INFORMERS (Heb. malshinim, "slanderers"; moserim, "informers"; delatorim, "delators"), informers or slanderers who denounce individual Jews or the Jewish people in general to a foreign ruler.
In Talmudic Tradition
The attitude of the Talmud toward such persons is extremely hostile. It is said of them: "The minim and the informers and the scoffers… these will go down to Gehinnom to be punished there for all generations" (rh 17a; see below, in Jewish law). Tradition attributed to the informers the sufferings which overtook the Jewish people during the period of persecutions following the destruction of the Second Temple. According to one tradition, the number of informers then increased to such an extent that the bet din of Rabban *Gamaliel was compelled to add a special benediction in the *Amidah; its text was composed by Samuel ha-Katan, and it is called *Birkat ha-Minim; in practice, it is an anathema uttered against informers (Ber. 28b; Meg. 17b). The sources place special emphasis on the role of these informers during the persecutions of *Hadrian, when outstanding Jewish scholars endangered their lives for the sake of study of the Torah and observance of the precepts. The informers denounced to the authorities any opposition or manifestation of rebellion against Rome within the Jewish community; thus, for example, *Judah b. Gerim denounced *Simeon b. Yoḥai after he had declared that all the improvements brought about by the Romans were intended for their own benefit: "they built marketplaces, to set harlots in them," etc. The government decreed that R. Simeon be put to death and he therefore fled and hid in a cave for 12 years (Shab. 33b).
During the Middle Ages
The gravity of the problem of informers was accentuated during the Middle Ages as a result of the political and social conditions to which the Jews were subjected during this period. The revelation of secrets and the handing over of information to the non-Jewish authorities regarding the lives of the Jews and their property, and occasionally their beliefs and opinions, could destroy Jewish autonomy, prejudice their economic positions, and endanger their status among the gentiles. Jewish leaders and scholars, therefore, took the liberty of trying offenders of this category and imposing sentences, even if this was in contradiction to talmudic tradition. As will be seen, there were even communities in which death sentences were issued against informers, even though after the abolition of the Sanhedrin, the Jews had refrained from judging cases of criminal law.
Various Categories of Acts of Slander
When defining the phenomenon of slander, the Jewish leadership did not restrict this to informing or the handing over of information; what was likely to prejudice the autonomy of the Jewish community was included in this definition. When *Rashi came to define the notion of "informers" (rh 17a), he explained: "those who hand over the property of Jews to the non-Jews." This was indeed a most frequent occurrence during the Middle Ages. An example of this is found in the actions of a certain Jew accompanying the officials of King Henry iii of England who were sent out to investigate the economic situation of the Jewish communities of the kingdom in 1250. He endeavored to prove that the Jews were able to pay twice the amount they had hitherto paid and he promised to reveal all their secrets to the king.
At times, the objective of a slander was communal-religious, such as when a group of people turned to the non-Jewish authorities in order to obtain enforcement to impose their outlook on the Jewish community. Against these, it was said in the regulations of Jacob b. Meir *Tam of the second half of the 12th century: "they have dominated others in order to impose the prophecy of their mouths while in their hearts they seek to destroy."
The slanders of *apostates who revealed anti-Christian passages in the Jewish sources were responsible for many misfortunes, as in the case of the apostate Nicholas *Donin, who was one of the initiators of the Disputation of *Paris and the subsequent burning of the *Talmud. *Joseph ha-Kohen in his Emek ha-Bakha (ed. by M. Letteris (1852), 111) relates that in 1553 "wicked persons came out of our midst and fabricated untrue reports… and they slandered the Talmud before Pope Julius iii" as a result of which the Talmud was burned throughout Italy in 1553–55. Sometimes, Jews were compelled to flee to new places as a result of acts of slander. This occurred with Isaac *Alfasi, who fled from North Africa to Spain in 1088, and Moses ha-Parnas, of the family of nesi'im of Narbonne, who fled to Estella in Navarre during the 1120s.
