- OPPRESSION (Heb. עָפְרָה), an offense against property, standing midway between theft and robbery and fraud and often overlapping with either of them. The injunction, rendered in English as "Thou shalt not oppress thy neighbor" (Lev. 19:13), really means (like the injunction immediately following: "nor rob him") that you must not try to enrich yourself by, or derive any material benefit from, any violation of your neighbor's rights. The exact dividing line between oppression (coercion) and robbery gave rise to a discussion among talmudic scholars: where a man failed to restore property to its lawful owner, some held that it was oppression if he admitted the other's ownership, and robbery if he denied it; others held it to be oppression if he asserted that he had already returned it, and robbery if he refused to return it; a third opinion was that it was oppression if he denied that he had ever received the property, and robbery if he asserted that he had already returned it; a fourth scholar held that oppression and robbery were essentially identical terms (BM 111a). The proximity in the Bible of the offenses of stealing, deceit, perjury, oppression, and robbery (Lev. 19:11–13) led an ancient authority to observe that he who steals will eventually commit deceit, perjury, oppression, and robbery (Sifra 3:2); and it is in reliance on the same authority that oppression per se has been held by some to be limited to the crime of withholding a laborer's wages (ibid. 3:2; cf. Rashi to Lev. 19:13). The particular oppression of laborers, in withholding their wages, is the subject of a special prohibition, accompanied by a mandatory injunction that the payment of such wages may not be delayed even for one night (Deut. 24:14–15; see labor law ). The definition of oppression, as it eventually emerged, is given by Maimonides in the following terms: "Oppression is the forceful withholding and not restoring of money which had been received with the owner's consent, as, for instance, where a man had taken a loan or hired a house and, on being asked to return the same, is so violent and hard that nothing can be got out of him" (Yad, Gezelah va-Avedah 1:4; and cf. ḤM 359:8). Although it is in the nature of a criminal offense, no punishment can be inflicted for such oppression, as the proper remedy is an order for the payment of the money due, and civil and criminal sanctions are mutually exclusive (see flogging ). But the guilt before God subsists even after payment, hence a sacrificial penalty is imposed on the oppressor (Lev. 5:23–26). Oppressors are also regarded as criminals so as to disqualify them as witnesses before the court (Sanh. 25b; Yad, Edut 10:4). As against strangers, the prohibition of oppression is extended to cover also intimidations and importunities (Ex. 22:20; 23:9), even where no violation of monetary rights is involved (BM 59b and Rashi ibid.). Monetary oppression has frequently been denounced as one of the most reprehensible of offenses (Jer. 21:12; 22:17; Ezek. 22:29; Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5; Ps. 62:11; 72:4–5; et al.), and its elimination as one of the conditions precedent to national and religious survival (Jer. 7:6). In the State of Israel, the offense consists of taking advantage of the distress, the physical or mental weakness, or the inexperience or lightheadedness of another person in order to obtain something not legally due, or profiteering from services rendered or commodities sold (Sect. 13, Penal Law Amendment (Deceit, Blackmail and Extortion) Law, 5723–1963). -BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Elon, Ha-Mishpat Ha-Ivri (1988), III, 1464; Ibid., Jewish Law (1994), IV, 1739; Section 431 of the Penal Law, 5737–1937; C.A. 719/78, Ilit Ltd et al v. Alko Ltd, 34 (4), 673, 686–187. (Haim Hermann Cohn)
Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.