A prank that went badly wrong

By now, at least Australian and British people are aware of the tragic story regarding a prank call initiated by two Australian radio jockeys, after which a nurse committed suicide.

The papers are full of condemnation, in the main, although there are others who have a different perspective. Former Victorian premier, Jeff Kennett of Beyond Blue stated

“When they did this they had no intention to cause harm, it was a harmless prank,” he said.

“Now they will be under extraordinary pressure and I just hope that they get our support and that their employer provides them with the professional support to help them get through what will be a terrible few weeks.”

I have certainly pranked and I would guess that many of us have done likewise. Who can forget the “Smile, you’re on candid camera” TV series. Those who us who are old enough were glued to the set to see how the “victim” would react when they realised that had been duped.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the two Radio hosts were convinced that their prank call was utterly without malice and could not cause any harm. Yet, as sometimes happens, sadly, one person took it to heart, and committed suicide.

We know that people who commit suicide generally suffer from a psychological malaise. In Halacha, this fact is also used to allow such sad people to be buried amongst the rest of the community. I understand that psychologists estimate that over 80% of those who commit suicide had a pre-existing condition (which may or may not have been manifest to others).

The nurse who committed suicide may have been from the 80% or may have been from the 20%. One thing is certain, the radio hosts did not perform an act that people would have called outrageous. Until the Nurse committed suicide, it was considered a funny episode. Nobody complained. I understand that even the Royal Couple thought it was funny.

One person didn’t think it was funny, and she killed herself.

What would Halacha say about this? Again, I’m no Posek, however, using the dicta of מדבר שקר תרחק and גניבת דעת one could conclude that their actions were not acceptable. That being said, I do not know if the damages, the נזק, which resulted, viz the loss of life is something they would be responsible for. I’d have though that at worst, they would be able to live in an ערי מקלט, a city of refuge for those who accidentally caused the death of another through some negligence. We’d need to show negligence, however, as opposed to a lack of truthfulness.

Your thoughts?

Author: pitputim

I've enjoyed being a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia, as well as band leader/singer for the Schnapps Band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel and later in life at Machon L'Hora'ah, Yeshivas Halichos Olam.

6 thoughts on “A prank that went badly wrong”

  1. A slightly different spin on this. Allowing for the nurse’s pre-existing condition, could the fact that this prank was aimed at royalty have exacerbated her feelings of embarrassment and humiliation?
    Were it to have to have been directed at just another member of the public would her feeling of shame have been less?
    Torah certainly sees Royalty – Malchus – in a different light and not one to be treated so disrespectfully. Would such an act be considered Morid b’malchus?


    1. Kate doesn’t have a din of malchus. In addition, if there isn’t a specific law relating to the Queen related to such things, then what is the Merida? Ergo, if they wanted to, they would need to sue via standard civil law. It’s also very difficult to argue that any damage-nezek-occurred here.


      1. We have no idea and will probably never know if the hospital management gave her a severe ticking off and maybe even threatened her or punished her, which could have been the cause of her action


  2. They left the scene without informing them that they had been duped. Thereby taking themselves out of the status of “pranking” and bringing them into the status of “humiliating”.
    Its clear what the gemoro would say (see Bovo Metzia 58b)


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