Purim Mishaps, Part II

Question #1: Purim Damage

An inebriated Purim drop-in damaged some property in our house. May we collect damages?

Question #2: Hurt at a Wedding

At a wedding, two people collided, causing one of them to break a leg and lose work time. Is the person who hurt him liable?

Question #3: Purim Dress

Is it permitted for a man to wear a woman’s dress on Purim?

Introduction:

In part I of this article, we discussed whether someone who damaged property in the course of festivities is required to make compensation. We learned that there are sources on this topic dating back to the time of the Beis Hamikdash!

As we noted in the earlier article, early sources in the Mishnah and Gemara discuss whether one is required to pay for harm that occurred in the course of a celebration. According to Rashi’s interpretation, after the completion of the hakafos in the Beis Hamikdash on Hoshanah Rabbah, the adults would grab the lulavim and esrogim from the children and eat the esrogim. Rashi explains that there was no prohibition involved, because this was part of the holiday festivities.

Most, but not all, authorities accept this approach. The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 695) quotes some of the sources that excuse the merrymaker from damages, but states that this immunity exists only in communities where this type of rowdy behavior is commonplace. He then notes that in the area in which he lives, this type of raucous celebrating does not exist. Therefore, we understand why he omits any discussion of exempting merrymakers from damages in the Shulchan Aruch. On the other hand, numerous other authorities, predominantly Ashkenazim, exempt a person from paying damages that occur as a result of mitzvah gaiety (e.g., Mordechai, Sukkah 743; Agudah, Sukkah; Terumas Hadeshen 2:210; Yam shel Shelomoh, Bava Kama 5:10). The Rema rules this way in three different places (Orach Chayim 695:2; 696:8; Choshen Mishpat 378:9), and it is accepted subsequently as normative halacha.

Limitations

Notwithstanding the generally accepted approach that a merrymaker is exempt from paying damages, there are exceptions.

Physical injury

Does this exemption of liability apply, even when there is physical injury? The Magen Avraham raises this question and notes that it is the subject of a dispute among halachic authorities. He quotes the Keneses Hagedolah, who rules that one is obligated to pay for physical harm, whereas the Agudah rules that one is not. I noted in the first part of this article that the Terumas Hadeshen appears to agree with the Agudah that one is exempt, even when there is physical injury. His case was someone who used holiday festivities as an excuse to push another person very hard, causing major injury. The Terumas Hadeshen obligated him to pay, because the injury was intentional, but seemed to accept that if the damage had been a result of merrymaking, there would be no obligation to pay.

Why is he exempt?

Until now, we have been talking about whether a merrymaker is excused from financial compensation for damages, and we have discussed sources that exempt him, at least under certain circumstances, and other sources that do not. The next step in our discussion is to understand why he should be exempt. The halachic rule is that odom mu’ad le’olam, a person is always responsible to pay for damage that he causes (Mishnah, Bava Kama 26a). Why is there an exception for a merrymaker?

I have found three halachic approaches that suggest why the person responsible for causing damage is exempt from paying. As we will see, there are practical differences in halacha that result from the different approaches.

  1. Implied mechilah

When people participate in an activity together, there is an implied mechilah that one will not collect damages.

  1. Hefker beis din hefker

In order to not put a damper on people’s celebrating, Chazal exercised their authority of hefker beis din hefker (Bach, Yoreh Deah 182).

  1. Mitzvos are different

There is a special exemption for people participating in a mitzvah.

Not mutually exclusive

We should note that the three reasons we have mentioned are not mutually exclusive. A halachic authority might hold that two or three of the reasons apply. In other words, someone might contend that whenever damage occurs in the course of a simcha shel mitzvah, the party responsible is exempt for any of the reasons provided.

  1. Implied mechilah

One possible reason to exempt the merrymaker from damages is because of a principle that when people participate in an activity together, there is an implied mechilah that one will not collect damages. Here is an early example of such a ruling:

Two people were wrestling. In the course of their bout, one of the combatants knocked the other to the floor and then pounced on him. Unfortunately, his opponent suffered serious permanent injury as a result. The question asked of the Rosh is whether there is an obligation to pay damages.

The Rosh ruled that two people who decide to wrestle agree implicitly that each is mocheil the other for damages that happen as a result of their activity. Therefore, one cannot afterward submit a financial claim for injury (Teshuvos HaRosh #101:6). The Rosh is teaching us a halachic principle that one cannot claim damages that result from an activity that he joined willfully. Similarly, if someone stomps inadvertently on another person’s foot during dancing at a wedding or on Simchas Torah, there is no requirement to pay damages. Everyone knows that, in the course of the dancing in a crowded shul on Simchas Torah or at a wedding, occasionally someone is going to step on your foot. It is quite clear that everyone accepts that this may happen and is mocheil the person responsible. If you want to be certain not to get hurt, don’t participate in the dancing.

Minor damage

Notwithstanding that the logic asserted by the Rosh is undoubtedly true, it cannot be the only reason for the halacha exempting merrymakers from damage, for the following reason: According to Rashi’s understanding of the Mishnah quoted above, adults took the lulavim and esrogim of children, and this was acceptable because it was part of the holiday celebration. Yet, children do not have the halachic ability to be mocheil. Thus, at least according to Rashi, the heter releasing a merrymaker from liability must be based on a different halachic principle.

  1. Hefker beis din hefker

The principle of hefker beis din hefker allows a rabbinic court, or someone with equivalent authority, the halachic ability to forfeit a person’s ownership or claims. In our instance, it means that they rescinded the claimant’s rights to collect for damages that he incurred. The Bach assumes that the reason for exempting a merrymaker from paying damages is because Chazal exercised their authority of hefker beis din hefker in order not to put a damper on people celebrating (Bach, Yoreh Deah 182). In other words, someone may be reluctant to join the dancing at a wedding or on Simchas Torah out of concern that he may inadvertently hurt someone and be liable for damages. In order that people celebrate without reservation, Chazal exempted participants in certain semachos from paying damages.

This approach explains why adults were permitted to commandeer the property of children as part the Sukkos celebration, even though children cannot be mocheil. Although a child’s statement that he forgives someone’s liability to him has no legal status, Chazal have the ability to forfeit such a claim.

