The Mitzvah Snatcher

CHAPTER 1

A QUICK DAVENING

Yankel is in the year of mourning for his father and meticulously fulfills his filial responsibility to “daven in front of the amud.” Finding himself one day at a Mincha minyan in an unfamiliar neighborhood, he races to the amud before anyone else gets a chance. After davening, a nicely dressed gentleman hands Yankel a business card and asks if he can speak to him for a second.

“Are you new in the neighborhood? I don’t believe we have ever met before. My name is Irving Friedman.”

“Mine is Yankel Schwartz. No, I don’t live here. I was just passing through and needed a Mincha minyan.”

“Oh, I would like to make your acquaintance. Could I trouble you for your phone number?”

Not suspecting anything, Yankel provides Irving Friedman with his home, business, and cell phone numbers. Friedman then asks him for his home address, which arouses Yankel’s suspicion. “Why do you want to know?”

“Well, I guess I should be straightforward with you,” Irving continues. “I want you to be aware that you owe me a huge amount of money. You see, I have the chazakah of davening at the amud during this minyan. By grabbing the mitzvah, you stole from me nineteen brachos of the repetition of Shmoneh Esrei and two Kaddeishim, for each of which you owe me ten gold coins. I have made the exact calculation on the back of my business card. If you doubt that you owe me this money, I suggest you discuss the matter with your own rav. Since you look like an ehrliche yid, I assume that you will attempt to pay me before Yom Kippur. However, if that is too difficult, I am willing to discuss a payment plan. You have my phone number on the card.” With this, Irving Friedman (not his real name) got into his car and drove off.

A bit bewildered at this surprising turn of events, Yankel looked at the business card in his hand. The front of the card had Friedman’s name, business address, and the title and logo of his business. On the back, Yankel found the following hand-written calculation:

Invoice:

19 brachos @ 10 gold dinar coins each =                  190 gold dinar coins.

2 kaddeishim @ 10 gold dinar coins each=                 20 gold dinar coins.

Total                                                                            210 gold dinar coins.

Based on my research, these coins are worth between $24 and $200 each, in contemporary dollars (see Shiurei Torah, pg. 302.) This makes a total outstanding debt of between $5,040 and $42,000.

I am willing to accept the lower sum, and I am willing to discuss a payment schedule.

Yours sincerely, I. Friedman

CHAPTER 2

Yankel was shocked. He presumed that Irving Friedman was pulling his leg. Yet, Friedman’s demeanor about the entire matter had been so business-like that it did not seem Friedman was playing a prank on him. “Five grand for one Mincha. He must be kidding!!” was all Yankel could think.

Yankel now realized that his running to the amud was very presumptuous. Usually, one goes to the amud when asked by a gabbai, unless one has a regular chazakah to daven at the amud during that particular minyan. Yankel realized that his enthusiasm to get the amud had clouded his reasonable judgment.

Back in his own shul and on familiar turf, Yankel davened maariv at the amud uneventfully and then noticed his good buddy, Shmuel. Besides being a good friend, Shmuel was more learned than Yankel and would be able to help him sort out what had happened. Yankel told Shmuel about the day’s events and showed him the business card.

“I know that the Gemara talks about charging someone ten gold coins for snatching a mitzvah, but I never heard of someone trying to collect it,” was Shmuel’s surprised reaction.

“Where do you think Friedman got this dollar figure?”

“He has a note on the card quoting ‘Shiurei Torah, pg. 302.’ This is a sefer on the subject of halachic measurements. I don’t have the sefer, but let’s see if the shul has a copy.”

Sure enough, the shul library had a copy of Shiurei Torah by Rav Avrohom Chayim Na’eh, one of the gedolei poskim in Eretz Yisroel about sixty years ago. Shmuel located the chapter where the sefer discusses the halachic sources for determining the value of “ten gold coins,” and indeed, Friedman’s calculations were based on the conclusions of Shiurei Torah.

“What should I do? $5,040 is a lot of money. Do I really owe him this much money because I davened Mincha without checking if someone else had a right to the amud?” Yankel asked his friend.

“Maybe discuss the issue with the Rav.”

CHAPTER 3

Still very disturbed about the matter, Yankel called Rav Cohen to schedule an appointment. By now, he regretted his rash Mincha davening, and realized that it is far more important not to infringe on someone else’s mitzvah than to daven at the amud.

At the appointed time, Yankel arrived at Rav Cohen’s office and explained the whole story, showing him the calculation on the back of the business card.

Rav Cohen noticed a halachic flaw in Mr. Friedman’s argument, but felt that Yankel would benefit more if he found out this information a bit later. The sage knew that this was not the first time that Yankel’s impetuous nature had gotten him into trouble. This situation might help him realize not to be so rash.