Regulations against slanderers and informers also included paragraphs against those who addressed themselves to non-Jewish courts of law. This was due to the assumption that there was no difference between such an act and informing since one Jew who brought another Jew before a non-Jewish tribunal caused him financial loss and endangered his life.
Informing in Spain
The overwhelming majority of the Jewish communities, whether they were situated in the Islamic or Christian territories, were prevented by the authorities from judging criminal law and imposing death sentences on offenders. In most places, a culprit was ordered to pay a fine and to indemnify his victim; he was called upon to repent or an excommunication (ḥerem) or ban was issued against him. The words of *Asher b. Jehiel in connection with this subject are of special interest. Upon his arrival in the community of Toledo in Spain from Germany at the beginning of the 14th century, he wrote: "I was most astonished when I arrived hither to find that they judged criminal law without a Sanhedrin" (Asher b. Jehiel, Responsa, kelal 17, no. 8).
There is reason to assume that the acuteness of this problem in Spain stemmed essentially from the presence of the influential Court Jews, a situation which had already been particular to this country during the period of Islamic rule. These courtiers were naturally tempted into acts of informing, out of egoistic considerations and with the objective of promoting their ascendancy in the country's affairs. This probably also prompted the Jewish community there to impose such severe sentences on informers. Thus, the Muslim rulers had already granted the dayyanim the right to judge criminal law, even though this contradicted Islamic legislation. This right was transferred from Andalusia to the northern Christian kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. The plague was so widespread in Spanish Jewry that the word malshin became a part of the Spanish language (malsin; malsinería; malsindad). This trend subsisted in Christian Spain during the 13th and 14th centuries. The communities applied to the court and obtained the right to condemn informers to death. This even concerned cases where the acts of the informers were to the advantage of the king and served his immediate economic interests.
Procedure in the trials of informers in the Jewish communities of Spain was largely influenced by the Roman and canon laws which then prevailed in the towns of Christian Europe, especially in connection with interrogation of the accused. Procedure also varied among the Spanish communities. This was due to the privileges, some of which were very detailed, which they had received in this sphere during various periods. James i (1213–76) had done much in this direction during the last years of his reign, when there was a growing feeling of insecurity among the Jewish communities of Aragon. The guiding line in the granting of these privileges was the obligation to apply the Roman-Christian law which was dispensed in the tribunals of Aragon. According to this the proceedings took place in writing, the presence of an advocate was required to defend the accused, the plaintiff and the informer committed themselves to the lex talionis, the testimonies were published in writing, and the right was accorded to appeal before the royal tribunal. When the accused was condemned to death, the execution of the sentence was entrusted to the local royal officials in exchange for a given sum, as may be deduced from the privilege which was granted to the community of Barbastro in 1273: the informer was to be handed over to the bailiff and a payment of 500 solidos was charged for the execution.
The privileges granted to the Jews of Barcelona in 1342 and to the community of Majorca in 1347 were of the same nature. The regulations of the community leaders of the Kingdom of Aragon of 1354 mention the plague of informing, and the leaders agreed "to exterminate every informer or slanderer who would be found in one of the towns… this would, however, only apply to slander of a public nature which would result, God forbid, in damage to our people in general but not to private slander which does not prejudice the public." Although Pedro iv (1336–87) restricted the rights of the Jews of Barcelona with regard to the trials of informers and criminal law in general, an order of 1383 reconfirmed the full rights of the community leaders and their dayyanim to interrogate such offenders, and to sentence them to banishment, the cutting off of limbs, or death at their discretion. In 1390 Queen Violante appointed Ḥasdai *Crescas as the exclusive judge authorized to try informers in Aragon and to sentence offenders. Even though this appointment was intended to restrict the rights of the community leaders, it did not result in the complete abolition of the privileges of the local communities.