  1. Mitzvos are different

Here is yet another explanation why a merrymaker is exempt from paying damages: This is because the merrymaker was performing a mitzvah whose proper fulfillment precludes being as careful about one’s actions as one ordinarily must be. We find a similar idea in the following passage of Gemara (Bava Kama 32a): Someone running through a public area – an action that is otherwise considered unacceptable and liable – is exempt from paying damages if, in his rush to be ready for Shabbos, he collides with another person. Since he is racing for a mitzvah, he is not liable (see Piskei Rid ad locum).

The same approach can be applied to our merrymaker. He will be unable to entertain properly if he is constantly thinking of the legal responsibility that might result from his actions. Therefore, as long as his celebrating is within normally accepted limits, he is exempt from damages that result. Later in this article, I am going to suggest that an early halachic authority, Rav Yehudah Mintz, usually called the Mahari Mintz, held this way.

Hurt at a wedding

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: At a wedding, two people collided, causing one of them to break a leg and lose work time. Is the person who hurt him liable?

According to the Terumas Hadeshen and the Agudah, there is no requirement in this instance to pay damages, since they rule that a merrymaker is exempt from damages even if there was physical injury. In this instance, the Bach would also agree that he is exempt since, although there is physical injury, it is likely to heal, and he rules that as long as no permanent damage resulted, a merrymaker is exempt from making compensation. However, it would seem that the Keneses Hagedolah, who rules that physical injury is not included in this exemption from compensation, would require our merrymaker to pay.

Purim Dress

At this point, we will examine the third question asked above: “Is it permitted for a man to wear a woman’s dress on Purim?”

The Mahari Mintz was one of the greatest halachic authorities of 15th century Ashkenaz. Born in Germany, he was the rav of Padua, Italy, for 47 years, where he founded one of the most famous yeshivos of his era. (To play a bit of Jewish geography, the Maharam Padua, one of the Mahari Mintz’s renowned disciples, who married the Mahari Mintz’s granddaughter and also became his successor, was a cousin of the Rema.)

In a responsum, the Mahari Mintz addresses whether it is permitted for men to wear women’s clothing as part of the Purim celebration and, vice versa, whether a woman may wear men’s clothing. The Mahari Mintz quotes a mechutan of his, Rav Elyakim – whom the Mahari Mintz describes as knowing all areas of Torah and being the greatest halachic authority of his time – as having permitted this. The Mahari Mintz agrees with his mechutan, explaining that the prohibition against wearing other gender clothing is only when one’s interest is to dress or act like the other gender, but not when one’s goal is to celebrate. He quotes as proof an early ruling of the Riva, one of the baalei Tosafos, that all food grabbed by young men in the course of the Purim celebration is not considered stolen, provided that this happened sometime between the reading of the Megillah at night and the end of the Purim seudah (Shu”t Mahari Mintz, end of #16). Thus we see that celebrating Purim can sometimes exempt one from other obligations.

The Bach took great issue with the Mahari Mintz’s ruling permitting the wearing of other gender clothing on Purim. Allow me to quote some of the Bach’s discussion on the subject. “One should note that there is a practice on Purim that men wear women’s clothing, and vice versa, without anyone protesting that this is a violation of halacha. According to what I explained above, wearing clothing of the opposite gender to appear like them is certainly forbidden. Rav Yehudah Mintz already discussed this issue in his responsum, saying that, since their intention is to celebrate Purim, there is no prohibition, similar to the ruling that a man may shave his underarm hair when it is uncomfortable (an act that is usually prohibited, because of the prohibition of men wearing women’s clothing and performing activities that are considered feminine). However, it appears to me that what Rav Yehudah Mintz wrote is inaccurate, since Rabbi Eliezer of Metz [one of the baalei Tosafos, a disciple of Rabbeinu Tam, who lived in the 12th century] wrote explicitly that one may not wear clothing of the other gender in order to enhance the celebration of a choson and kallah… Without any question, had Rabbi Yehudah Mintz seen the words of Rabbi Eliezer of Metz, he would not have written what he did. Rabbi Yehudah Mintz also wrote that, since there is the established heter of grabbing food on Purim and it is not considered theft, similarly, changing clothing [to that of the other gender] is permitted. However, his logic here is erroneous, because in regard to money, there is a halachic rule of hefker beis din hefker… however, the city elders cannot permit something that is prohibited [such as wearing clothing of the other gender]” (Bach, Yoreh Deah 182).

Notwithstanding the Bach’s disagreement, the Rema (Orach Chayim 696:8) rules that it is permitted to wear clothing of the other gender as part of the celebration of Purim, provided that one does so only on the day of Purim itself. (We should note that the Mishnah Berurah and many other late authorities frown on the practice.)

The question that we need to address is, what did Rabbi Yehudah Mintz hold is the reason to exempt a merrymaker from paying for damage that he caused? He could not have held either of the first two reasons we mentioned above, since neither reason would allow someone to celebrate by wearing clothing of the other gender, and Rabbi Yehudah Mintz compares the two practices. Apparently, he understood that the basis for exempting someone from payment is because he was involved in performing a mitzvah (celebrating Purim), and that wearing clothes of the opposite gender is prohibited only when one’s motivation is to look somewhat like the other gender, but not when one is doing so to perform a mitzvah.

Conclusion

In general, we must realize that we should perform Hashem’s mitzvos with much enthusiasm. Although this is an important value, we must also always be careful that our enthusiastic observance of mitzvos does not cause harm. Nevertheless, we now know that there are instances when someone might be exempt from payment for damage he caused while he was performing a mitzvah, particularly when the mitzvah involved celebrating.

 

 

Purim Mishaps

In honor of Parshas Zochor, we will be discussing:

Purim Mishaps

Question #1: Stole a Brocha?

Someone walked into our Purim seudah, helped himself to some kreplach, recited a loud brocha and then disappeared. Should we have answered “amen” to his brocha?

Question #2: Purim Damage

An inebriated Purim drop-in damaged some property in our house. May we collect damages?

Question #3: Hurt at a Wedding

At a wedding, two people collided, causing one of them to break a leg and lose work time. Is the person who hurt him liable?

Introduction

Although we certainly hope that our Purim celebrations do not result in anyone getting hurt, the topic of this week’s article is whether someone is required to pay compensation, should he cause damage in the course of festivities. As we will discover, this is an old question, with sources dating back to the time of the Beis Hamikdash! As always, our discussion is not meant for halachic conclusion – for that we refer the reader to his own rav, dayan or posek. The purpose of our article is to provide educational background.