Rav Cohen introduced Yankel to the halachic issues involved. “As we know from the Chumash, someone who shechts a bird has a mitzvah of “kisui hadam,” to cover the blood with dirt. The Gemara (Bava Kamma 91b) tells us a story of a shocheit who shechted a bird and then, before he had a chance to fulfill the mitzvah of covering the blood, someone else covered it, thus snatching the mitzvah. The shocheit brought the offending party to a din Torah where the great Tanna Rabban Gamliel presided. Rabban Gamliel ruled that the ‘mitzvah snatcher’ must pay ten gold coins for taking someone else’s mitzvah.”

“But in that case he is being fined for taking away his mitzvah, not for the bracha,” Yankel countered.

“Actually, the Gemara (Chullin 87a) asks exactly this question. The Gemara cites a case where someone grabbed someone else’s right to lead the bensching. In the time of the Gemara, when a group of people bensched together, one person recited the entire bensching aloud, and the others listened attentively and answered amen when he finished each bracha. By hearing the brachos of the person reciting the bensching, they fulfilled their obligation to bensch.

“In this instance, someone else began bensching other than the person who had the right to bensch. The Gemara discusses whether the person who bensched must compensate for one mitzvah, which is ten gold coins, or for four brachos, which is forty coins.”

Yankel, now keenly aware of the difference between ten coins and forty, lets out a sigh.

“How does the Gemara rule?” asked Yankel, hoping that the Gemara would rule in his favor and save him a lot of money. After all, if the Gemara rules that the entire bensching is only one mitzvah, his nineteen snatched brachos, which are only one mitzvah, are worth only ten gold coins. However, if the Gemara rules that he must compensate per bracha, he must pay 190 gold coins. By some quick arithmetic, Yankel figured that this saves him at least $4,500! He had never before realized before how much a Gemara discussion might be worth.

Rav Cohen realized what was going through Yankel’s head. “Well, there are other issues that impact on your case, but …. the Gemara rules that he must pay forty gold coins.”

The ramifications of this ruling were not lost on Yankel. “But what is he paying for? He didn’t take anything.”

“That is a really good question,” responded the Rav patiently. “Rashi (Chullin 87a) explains that the mitzvah snatcher is paying for the reward that he deprived the other person of when the mitzvah was taken away.”

“I didn’t know you could put a price tag on a mitzvah’s reward,” Yankel blurted out. “The reward for a mitzvah is priceless!”

The Rav could not miss this opportunity. “If that is so, then you are really getting a very good bargain.”

“Why?”

“What is worth more, the mitzvos one observes, or the money being paid as compensation?”

“Put that way, I must admit that it is a bargain. But it is still a very expensive bargain!”

Yankel continued. “Are there any other instances of collecting money for someone taking away a mitzvah?”

“The Gemara discusses a din Torah raised by a person whose tree was overhanging a public area and could cause potential damage. Before he could trim the tree, someone else chopped down the problematic branches. The owner placed a claim in beis din against the chopper for snatching his mitzvah. The beis din sided with the owner that his mitzvah was indeed snatched.”

“Shmuel told me that he never heard of anyone collect money for snatched mitzvos. Is there any discussion after the time of the Gemara about collecting for snatched mitzvos?”

Tosafos discusses a case when someone was ‘called up’ for an aliyah, and another person went up for the aliyah instead, thus snatching two brachos away from the person who had a right to them.”

“What chutzpah!” blurted out Yankel. Then, realizing the hypocrisy in his reaction, he added. “I shouldn’t be the one to talk. If I had a little less chutzpah, I wouldn’t have gotten into such hot water.”

“Whatever happened to this aliyah snatcher?” queried Yankel.

“How much do you think he should have paid?” replied the Rav, cunningly waiting for the best time to reveal the rest of the story.

“Well, based on the bensching case where he paid forty coins for four brachos, I would imagine the aliyah snatcher should pay twenty coins for two brachos, one before and one after the aliyah.”

“You are catching on really well,” complimented the Rav.

“Well, if I do end up financially poorer for this experience, at least I should end up a bit wealthier in Torah learning,” concluded Yankel. “But what do the poskim rule?”

Rav Cohen decided it was now time to let Yankel in on the secret. “There is a dispute in this question between Rabbeinu Tam and his nephew, Rabbeinu Yitzchok. Rabbeinu Yitzchok rules exactly like you contended – the aliyah snatcher must pay twenty gold coins. However, Rabbeinu Tam ruled that he is not required to pay at all (Tosafos, Bava Kamma 91b s.v. vichiyavo).”