In Castile, the Cortes which met in Soria in 1380 abolished the existing authority of the Jews to judge criminal law. This appears to have followed upon the secret execution of Joseph Picho, a favorite of the king, who was accused of informing. This authority was restored to them during the 15th century, as appears from the regulations of Valladolid of 1432 which were drawn up by the Jewish leaders of Castile under the guidance of Abraham *Benveniste. The third part of these regulations deals with informers, and among the measures to be adopted in order to eradicate informing there are specified the branding of the word "malshin" with a white-hot iron on the forehead of the accused, flogging, *banishment, and for one who has informed on three occasions: "finding the means of putting him to death." The problem took on a special nuance with the establishment of the Spanish *Inquisition during the 1480s, when the latter found it necessary to compel Jews to testify against Conversos who observed the precepts of Judaism.
Regulations of Communities and Scholars
As already seen, regulations were formulated at the conference of scholars convened in France under the leadership of Rabbenu Tam against "those who informed, in secret or publicly, to gentiles, noblemen or common folk." Many articles of these regulations dealt with the prevention of informing in affairs pertaining to the individual. In this case, the Jewish leadership did not possess the powers which had been granted to Spanish Jewry, and the defensive measures were of another category: "If one heard that he had been slandered and there is proof for this, then if the victim spoke with the governor and sought to refute the slander and even accused the informer of a worse crime than that mentioned by the latter, the second one is to be regarded as innocent; this is because he must endeavor to protect himself, and his action is not to be regarded as saving himself with the property of another; moreover, the first one is to be considered as an informer liable to justice and punishment." At the conference of the Rhine communities of 1220, it was agreed that "the informers were to be cursed on every Sabbath," and this became a standing order in the regulations of the communities of Speyer, Worms, and Mainz. According to the regulations of that year, the above communities formed a central bet din for the trying of informers from all the communities which had participated in the conference.
Numerous and detailed regulations against informers are to be found in the regulations of the community of Regensburg of 1497: "If one threatens his fellow, be it his person, his property, or through informing, and there are witnesses to this deed, the ḥazzan shall then proclaim a ban against him in the synagogue at the next public prayer and sound the shofar. The culprit will be under this ban until he seeks pardon and atonement before the community… One who denounces his fellow to the gentiles is to be judged as if he had struck him. The community is authorized to deal with the informer according to the gravity of his misdeed and also to intervene with the authorities in order to have him removed from the town." It is evident that in the Ashkenazi communities the methods which could be adopted against informers were limited, and the deterrent power of outstanding scholars was occasionally required.
The Spanish refugees who arrived in North Africa after the persecutions in Spain of 1391 were also compelled to institute regulations against informers, and the native Jews followed their example (Isaac b. Sheshet, Responsa, no. 79). In 1558, the Spanish refugees in Salonika under the leadership of Moses *Almosnino instituted a haskamah (regulation) against informers which was read in the synagogue on the last Sabbath of every month and which hinted that offenders would have the maximum punishment inflicted upon them. The rabbis of Constantinople ratified that haskamah and demanded that offenders be brought to the capital in order to receive their chastisement. The Turkish authorities appear to have confirmed this regulation.
In Eastern and Central Europe
An insight into the dangers with which the plague of slander threatened the life of the Jewish community may be deduced from the text of the Yehi Raẓon ("May it be Thy will") prayer which has been preserved in the synagogue register of the community of Kremsier (Kromeriz) and which appears to have been composed by *Judah Loew b. Bezalel (the Maharal) of Prague: "May it be Thy will, Father in Heaven, to uproot and extirpate every stock sprouting poison and wormwood in Israel so that there be no transgressor in our streets namely – those who denounce and harm Israel with their slander and distort the Jewish laws before the nations and the uncircumcised, both men and women, those who seek to endanger the condition of the community and oppress Israel their brethren by false accusations in order to destroy them. May the Holy One, blessed be He, deliver Israel from their hands and may God wipe from the earth the memory of these sinners and evildoers, them and their evil offspring."
The measures available to the autonomous institutions of the Jews of Eastern and Central Europe were more limited than those of the Jews in Spain. Here too, the informers were, however, occasionally punished by the severing of their ears and tongues and at times by the cutting off of their hands and feet, although the actual measures generally only took on the form of a warning. In the regulations of the Council of Konice of the province of Moravia of 1674, it was stated: "It is the duty of every Jew to shatter the slanderers and those who burden the princes with their lies and to cut off their hands and their feet. The expenses incurred in such an unfortunate affair are to be borne by all the communities of the province, in proportion to their numbers." According to a tradition in the community of Poznan a death sentence was passed against an informer during the 18th century, but there is no evidence for this occurrence from any other source.