Early sources in the Mishnah and Gemara discuss whether one is required to pay for harm that transpired in the course of a celebration. Let us begin with an anecdote mentioned in the Mishnah (Sukkah 45a), which states, according to Rashi’s interpretation, that after the completion of the hakafos in the Beis Hamikdash on Hoshanah Rabbah, the adults would grab the lulavim and esrogim from the children and eat the esrogim. Rashi explains that there was no prohibition involved because this was part of the holiday festivities. To quote Rashi’s actual words, Ve’ein badavar lo mishum gezel velo mishum darchei shalom shekein nohagu machmas simcha, “there is no violation of the laws of theft or of darchei shalom, because this practice was part of the celebration.” Rashi’s unusual reference to “theft or darchei shalom” is presumably based on the fact that children who were underage could have acquired their esrogim in one of two ways:

(1) Their fathers could have purchased them, in which case the lulavim and esrogim belong to the children min haTorah, and one would have thought that taking them violates stealing.

(2) The children found the lulavim and esrogim, in which case the violation is because of darchei shalom. (See Mishnah, Gittin 59b, for further discussion on this last point.)

(Those who would like to research this subtopic in more detail should note that the approach is based on the comments of the Kapos Temarim, who disagrees with the view of the Tosafos Yom Tov.

The Kapos Temarim was authored by Rav Moshe ibn Chabib, a distant cousin of the author of the Ein Yaakov [both of them were descendants of the Nimukei Yosef]. Rav Moshe ibn Chabib was born in Salonica about the year 1654, attended yeshivah in Istanbul and was sent to Yerushalayim by Rav Moshe Ya’ish, a businessman in Istanbul, to become a magid shiur of the yeshivah there that Rav Ya’ish supported. As hakaras hatov to his benefactor, for the first three years after his arrival in Yerushalayim, Rav Moshe ibn Chabib sent back to Rav Ya’ish notes from his shiurim in the yeshivah, which he developed into seforim on mesechtos Rosh Hashanah, Yoma, and Sukkah. Rav Ya’ish arranged for these chiddushim to be published in Istanbul.

After three years in Yerushalayim, Rav Moshe Galanti, the first to hold the position called rishon letziyon, passed on, and Rav Moshe ibn Chabib, then only about thirty-five years old, was appointed as his replacement to be the rishon letziyon. This is quite astounding, since there were approximately one hundred great talmidei chachamin at the time in the very small community of Yerushalayim, many of them decades older than he. This underscores his tremendous status as a gaon in learning.

Unfortunately for us, his responsibilities as rishon letziyon apparently precluded his continuing his series on Shas. We do have scattered responsa from him and a monumental work on the laws of gittin. Rav Moshe ibn Chabib served as rishon letziyon until his premature passing at the age of 47.)

Wedding jousting

Tosafos notes that, according to Rashi, the following halacha would result.

“We can learn from here that young men who ride on their horses to greet a chosson and they fight together (probably a jousting match or something similar, performed to entertain the celebrants) – if one of them tears the other’s clothing or injures his horse, they are not liable, because this is the minhag established because of simcha.” In other words, when people are involved in celebration, even should it get somewhat rowdy, the established practice exempts a person from paying damages that may result.

We should note that Tosafos mentions that one young man tore another’s clothing or injured his mount, both of which are instances of property damage – but Tosafos does not discuss whether there is liability in the event of physical injury. We will discuss more on this point shortly.

Tosafos then suggests an alternative way to explain the Mishnah: After the last of the hakafos, the children removed their own lulavim from the hadasim and aravos and began to play with their lulavim and eat their own esrogim (and not that the adults grabbed the children’s lulavim and esrogim). According to this approach, the Mishnah contains no reference to someone taking another person’s property as part of the celebration, and it therefore provides no source that a celebration exempts liability should one damage someone else’s property. However, although the second approach does not provide a source exempting a simcha situation from liability, this does not necessarily mean that those who understand the Mishnah this way require that a celebrant pay damages. It simply means that there is no source from the Mishnah regarding this law.

It is interesting to note that Rashi on the Gemara (46b) cites Tosafos’ approach in explaining the Gemara and disagrees with it on the basis of a Midrash Rabbah that he quotes. This leads to an interesting discussion among the early acharonim.

The Maharam notes that Tosafos does not point out in either place that Rashi himself mentions the other approach and disagrees with it. The Maharam concludes that Tosafos obviously did not have this text in Rashi; he also notes that he found other editions of the Gemara that do not have this Rashi. The Gra similarly states that this text is not part of what Rashi wrote but was written by someone later, and then added to our editions by an errant copyist. However, we should note that these comments are attributed to Rashi’s commentary even in the very earliest printed Shas, the Bomberg edition, printed in Venice in 1521. That would mean that the Maharam and the Gra are noting that this mistake crept into Rashi even earlier, probably before the era of printing.

We find evidence that not all rishonim agree that someone who caused damage while celebrating a simcha is exempt. This disagreement is borne out by a ruling of the Rosh, recorded in the following responsum (Teshuvos Harosh 101:5).

Just muling around

For the occasion of his wedding and sheva brochos, a chosson rented an elegant mule. The rental agreement from the non-Jewish owner included a provision that, if the mule was injured, the renter/chosson would be required to pay not only damages but also a substantial fine, far more than the market value of the animal.

In the course of the merriment, a celebrant who was on horseback playfully chased after the chosson. His steed collided with the chosson’s mule, severely injuring the mule. Subsequently, there was a din Torah concerning payment for the damage to the chosson’s rented mule. (Some friend! And what a way to celebrate your wedding!) The Rosh rules that the friend is obligated to pay the damages for the mule, but he is not obligated to pay the cost of the contractual fine over and above the value of the mule, for reasons unrelated to our discussion.

The Maharshal notes that if a celebrant at a simcha is exempt from damages, the chosson’s friend should have no legal responsibility to make restitution. He therefore concludes that the Rosh disagrees with those who contend that there is an exemption from paying damages caused by mitzvah merriment (Yam shel Shelomoh, Bava Kama 5:10).

