The Butler’s Dilemma
The problem becomes much simpler within a halachic framework. A person who stole to feed his own children is still violating the prohibition against geneivah. It is only when one deals with mitzvos like “ve’asisa hatov vehayashar — and you shall do the good and the just” that one is called upon to make one’s own moral choices. Otherwise, the choice is on a legal level — and charity doesn’t trump theft.
Let’s say you’re the butler to a billionaire who lives alone. The billionaire dies in his sleep. You know he owns a large piece of jewelry that no one else has seen, and you have access to it.
If you steal the piece of jewelry, sell it, and give the money to an African charity, you can feed an entire village for a year. The village would otherwise starve. If you don’t steal the jewelry, it will go to his surviving family who has so much money they won’t care about it.
Obviously it is illegal to steal the jewelry and feed the starving village in Africa. But do you have a moral obligation to commit the crime for the greater good?
And if so, do you likewise have a moral obligation to steal anything else you can get your hands, from dead billionaires or living neighbors, if you can use the stolen property for the greater good?