The most effective and accepted punishment in the communities of Eastern Europe was the *ḥerem. A ḥerem issued against informers and slanderers who revealed the "Jewish secrets" to the gentiles is mentioned in a proclamation of the community of Poznan in Adar 5453 (1693). The same community issued a ḥerem in Iyyar 5485 (1725) "against the informers and slanderers who reveal Jewish secrets… to the customs authorities and who denounce individuals." In the Council of Lithuania of 1684 it was decided that those men "whose tongues are accustomed to deceit" and those who reveal "Jewish secrets" or cause financial losses to individuals by informing against them were to be subjected to the herem. Occasionally, the informer was only sentenced to imprisonment, as occurred with David b. Naphtali Segal, who "induced a tyrannical squire to seize and detain the men of Prague in Gniezno (Gnesen)" in 1634. Among the most notorious acts of informing in this period were those of Hirschel Meyer, who brought many misfortunes upon the Jews of Vienna until their expulsion in 1670. The actions of Jacob *Frank and his followers at the time of the disputations of Kamenets-Podolski and Lvov rank among the most extreme examples of slander.
Informing was one of the severest moral plagues to afflict Russian Jewry, which has continued up to the present. It was the natural consequence of the autocratic regime ruling the state, which encouraged it. It also stemmed from the anti-Jewish decrees and discriminatory laws which were the cause of constant antagonism between the Jews and the government. The internal controversies and struggles in Jewish society also played a part. The dimensions of this informing varied. There was the one-time informer who wrote a denunciatory letter (Yid. Msire) about his neighbor, the shopkeeper, who had hidden away smuggled goods in his shop; there was the professional informer (Yid. Moser) who blackmailed his victims. These denunciations concerned essentially "missing persons" or those who evaded military service, smugglers, and those who distilled alcoholic liquor or sold it without government authorization, and Jews living in places where their residence was prohibited. Other informers of a much more dangerous category were those who prejudiced whole communities, such as those who spread word that the community was hiding Christians who converted to Judaism in its midst, that the Jews were encouraging the progress of Judaizing sects such as the Subbotniki ("Sabbath Observers") and attracted proselytes, or that they were collecting money which was sent to Ereẓ Israel. At an even higher level, there was the national informer, such as Jacob *Brafman, who attempted to prove to the government, after his apostasy, that the Jews maintained "a state within a state" and endangered the welfare of Russia. His Kniga Kagala ("Book of the Community") and other works aggravated the situation of the Jews at the close of the 19th century.
A considerable number of informers lowered themselves to act in this way because of their campaign against corruption perpetrated by community leaders. This was the case with Benjamin Goldberg (Binyominke Moser) of Kletsk who quarreled with the gabbaim of the community of Kletsk and was finally exiled to Siberia upon the decision of the community. Informing was also a weapon employed in internal struggles. The denunciations by the Ḥasidim of the community leaders of Vilna in 1799 and by Avigdor b. Joseph Ḥayyim of Pinsk, which resulted in the imprisonment of *Shneur Zalman of Lyady, the leader of Ḥabad Ḥasidim, in 1800, are well-known cases. During the 19th century, there were repeated denunciations by mitnaggedim and maskilim against the Ḥasidim and their ẓaddikim. The Ḥasidim, however, also wielded the weapon of informing (leading to the imprisonment of the poet Judah Leib *Gordon in 1879). The maskilim were accustomed to sending slanderous memoranda to the authorities, such as the memorandum sent by Markl and Bernstein of 1833 on the noxious books published in Hebrew, in the wake of which a strict control was put into force on all Hebrew books in Russia, and all the printing presses, with the exception of two, were closed down. Neither were cases of personal denunciation lacking among the maskilim themselves (such as the slander by Abraham Uri *Kovner against Alexander *Zederbaum, the editor of Ha-Meliẓ).