Rowdy Ashkenazim

The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 695) quotes some of the sources that excuse the merrymaker from damages, but notes that this immunity exists only in communities where this type of rowdy merrymaking is common practice. He then notes that in the area in which he lives, this type of rowdy celebrating does not exist. Therefore, we understand why he omitted any discussion of exempting merrymakers from damages when he wrote the Shulchan Aruch. On the other hand, numerous other authorities, predominantly Ashkenazim, exempt the person from paying damages caused by mitzvah gaiety (e.g., Mordechai, Sukkah 743; Agudah, Sukkah ad locum; Terumas Hadeshen 2:210; Yam shel Shelomoh, Bava Kama 5:10). The Rema rules this way in three different places (Orach Chayim 695:2; 696:8; Choshen Mishpat 378:9), and it is accepted subsequently as normative halacha. (One later authority who disagrees with the Rema is the Yesh Seder Lemishnah, in his commentary to the Mishnah in Sukkah.) Here I will quote one of the places where the Rema cites this law: Young men who ride to greet the chosson and kallah, and damage one another’s property while celebrating, are exempt from paying, since this is the accepted custom. However, if it appears to beis din that this practice needs to be curtailed, it is authorized to require payment.

Limitations

Notwithstanding the generally accepted approach that a merrymaker is exempt from paying damages, there are exceptions. Here is an extreme example, mentioned by the Terumas Hadeshen:

Eliezer claims that Gershom pushed him extremely hard during the Hoshanos and the subsequent impact broke Eliezer’s shoulder blade. Eliezer is now suing Gershom for compensation for his medical expenses, lost work time, and other damages. Gershom retorts that since it happened in the course of the Sukkos celebrations, he is exempt from paying. Testimony was introduced that Gershom’s act was premeditated – he was angry at Eliezer and used the Hoshanos observance as a ruse to disguise his reprehensible intentions. The two men were indeed involved in a serious tiff.

Indeed, although the Torah would require someone who injures someone intentionally to pay not only for the other abovementioned costs, but also for embarrassment and pain, such claims require the authorization of judges who have semicha for these laws in a mesorah that traces itself back to Moshe Rabbeinu. In addition, these claims can be collected only when they can be proven. Nevertheless, the Terumas Hadeshen rules that since the damage was malicious, and Gershom attempted to mask his intentions in a way that he would not be liable, the situation requires punishment beyond what the law would necessarily require (Terumas Hadeshen 2:210).

We should note that the Terumas Hadeshen contends that Gershom is responsible because he intended to injure Eliezer. However, had the injury been unintentional, the Terumas Hadeshen agrees that there would be no financial liability, notwithstanding the fact that there was physical injury and fairly extensive damages. This leads us to our next subtopic.

Physical injury

Does the exemption of liability caused in the course of mitzvah merriment apply even when there is physical injury? The Magen Avraham raises this question, and notes that it is subject to a dispute among halachic authorities. He quotes the Keneses Hagedolah, who rules that one is obligated to pay for physical harm, whereas the Agudah rules that one is not. We also noted above that the Terumas Hadeshen held, like the Agudah, that one is not obligated to pay even in the instance of physical injury, should the cause of damage be the merriment and not someone’s despicable intentions.

A similar question was asked of the Bach. During a wedding meal, one of the celebrants smashed his drinking glass against a wall and the flying glass caused someone serious, permanent injury. Is the glass smasher obligated to compensate for the damages, or is he exempt because of the rule of merrymaking? The Bach cites the dispute about whether a merrymaker is obligated to compensate for physical injuries. He rules that, even according to those who rule that physical injuries are included in the exemption, permanent physical injury is not included (Shu”t Habach #62). This opinion of the Bach is cited by some later authorities (He’aros Rav Boruch Frankel on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 695; Mishnah Berurah 695:13).

Stole a Brocha

At this point, let us examine the first of our opening questions:

Someone walked into our Purim seudah, helped himself to some kreplach, recited a loud brocha, and then disappeared. Should we have answered “amen” to his brocha?

The halachic question here is that, in general, it is forbidden to recite a brocha on stolen food, and, therefore, one may not answer amen to such a blessing. The question is whether this food is considered stolen.

Some prominent 15th century halachic authorities quote an early ruling of the Riva, one of the baalei Tosafos, that all food grabbed by young men in the course of a Purim celebration is not considered stolen, provided that this happened sometime between the reading of the Megillah at night and the end of the Purim seudah (Terumas Hadeshen 1:110; Shu”t Maharam Mintz, end of #16). The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 696) quotes this ruling as normative halacha. As a result, the Mishnah Berurah rules that someone who took food from another person during the Purim celebrations may recite a brocha. Nevertheless, he also quotes the Shelah (quoted by the Elya Rabbah) who frowns on this behavior, stating that anyone concerned about his Judaism should not conduct himself this way. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the conclusion that the Mishnah Berurah applies to this ruling, the halacha remains that, since the individual who helped himself to the kreplach did not steal, he was required to recite a brocha prior to eating it, and the brocha was therefore not recited in vain. The result is that one is required to answer amen to this brocha.

Please click here for Part II of this article. .

 

The Halachos of Borrowing

 

Question: Shattered Shield

“A friend left for a few weeks, leaving me the keys for his car and permission to use it whenever I wanted. The first morning, when I went to get the car, I discovered that the windshield had been shattered by a stone or brick. Am I obligated to replace the windshield?”

Introduction:

Answering this question requires that we understand the legal responsibilities of someone who borrows an item. As always, the purpose of our article is not to offer a definitive halachic ruling, but to present background and knowledge. In this instance, as in all cases, a person should address any particular question to his rav or posek. And, since there are probably two parties involved, to resolve a matter amicably, I suggest that the two of you agree on a specific rav or dayan whose expertise you both recognize.

The Basics:

In parshas Mishpatim, the Torah presents three types of shomrim, people who assume responsibility for other people’s property. The Torah shebe’al peh, our Oral Torah, explains that these are the three categories:

  1. A shomer chinam takes care of someone else’s property without any compensation and has no right to use the item. He is responsible to pay if the item was damaged due to his negligence, or if he used it without permission. If there are factual issues that are unresolved, such as determining whether the shomer was negligent, the owner may insist that the shomer swear a shevuah, an oath, to exonerate himself from liability. This last rule, that the owner is not required to accept the shomer’s version of what happened without corroborating evidence, is true also in regard to the other shomrim that we will soon discuss.