The Jews adopted various protective measures against the informers. The accepted method was a social ban against publicly known informers. Many of them were compelled to convert to Christianity once their actions had been discovered. In severe cases, the moser disappeared, and he was occasionally found drowned in a river or killed in a forest. In 1836 two informers were done to death in the town of Novaya Ushitsa (Podolia). After prolonged interrogation, about 80 Jews were tried by a military tribunal and extremely severe sentences were meted out against them. Information on informers who were executed is to be found in literature and the chronicles. Peretz *Smolenskin described the fate of such an informer in his work Kevurat Ḥamor ("Contemptible Burial"), a story which was based on several incidents which occurred in the town of Shklov.
Once the Jews had begun to collaborate with the Russian revolutionary movement, and with the establishment of the Jewish workers' movement at the close of the 19th century, there emerged a new type of informer – the provocateur – who was rewarded by the authorities for delivery of the secrets of the movement, its presses, and its members to the secret police. This is a chapter on its own. Provocateurs were also planted within the Zionist movement.
In the Soviet Union, informing had become an honorable public duty and an organic part of the regime. It extended to both the non-Jewish and Jewish public, and had become a formidable instrument which had paralyzed free public life and contributed to the disintegration of Jewish life in the country.
In Jewish Law
A distinction is made between the denunciation (mesirah, "delivery") of money and the denunciation of persons, but the prohibition of informing applies to both classes in the same manner. It is no defense to a charge of informing that the person denounced is a sinner and wicked, or has caused the informer grief or harm – no informer will ever have a share in the world to come (Maim. Yad, Ḥovel u-Mazzik 8:9). The only exception seems to be that a Jew may inform on another Jew who had informed against him – for as the informer is liable to be killed, he must a fortiori be liable to be informed against (RemaḤm 388:9). Similarly, a man may save himself from violence by denouncing his attacker if he has no other means of escape (Darkhei MosheḤm 388; Yam shel Shelomo bk 8:42).
Instances of informing reported in the Talmud are scarce. A judge who had been denounced to the authorities for having unlawfully exercised jurisdiction sentenced the informer to death (Ber. 58a). A death sentence was likewise passed on a litigant who repeatedly threatened to denounce his adversary, the court apparently being satisfied that he would indeed do so and that irreparable damage might ensue (bk 117a). The underlying rationale has been held to be that when a man is going to kill you, you may kill him first (Ber. 58a), and an impending denunciation was held to be tantamount to an immediate threat of killing. The threat is no less immediate and substantial for the reason that only so long as nobody was actually killed there must always remain a doubt as to whether anybody would indeed be killed – the probability that that would be the result of the denunciation suffices to warrant drastic counteraction (Rashba, Resp., vol. 1, no. 181). In order to save property from the reach of informers, false vows and oaths are permissible to prove its alienation (Ned. 3:4).
Like apostates, informers ought not to be saved from danger, even of their lives (Av. Zar. 26b); it has been said that "it is a good deed to let them perish and bring them down into the pit of destruction" (Maim., Akkum ve-Ḥukkoteihem 10:1).
historical background. Denunciations have rightly been described as the canker of Jewish medieval society (I. Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages (19322); Kaufmann, in jqr, 8 (1896), 27). Obadiah of *Bertinoro relates a report of the Jewish community of Palermo which may be valid for many other communities of the time: "Among the Jews there are many informers who have no sense of right or wrong and who continually betray one another shamelessly. If one Jew hates another, he conjures up some false accusation against him that is absolutely without foundation" (Transl. in: J.R. Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World (1960), 394f.). Jewish courts saw themselves called upon to combat this mischief as best they could.
Denunciations always fell on all-too-willing ears, both ecclesiastical and secular authorities being anyway hopelessly prejudiced against Jews. The informers not only wrought easy vengeance on whoever had wronged them, but they not unreasonably hoped to render themselves useful and important in the eyes of the authorities by volunteering such information. The testimony of these informers, presumably well-informed Jews themselves, was generally quite sufficient to warrant massacres or expulsions and plunder.