In recent history, batei din have been reticent about requiring someone to swear an oath, and therefore a beis din might effect a financial compromise in lieu of an oath.

  1. A shomer sachar is one who takes care of an item and receives financial benefit. He is liable if the item is lost or stolen, but he is not obligated if it became lost or damaged for some reason beyond his control, which includes, for example, armed robbery.
  2. A sho’eil borrows an item, receiving benefit without providing the owner with any compensation. As stated in the Mishnah (Bava Metzia 93a), a sho’eil is obligated to pay for any damage that happens to the item, even if it is completely beyond his control. The obvious reason why this is so is that since the sho’eil received benefit from the item gratis, he must make sure that he returns what he received, paying its full value, if need be.

Notwithstanding this obligation on the part of the borrower, there are two exceptional situations where the item is damaged, stolen or destroyed and the sho’eil is not obligated to make compensation. These are:

  1. Meisah machmas melacha, literally, the item or animal “died” or became damaged in some way as a result of the work for which it was borrowed. We will soon explain the rationale for this. In addition, the borrower is exempt only when he used the item without abusing it.
  2. Be’alav imo, the owner of the borrowed item was in the employ of the borrower at the time of the loan (Mishnah, Bava Metzia 94a).

Verification

As noted above, should there be a question about verifying the facts, whether the circumstances were indeed a case of meisah machmas melacha, the lender may demand that the borrower swear an oath to verify them. Also, if the event occurred in a time and place that there should have been eyewitnesses, the lender may insist that the borrower produce witnesses to verify what happened, rather than be satisfied with an oath.

In this context, the Gemara records the following din Torah (Bava Metzia 97a): A man borrowed a bucket that broke while he was using it. The two parties appeared before Rav Papa to adjudicate whether the borrower was obligated to pay. Rav Papa ruled that this is considered meisah machmas melacha. However, he first asked the borrower to produce witnesses that he did not use the bucket in an unusual fashion, for if he used it in an unusual way, the exemption of meisah machmas melacha would not apply.

Kinyan

There is a basic dispute among the rishonim concerning whether a shomer becomes liable as soon as he agrees to the arrangement (Rosh, Bava Metzia 8:15), or only when he makes a kinyan on the borrowed item (Raavad, quoted by Shitah Mekubetzes, Bava Metzia 98b). Kinyan refers to the act that effects loans, rentals, transfers of ownership of property and other legal agreements. In our situation, this question arises in the event that the borrowed item was left in the shomer’s care, but he never lifted, moved or did anything else that would legally make the item “his.” Some rishonim hold that the shomer becomes responsible only when he performs a kinyan, whereas others hold that he becomes responsible even when no kinyan is performed.

Among the halachic authorities, this matter is disputed by the Shulchan Aruch and the Rema, the latter ruling that a shomer becomes legally responsible as soon as he agrees to the arrangement (Choshen Mishpat 340:4).

In the case of an automobile, driving the car off when someone borrowed it constitutes a kinyan. According to some rishonim, taking possession of the keys is also a kinyan, but this is a minority opinion (see Rashi, Pesachim 4a, as explained by Korban Nesanel).

With this background, let us now examine our opening question:

Shattered Shield

“A friend left for a few weeks, leaving me the keys for his car and permission to use it whenever I wanted. The first morning, when I went to get the car, I discovered that the windshield had been shattered by a stone or brick. Am I obligated to replace the windshield?”

The damage caused here had nothing to do with the sho’eil, but, as we explained before, he is obligated to make compensation even then. However, according to the opinion that a shomer is not obligated until he makes a kinyan on the item, if the borrower did not drive the car, he has not yet become obligated. Thus, he would be exempt from paying for the damages, according to that opinion, which is the way many halachic authorities rule.

Establishing a condition

It is important to note that the system explained above regarding the responsibility of shomrim applies only when the two parties did not establish their own policy. However, if a sho’eil tells the owner that he is not assuming responsibility and the owner agrees, or if a shomer chinam assumes total responsibility, or if any other arrangement is made that both parties accept, that agreement will govern what liability exists (Mishnah, Bava Metzia 94a). Similarly, an agreement may also be made to eliminate any obligation on the shomer to swear an oath to verify the facts (ibid.).

Therefore, if a shomer chinam wants to avoid any potential liability, either to pay or to swear an oath, he should tell the owner that he will gladly watch the item, but that he is assuming no responsibility for the item, even should he be negligent, and that the owner must relinquish his right to have the shomer swear to prove his innocence. A sho’eil may make a similar condition before he borrows the item. However, bear in mind that if the sho’eil does make such a precondition, the owner may refuse to lend him the item. Since the sho’eil is aware of this, he is usually reluctant to make such a precondition. Our article is discussing the halacha that applies when they do not make their own arrangements.

Be’alav imo and Meisah machmas melacha

We mentioned above that a sho’eil is obligated to pay for all damages that happen to the item he borrowed, with the exception of two cases: meisah machmas melacha and be’alav imo. It is interesting to note that these two exemptions are, in one way, complete opposites. The exemption of be’alav imo is expressly mentioned in the Torah and thus fits the halachic category that we call gezeiras hakasuv. In this case, this means that attempts to explain the reason for this law will not affect the halacha. (Although the commentaries present many reasons for be’alav imo, these reasons will not change the halacha – they may qualify under the general heading of lo darshinan ta’ama dikra, we do not derive halachic conclusions based on reasons for mitzvos. Because of space considerations, we will not discuss in this article the topic of darshinan ta’ama dikra and how it relates to be’alav imo.)

On the other hand, since the exemption of meisah machmas melacha is never mentioned in the Torah shebiksav, we assume that the basis for this law is logic. Chazal understood that the sho’eil is not obligated to pay for an item that was damaged as a result of expected use.

The question is why this rule is true when the Torah obligates the borrower to replace the item, even should it be destroyed by a complete accident over which he had no control. The Gemara, when explaining this idea, states very succinctly that the animal was not borrowed for it to have a vacation. There are several ways to understand this statement of the Gemara. I will now present four of them.