The law was laid down by Maimonides as follows: "It is lawful to kill the informer anywhere, even at this time when capital jurisdiction has ceased. It is lawful to kill him before he has informed: when he says, I am going to deliver [i.e, denounce] the person or the money – regardless of the amount involved – of X into their hands, he has rendered himself liable to death; if, on being warned not to commit the crime, he dares to insist on informing, the court is bound to have him killed. But when he [is indicted after having] already denounced the other person, it seems to me that he may not any longer be killed, unless it is reasonably apprehended that he might continue and inform on others. And it is a frequent occurrence in the cities of the West either to kill informers who must be feared to make denunciations, or to deliver them into the hands of the non-Jews [i.e., non-Jewish courts] to have them killed, flogged, or imprisoned as their guilt requires. So may a man who causes grief or damage to the community be delivered into the hands of non-Jews to have him flogged, imprisoned, or fined – but not a man who causes grief or damage to an individual. Nor may the property of an informer be confiscated, for although his person is liable to perish, his property ought to go to his heirs" (Maim., Ḥovel u-Mazzik 8:10–11).
Sentencing informers to death was regarded as a duty (a mitzvah) of the court (Maim., Ḥovel u-Mazzik 8:10–11; Ribash, Resp. no. 79), as it had to be assumed that, unless the informer was eliminated in time, the disaster likely to be caused by him could not be prevented. Thus it has been said that a court refraining from having the informer killed will be responsible and be punished for anything that may happen as if the court itself had been the informer (Zikhron Yehudah, no. 75). There it is reported that Joseph ibn Migash had an informer executed on the Day of Atonement which fell on a Sabbath at the hour of ne'ilah – which shows how sacred a duty the elimination of informers was conceived by great judges. The differentiation between an informer who had to be eliminated before doing his misdeed and was therefore liable to death, and an informer who had already done his misdeed and was therefore no longer liable to death (unless he was likely to repeat it), would indicate that the death penalty for the informer was in the nature of a preventative rather than of a punitive measure, a supposition corroborated by the special procedural provisions set out below.
Notwithstanding the duty of having informers killed, the death penalty was not generally regarded as a compulsory and obligatory but rather as the maximum penalty. In many instances there were bodily mutilations, such as cutting out the tongue or gouging out the eyes (Rosh, Resp. no. 17:8; Maharam of Rothenburg, Resp., ed. Prague, no. 485; RemaḤm 388:10) or cutting off hands and feet (Takkanot Mehrin, ed. by I. Halpern, 124 no. 374), so as to render the informer incapable of carrying out his evil designs. On the other hand, such mutilations were decried as ineffective and unsuited to replace the death penalty (Yam shel Shelomo Yev. 10:20; Maharam of Lublin, Resp. no. 138). In cases in which monetary damage only was caused or apprehended, the usual sanction was the *ḥerem (bk 117a; Tashbeẓ 3:158), often accompanied by excommunication and exile. There were many communities in which annual general bans were pronounced against people who knew of informers or their plans and failed to bring them to the notice of the court (Takkanot Va'ad Arba Arazot, quoted by Assaf, Ha-Onshin…, 130), and against anybody who would have resort to non-Jewish authorities and thereby cause damage to any Jew (Takkanot Rabbenu Tam, quoted in Maharam of Rothenburg, Resp., ed. Cremona, no. 71, 368; Takkanot of the Portuguese community in Hamburg, quoted by Assaf, Ha-Onshin…, 92).
A good example of a scale of penalties according to the gravity of the offense is provided by takkanot made in Castile in 1432: an informer who has denounced another without causing actual damage is fined 100 ducats and imprisoned for ten days; if actual damage was caused, he must also make good the damage. If the denunciation was to non-Jewish authorities and no damage was caused, he is fined 200 ducats and imprisoned for 20 days; if monetary damage was caused, he must also make good the damage and is ostracized for ten days; if physical injury (including arrest) was caused, the punishment is at the free discretion of the court. Denunciations other than of individual persons are punished, on a first conviction, with 100 lashes and expulsion from the town; on a second conviction, the penalty is increased; on a third conviction, the penalty will be death (Assaf, Ha-Onshin…, 89–90; Baer, Spain, 2 (1961), 264f.). Where the evidence was not sufficient for a conviction – e.g., where there was one single witness only – but the court considered the suspect a security risk for the community, the Castilian takkanot provided that a mark should be set on his forehead by burning it with a hot iron (ibid.). All informers and suspected informers were disqualified as witnesses and would not be allowed to take an oath (Maim., Ḥovel u-Mazzik 8:8; Ḥm 388:8; Radbaz, Resp. no. 348; Maharashdam, Resp. Ḥm no. 355).
procedure and evidence
Isaac b. Sheshet – who was himself, together with two other great scholars of his time, Nissim Gerondi and Ḥasdai Crescas, the victim of a denunciation in about 1375, in pursuance of which he was arrested and later released on bail (Ribash, Resp. nos. 373, 376) – laid down five special rules of evidence and procedure applying to trials of informers only:
(1) they may be interrogated, and if they confess, may be convicted on their own confessions;
(2) attorneys may be appointed to defend them only after their interrogation has been completed;
(3) they must be detained pending trial and may not be released on bail;
(4) the testimony of the witnesses for the prosecution may be taken in their absence (to the same effect: Rosh, Resp. 17:1);
(5) the fact that the complainant who laid the charge against the informer may be incompetent as a *witness does not affect the validity of the charge (Ribash, Resp. nos. 234–9). Further procedural and evidentiary facilities had already been allowed much earlier by Solomon b. Abraham Adret; namely, that in trials of informers it would not matter that the court might not be properly constituted, and that informers need no previous warning that what they were going to do was punishable by law (see *Penal Law, *Evidence); in general, all the procedural and evidentiary safeguards prescribed in capital cases did not apply to informers, so long as you "go after the ascertainment of the truth and the prevention of damage…" (Iggeret ha-Rashba, published by D. Kaufmann, in: jqr, 8 (1896), 228ff.).
jurisdiction and costs
Instead of trying informers themselves, many Jewish courts preferred to hand them over to the royal courts for trial if a charge could only be made out against them under the law of the land (Ribash, Resp. nos. 79 and 239; Rashbash, Resp. no. 177). However, as the informers were, as a rule, welcome instruments in the hands of the authorities, if only as a means of extorting money from the Jewish community, their courts could rarely be counted on to mete out justice to them. In many countries Jewish courts tried, and sometimes succeeded, to obtain the royal assent to their own exercise of capital jurisdiction. It appears that the non-Jewish (royal or lower) authorities often had to be bribed into allowing or suffering such jurisdiction, or for helping the court to execute judgments of expulsion. Kings are reported to have demanded monetary compensation for the loss of taxpayers before allowing judgments of expulsion to be executed. That the costs involved in prosecuting and punishing informers must therefore have been very substantial is also shown by rulings to the effect that the whole community must bear these costs, and each individual member is taxed with his share thereof (Rosh, Resp. no. 6:22; Ribash, Resp. no. 79).
[Haim Hermann Cohn]
Period of the Aḥaronim
Similar to the situation during the Middle Ages as described above, the period of the *aḤaronim also saw cases of denunciation and informing, in a variety of forms and for various purposes. During this period as well, similar to the law applied during the Middle Ages, in order for a person to be regarded as an informer (moser) there needed to be proof that his act was committed with the mens rea of malicious intent. Hence R. Shlomo Luria (Resp. Maharshal no. 19) ruled that, when the (non-Jewish) government accused a given Jew of theft, and he was forced to claim that he had purchased the stolen item from another Jew, thereby implicating the latter as a thief, "he is not subject to the law of an informer… as he did not intend to cause his fellow Jew monetary loss for the sake of infuriating him, or to curry favor with the authorities, but rather to save his own [money]."