Lender’s negligence

Among the halachic authorities, we find several approaches to explain the phenomenon of meisah machmas melacha, and there are differences in practical halacha that result. The Ramban explains that the reason for meisah machmas melacha is because the lender is considered negligent. He should have realized that his object or animal could not withstand the work for which he was lending it! Since he did not check this out, he has no claim on the borrower to replace it (Ramban, Bava Metzia 96b, quoted by Beis Yosef, Choshen Mishpat 340). For ease of presentation, we will refer to this approach as lender’s negligence.

Wear and tear

A second approach is that the person lending an item knows that there will be a certain amount of wear and tear, and he does not expect to be reimbursed for this (Nimukei Yosef, Rosh as explained by Machaneh Efrayim, Hilchos She’eilah Upikadon #4). If the animal or item could not withstand normal use, this is an extension of the wear-and-tear principle.

Mechilas hamash’il

A third reason is that when lending an item, one knows that the item can become damaged while it is being used, and this is included in the mechilah implied by the loan. This approach contends that a sho’eil is exempt when damage occurs as a result of the loan, even when it cannot be attributed to wear and tear. For example, the borrower told the owner that his intent is to take a trip to a certain place, which he did, and while there the animal was stolen (see Ramah, quoted by Tur, Choshen Mishpat #340). Since the owner knew the animal was being borrowed to take it to a specific place, any damage that happens because of that place is included as meisah machmas melacha, according to this third opinion. I will henceforth refer to this approach as mechilas hamash’il, meaning that, in advance, the lender forgives damage that occurs while the item is being used.

Of the three opinions cited so far, only the third exempts the sho’eil from paying when an animal is stolen. The previous two opinions both contend that meisah machmas melacha can include only damage that was a result of normal, expected work. According to the reason of lender’s negligence, the owner was not negligent if the animal was stolen, and, according to the wear and tear reason, the loss from theft was not a result of use.

Mekach ta’us

A fourth approach, mentioned in acharonim, is that when someone borrows an item or animal, he accepts responsibility only because he assumes that it can withstand the work for which he borrowed it. If it is incapable of performing that task, then we assume the borrower never assumed responsibility (Machaneh Efrayim, Hilchos She’eilah Upikadon #4). I will call this approach mekach ta’us, that the implied “contract” of responsibility was never agreed to by both parties.

To simplify our four approaches, they are:

  1. Lender’s negligence: The lender was negligent in not checking the item’s condition before lending it.
  2. Wear and tear: Lending includes the assumption that a borrower is not responsible for normal use.
  3. Mechilas hamash’il: The lender assumes responsibility for damage that resulted from the loan.
  4. Mekach ta’us: The borrower never assumed this responsibility.

Practical differences

Are there practical differences that result from this dispute? Indeed, there are many. Here is an early example: The Tur (Choshen Mishpat 340) quotes a dispute between the early rishonim, the Ramah (Rabbi Meir Abulafia, an early rishon living in Spain, not to be confused with Rabbi Moshe Isserlis, the Rema, who lived in Poland over three hundred years later, whose notes to the Shulchan Aruch we will be quoting shortly) and the Rosh, concerning the following case: Someone borrowed an animal for a specific trip, and the animal was stolen on the trip by armed robbers. The Ramah rules that this is considered meisah machmas melacha and the borrower is not obligated to pay, whereas the Rosh rules that it is not meisah machmas melacha and he is obligated to pay.

A careful study of the way the Tur presents the dispute implies that the Ramah assumes that the lender was mocheil any damages expected to happen as part of the lending (approach #3 above, mechilas hamash’il), whereas the Rosh assumes that the lender is mocheil only on expected wear and tear (approach #2 above, wear and tear). The Ramah appears to understand that any damage that results from the loan is included under meisah machmas melacha. (The approach to explain this dispute is presented by the Machaneh Efrayim.)

How do we rule?

The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 340:3) rules according to the Ramah: When the animal was stolen by armed robbers during the time that it was borrowed, the borrower is exempt from making compensation, because it is considered a case of meisah machmas melacha.

On the other hand, the Rema cites the Rosh’s opinion. The Shach agrees with the halachic conclusion of the Rema in this case, because he feels that the Ramban’s approach (#1 above, which I called lender’s negligence) should be followed, and this approach is in agreement with the Rema’s position in this case.

Playing cat and mouse

The following interesting case is mentioned in the Gemara (Bava Metzia 97a): Someone’s house was infested with mice, and the owner wanted to use an inexpensive, safe and environmentally-friendly way to eliminate the problem. He borrowed a neighbor’s cat to “exterminate” the mice.

Strength in numbers

The Gemara tells us that a very unusual thing happened. The mice gathered together and launched a counterattack on the cat, killing it! The question now was whether the borrower was required to compensate the lender for the deceased cat, and the matter became the subject of one of the most famous dinei Torah in history, presided over by Rav Ashi. The conclusion was that the borrower was exempt from paying, because this is a case of meisah machmas melacha.

Contemporary case

In a contemporary work, I found discussion about the following case: Reuven borrowed a car for a day. While he was driving the car, a child darted into the street in front of the car. Reuven braked, fortunately succeeding in avoiding striking the child. However, a truck behind him was following too closely. The truck hit the car, severely damaging it, and then escaped without providing any identifying information (hit and run) – leaving Reuven with a damaged, borrowed car. To complicate matters, the owner was not carrying collision insurance that would cover the damage. Is Reuven obligated to pay the owner for the damage?

According to the Ramban, approach #1, that meisah machmas melacha is exempt because the lender was negligent, Reuven is certainly obligated to pay. Although the damage was completely accidental, a sho’eil is obligated to compensate for accidental damage that happened while the item is in his care. Meisah machmas melacha does not apply, according to this approach, because the automobile was not deficient in any way.

The same halacha is true according to the Rosh (approach #2), who contends that the law of meisah machmas melacha exempts only wear and tear, which was not the cause for the damage. Furthermore, according to the fourth approach  (mekach ta’us) Reuven is obligated, again, because the automobile was in fine condition when he borrowed it.

However, what is the law according to the third approach, that I called mechilas hamash’il? This approach contends that an owner is mocheil any damage that might result from the loan. A contemporary author that I saw ruled that, according to this opinion, the sho’eil would be exempt from paying in this instance, since the damage happened as a result of the loan (Mishpetei HaTorah 1:35).