This period is distinguished from the medieval period by the fact that, in addition to acts of denunciations by individuals, there were also acts of collective denunciations among groups and sects. The Frankist sect denounced the Jews to the Christian authorities, falsely accusing them of using Christian blood for their rituals. As of the 18th century there were even cases of reciprocal denunciations of Ḥasidim and Mitnaggedim in the context of their spiritual and social struggle, a phenomenon that repeated itself during the 19th century, in the battles between the Ḥasidim and the Maskilim. Reciprocal denunciations also took the form of divulging trade secrets and financial sources of individuals and communities, and a number of communities passed explicit enactments in order to combat this phenomenon (see Bibliography, Ben-Zimra).
Regarding the denunciation of Jewish criminals to the non-Jewish authorities by the Bet Din or by the public, see *Extradition.
[Menachem Elon (2nd ed.)]
D. Kaufmann, in: jqr, 8 (1896), 217–38; M. Frank, Kehillot Ashkenaz u-Vattei Dineihen (1937), index, s.v.Dinei Mesirah; Baer, Urkunden, 1 (1929), index s.v.Malsin, 2 (1936), index s.v.Denunzianten; Baer, Spain, index; Baron, Community, index; Dinur, Golah, 2 (1966), 402–9; H.H. Ben-Sasson (ed.), Toledot Am Yisrael, 3 (1969), index s.v.Malshinut. in eastern and central europe. I. Halpern (ed.), Takkanot Medinat Mehrin (1951), index s.v.Massur; idem, Pinkas Va'ad Arba Arazot (1945), index s.v.Malshinut; B.D. Weinryb, Texts and Studies in the Communal History of Polish Jewry (1950), 53ff.; S. Dubnow, Pinkas ha-Medinah O Va'ad ha-Kehillot ha-Rashiyyot bi-Medinat Lita (1925), index s.v.Moser. in russia: Dubnow, Hist Russ, 1 (1916), 337–78; 2 (1918), 84–85; J. Levitats, Jewish Community in Russia 1772–1844 (1943), index; S. Ginsberg, Historishe Verk, 1 (1937), 238–65; 3 (1937), 178–87; Heb. trans. in his: Ketavim Historiyyim (1944), 152–78. in jewish law: M. Kayserling, in: Jahrbuch fuer die Geschichte der Juden und des Judentums, 4 (1869), 263–334; I. Loeb, in: rej, 13 (1886), 187–216; D. Kaufmann, in: jqr, 8 (1896), 217–38; S. Assaf, Ha-Onshin, Aḥarei Ḥatimat ha-Talmud (1922); Finkelstein, Middle Ages; I. Epstein, The Responsa of Rabbi Solomon ben Adreth of Barcelona… (1925), 49–52; idem, The Responsa of Rabbi Simon ben Zemah Duran… (1930), 46, 65–69; A.M. Hershman, Rabbi Isaac ben Sheshet Perfet and his Times (1943), 88–90; G. Horowitz, The Spirit of Jewish Law (1953), 228–30, 621–3; I. Szczepanski, in: Sefer Yovel Federbusch (1960), 343–51. add. bibliography: M. Elon, Ha-Mishpat ha-Ivri (1988), 1:9, 11, 435, 576, 594, 635f, 645,647–49; 2:1256; idem, Jewish Law (1994), 1:8,10; 2:531, 710, 734, 787f, 798, 801–3; 3:1502; M. Elon and B. Lifshitz, Mafte'aḥha-She'elot ve-ha-Teshuvot shel Ḥakhmei Sefarad u-Ẓefon Afrikah (legal digest) (1986), 1:228–29; B. Lifshitz and E. Shochetman, Mafte'aḥ ha-She'elot ve-ha-Teshuvot shel Ḥakhmei Ashkenaz, Ẓarefat ve-Italyah (legal digest) (1997), 166–67; E. Ben Zimra, "Al ha-Malshinut u-Mesirah be-Ḥayyei ha-Kehillah ha-Yehudit bi-Tekufat ha-Aḥaronim," in: Sefer Aviad, (1986), 112–42.
"Informers." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/informers
"Informers." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved August 21, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/informers
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