Conclusion

As we can see, the laws regarding responsibility for items are very complex and sometimes lead to surprising conclusions. In general, we should be vigilant when we assume responsibility for items belonging to others. A Torah Jew observes his contractual commitments with trust and faith. He certainly realizes that Hashem’s Torah is all-encompassing and directs every aspect of his life, certainly the details of his financial dealings.

 

The Fateful U-Turn

                                                                     j0442430

This article was originally published in the American edition of the Yated Neeman

 

ACT I – The Fateful U-Turn

Location: THE HIGHWAY

Reuven missed his exit off the highway. Since it was a bright, clear day, he decided to make a U-turn to get back in the right direction. Although this was illegal, he did not consider it dangerous since the road was virtually deserted, except for a car coming in the other direction which seemed to be quite a distance away.

Reuven was mistaken. His car collided with the other vehicle. Fortunately, no one was injured, but both cars suffered significant damage.

The other driver, Shimon, considered Reuven responsible for the damage to his vehicle, although Reuven insisted that Shimon must have been speeding for the accident to have occurred. Shimon insisted that he was not speeding.

To complicate matters, the car Reuven was driving was not his own. That morning, his friend Yaakov had asked Reuven to drive him to the airport using Yaakov’s car. On the way to the airport, Yaakov mentioned that since he was leaving for a week, Reuven could borrow the car while he was gone.

After the accident, Reuven discovered that Yaakov’s car had no collision insurance, and worse yet, no liability insurance for any driver except Yaakov. Thus, there is no insurance coverage for the damage done to either vehicle.

Because Reuven would never have driven the car had he known it was uninsured, he claims that he never assumed responsibility for the value of the car when he agreed to borrow it.

Is Reuven liable for the damage to both vehicles? Although Reuven is over his head in debt, if he is halachically obligated to pay either Yaakov or Shimon, he will do so. But if he is not required to do so, he feels that he is not in a financial position to make the compensation.

Reuven, Shimon, and Yaakov submit the shaylah to a beis din for arbitration. They schedule an appointment and come prepared to present their cases.

ACT II – THE COURTROOM

Location: The offices of the beis din.

On the appointed day, the three litigants appear in the beis din. Shimon claims that Reuven must compensate him for the damage to his car, and that Yaakov should also be liable as the owner of an improperly insured vehicle. Reuven claims that Shimon is responsible for all the damages since the accident happened because of Shimon’s speeding. Yaakov claims that Reuven damaged his vehicle and is therefore obligated to pay for its repair.

Yaakov presents his claim against Reuven first, stating that he has claims against Reuven for two different reasons:

1. First, Reuven should be liable as the borrower of the car even if the damage was not his responsibility.

2. Second, Reuven is liable as a mazik, one who damages, since his negligence caused an accident.

Let us examine the validity of each claim separately, and then we will see what Reuven countered.

SHO’EIL

A sho’eil, a borrower, is responsible for almost any damage that takes place to the item he borrows, even if the damage is accidental and not caused by the borrower. (There are two circumstances where a sho’eil is not liable, but they do not apply here, and I am therefore omitting them from our discussion.) Yaakov claims that Reuven is responsible to make full restitution for the value of the car since he borrowed it.

REUVEN’S DEFENSE

Reuven turns to the dayanim and explains, “I believe that I am not a sho’eil according to halacha, but I have the halacha of a socheir, a renter, notwithstanding the fact that I paid no money. Furthermore, I claim that even as a socheir I am not responsible for the damages sustained as I will explain.”

WHAT ARE THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF A SOCHEIR?

A socheir is liable for damage if the item is lost or stolen, or if he is negligent, but he is not responsible for accidental damage. There is also another major difference in halacha between a sho’eil and a socheir that Reuven uses as an essential component of his defense, as I will explain.

WAS REUVEN A SHO’EIL OR A SOCHEIR?

In order to analyze this question, we need to explain why a sho’eil carries so much responsibility. The Gemara mentions that a sho’eil’s liability is so great because he gains all the benefits of the loan without any responsibilities in return. (This is called kol hana’ah shelo, “all benefits are to the borrower.”) Since the borrower receives all the benefits, the Torah obligates him to compensate the owner for any damage whatsoever, even if it was beyond his control.

However, any time the lender receives some compensation, even non-monetary, the arrangement is not kol hana’ah shelo and the borrower is not liable for accidental damage. In our situation, Yaakov received a chauffeured ride to the airport in exchange for Reuven’s borrowing the car. Halacha views this as if Reuven rented the car from Yaakov, paying him for the rental by driving him to the airport. This is enough to make Reuven into a socheir rather than a sho’eil, and exempts him from paying for accidental damages (see Shu’t HaRan #20).

BUT WAS THIS A CASE OF NEGLIGENCE?

Yaakov objects to Reuven’s defense. “Even if I received some benefit and you are not a sho’eil, you are still liable as a socheir because the damage was caused by negligence!”

However, Reuven has done his homework. He knows that there is another distinction between a renter and a borrower that we will now explain.

DID REUVEN ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE CAR?

Reuven claims he would never have driven the car had he known it was uninsured. Therefore, he never assumed any responsibility for the car’s value and he is not liable for the damage. Does this defense have any merit?

The Gemara discusses a case where someone assumed responsibility for an item assuming it was worth far less than it actually is. If the item is subsequently lost, he is only responsible for as much value as he originally thought the item was worth (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 291:4). Thus, Reuven can legitimately claim that he was not responsible as a socheir of the car because he never assumed responsibility for its value.

BUT WHY DID REUVEN INSIST THAT HE WAS NOT A SHO’EIL?

Reuven first claimed that he was not a sho’eil because Yaakov had received benefit. Only then did he claim that he wasn’t even a socheir because he had never assumed any responsibility. This seems like an unnecessary step in his defense – let him simply claim that he never assumed any responsibility, whether as a sho’eil or as a socheir.

The answer is that there is a halachic difference between borrowing and renting. A borrower becomes responsible for all the damages even if he did not assume responsibility; that is, the fact that he uses the item without providing the lender any compensation makes him responsible (Machanei Efrayim, Hilchos She’eilah #1; Milu’ei Mishpat 346:8; cf. however Nesivos HaMishpat 346:8, who implies that even a sho’eil is not responsible under these circumstances). However, a socheir’s liability is limited to how much responsibility he assumed.

WHY IS A BORROWER DIFFERENT FROM A RENTER?

A borrower is responsible because of the concept of kol hana’ah shelo, “all benefits are to the borrower.” The circumstances are what make him liable, not necessarily his agreement. (Although the lender can agree to exempt the borrower from all damages, in the absence of such an agreement, the borrower is responsible for all damages.) Thus, a borrower claiming that he never assumed responsibility or that he was unaware of the liability would not be a defense. However, a socheir’s liability results from his agreement to be responsible as a socheir. Therefore, claiming that he never assumed responsibility is a valid defense.

Thus, Reuven claims that he is not responsible for having borrowed the car based on the following reasoning:

1. He is not a sho’eil, but a socheir, since Yaakov received benefit from the “loan.”

2. As a socheir he can claim that he never accepted responsibility for the value of the car because he assumed that insurance was covering the financial liability.

WHAT ABOUT A MAZIK, SOMEONE WHO DAMAGED SOMEONE ELSE’S PROPERTY?

Reuven has successfully demonstrated that he is not obligated to pay as a borrower. However, this does not exonerate him from Yaakov’s claim that he damaged the vehicle. His defense against this claim was that Shimon caused the accident. Is this claim a sufficient defense? Moreover, is it Yaakov’s responsibility to prove who caused the accident in order to collect the damages from Reuven?

First we must clarify two shaylos:

1. If someone damaged property in a traffic accident, is he considered a mazik who must pay for damages?

2. When two parties are involved in a collision, how do we assign financial responsibility?

The following incident that happened over seven hundred years ago resolves one of our questions.

ACT III – SOME HORSEPLAY

Location: Thirteenth Century Germany

The Rosh (quoted by Tur, Choshen Mishpat 378:9) discusses the following din Torah:

During a wedding celebration, the groom was riding a very expensive mule that he had rented from a non-Jew for the occasion. (This was the thirteenth-century equivalent to renting a white Cadillac for a newlywed couple.) One of his well-wishers galloped up the street on horseback, unintentionally crashing his horse into the groom’s mule. Baruch Hashem, the groom emerged unscathed from the collision, but the mule suffered severe damage. Under civil law, the groom, as renter of the mule, was obligated to pay not only damages but also a sizable penalty. Must the reckless rider compensate the groom for the damages and the penalties?

The horse rider refused to pay, contending that he was exempt from damages since he was riding on a public thoroughfare. Furthermore, he had not done the damage; the horse was responsible. He claimed that this case is comparable to that of an animal that tramples on property while walking through a public area. In that instance, the halacha does not obligate the owner of the animal to pay if his animal tramples property left in a public area.

The Rosh ruled that there is a difference between an animal walking and a rider galloping on a horse. In the latter case, the rider himself is the damaging party, and the horse is the “tool” with which the rider damaged. A person is required to use a public thoroughfare in a responsible way, and galloping on a horse when other people are nearby is irresponsible. Since the rider acted irresponsibly, he must pay damages. (For reasons beyond the scope of this article, the Rosh absolved the rider from paying for the penalties that the groom incurred.)

When two cars collide, who is responsible for the damage?

Based on the above ruling, any damage performed by an automobile is considered damage performed by its driver, and the automobile is considered his tool. However, this does not tell us how we determine which driver is responsible, and for how much damage.

For this we will have to refer to an older discussion that traces back to the time of the Gemara.

ACT IV – A COLLISION

Location: Bavel, Seventeen Hundred Years Ago

The Gemara (Bava Kamma 32a; 48a) and the poskim discuss at length the case of two people colliding into one another on a city street, both of whom sustain injuries. Who is responsible to pay for the damages?

We will simplify a very complicated discussion by providing some general rules that apply to our case:

If one party acted responsibly and the other acted irresponsibly, and the two parties collided, the party who acted irresponsibly is liable for damages. Thus, if one person is running through the street and the other is walking, and the two people collide, the running person is liable since that is considered acting irresponsibly. (There is an exception. The halacha acknowledges that someone is permitted to run through the streets late Friday afternoon to get his Shabbos jobs done. This running is not considered irresponsible.)

If both parties acted irresponsibly, the poskim dispute how we determine liability. Rashi (Bava Kamma 48b s.v. chayovin) rules that when the two parties collided into one another, each person is liable for the damage he did. Thus if Levi and Yehudah collide, Levi is responsible for Yehudah’s injuries and Yehudah for Levi’s.

Tosafos (Bava Kamma s.v. shnayim) disagrees, contending that in a case where both parties acted irresponsibly and the damage was accidental, neither party must pay for damages, since the damaged party also acted negligently. However, if someone injured or damaged intentionally he must pay even if the other party was negligent.

How do we paskin?

The Shulchan Aruch (378:7) rules like Rashi whereas the Rama (421:8) rules like Tosafos.

Let us now apply the rules just mentioned to our case. By his own admission, Reuven made an illegal turn, which certainly qualifies as negligent driving. Thus, even if we accept Reuven’s claim that Shimon was speeding, it is still a case of both drivers acting irresponsibly. According to Rashi’s opinion, this would still make Reuven responsible for the damages to Shimon’s vehicle. In addition, Reuven would be responsible for the damage to the car he was driving since he acted negligently. Reuven is claiming that Shimon should be responsible for those damages, a claim that he cannot substantiate.

According to Tosafos, Reuven is claiming that both parties contributed to the damage and that therefore he is not liable for the damages to Shimon’s vehicle. However, he would certainly be liable for the damages that happened to the car that he was driving.

This is all assuming that we accept Reuven’s contention that Shimon was speeding. However, Reuven cannot prove that Shimon was speeding, and Shimon denies it. Since we know that Reuven made an illegal turn, the beis din ruled that Reuven acted negligently and is liable for the damage to both cars. Since there is no proof that Shimon was negligent, we cannot make any claim against him.

ACT V – EPILOGUE

Reuven was understandably disappointed with the beis din’s decision. However, as a G-d fearing Jew, he knows that he is bound by their psak. Thankfully, there was only property damage involved and he did not inadvertently suffer or cause any bodily harm. He now davens for Hashem’s help that he continues his driving career with no further incidents or accidents.

image_print