Yankel was on the edge of his chair. Maybe Rabbeinu Tam would be his savior!

“How did Rabbeinu Tam get him off the hook?” was all Yankel wanted to know.

Rav Cohen leaned toward Yankel, asking him, “Which act earns more reward, reciting a bracha or answering amen?”

“I would assume reciting the bracha,” responded Yankel, “But because of the way you asked the question, I must be wrong.”

“Indeed, the Gemara (Berachos 53b) declares that it is greater to recite amen than to recite the bracha. Rabbeinu Tam understands this to mean that the person who answers amen receives more reward than the person who recites the bracha! He therefore concludes that the person who snatched the aliyah need not pay, since the person who should have received the aliyah would receive even more reward for reciting amen to the bracha. Remember, the compensation is for losing reward, and the aliyah snatcher did not take away any reward.”

“One second,” blurted out Yankel, “The guy who covered the blood also didn’t stop the shocheit from reciting amen. Why did he have to pay?”

“That is a really good question that the later poskim ask. There are two very different approaches to explain why Rabbeinu Tam agrees that the blood coverer must pay the shocheit. Some contend that he recited the bracha in a way that the shocheit did not hear the bracha and that is why he must pay. According to this approach, had the shocheit heard the bracha, he would not collect compensation for losing his mitzvah.

Others contend that the shocheit has two different claims, one for the mitzvah and the other for the bracha. Answering amen provides an even greater reward than reciting the bracha, so the shocheit does not collect for missing the bracha. However, the shocheit still lost the reward for performing the mitzvah, and for this loss he deserves compensation (Sma 382:7; Shach and other commentaries ad loc.).”

“Is this why Shmuel said he never heard of someone trying to collect ten gold coins for a snatched mitzvah?”

“No. Actually, the reason for this is a bit complicated,” began the Rav. “Technically, only a beis din whose members received the original semicha that Moshe Rabbeinu conferred to Yehoshua can enforce a financial claim. Since we no longer have this semicha, this would mean that no one could ever collect damages or a bad debt. To avoid this problem, Chazal instituted that one can collect damages or debts through any beis din. However, Chazal instituted this method of collecting only when a person suffered out-of-pocket losses, as he does in the case of a bad debt or an injury. When someone took another person’s mitzvah, however, although this is a real loss, there was no out-of-pocket loss. The result is that a mitzvah snatcher owes money and should pay it, but there is no way to force him to pay the debt (Tosafos, Bava Kamma 91b s.v. vechiyavo). However, since there is definitely a moral obligation to pay, the aggrieved party is permitted to seize property as payment.”

Yankel nodded, showing that he understood. “In conclusion, according to many opinions, I owe Mr. Friedman a considerable amount of money. Does it make any difference that I was unaware that he had the right to the amud and didn’t know that I could become obligated to pay a huge sum of money?”

“It should not make any difference, since you owe him for taking away his reward, which is something that you did whether you realized it or not.”

“Do I also owe him for the two kaddeishim? These are not brachos,” inquired Yankel.

“It would seem that Mr. Friedman considers them to be mitzvos, and from his perspective he is probably right. It is true that whether one snatched someone else’s bracha or his mitzvah, one is required to pay compensation for his lost reward. However, it is not clear from the poskim whether one must pay for depriving someone of a mitzvah that is not min haTorah (Yam Shel Shelomoh, Bava Kamma 8:60).”

“What about the fact that he said amen to my brachos. Does that get me off the hook? Do we paskin like Rabbeinu Tam?” The hope in Yankel’s voice was very obvious.

“Actually, there is a big dispute among poskim. Many rule like Rabbeinu Tam, but this is certainly not a universally held position (see Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 382 and commentaries).”

“What does the Rav paskin in this situation?”

I would suggest that one follow the decision of the Taz (end of Choshen Mishpat 382), who says that you should contact Mr. Friedman and apologize, and offer some compensation (Aruch Hashulchan 382:7).”

Yankel phoned Irving Friedman. After a few pleasantries, he apologized for having taken the “amud” from him that fateful afternoon, and discussed the conversation he had with Rav Cohen. He offered him some financial compensation, but far less than $5000, which Friedman accepted, and that was the last time Yankel “chapped” an amud without asking beforehand.

 

The Spurned Shadchan

In honor of the 15th of Av, I am presenting:

The Spurned Shadchan

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The phone rings. Mrs. Weinberg,* a Lakewood* shadchan who often calls to ask shaylos, is on the line.

“I suggested that a local girl meet a bachur who is currently learning in Eretz Yisroel,” Mrs. Weinberg began. “Both families did their research and agreed that it sounded worth pursuing, but they decided to wait until the summer when the bachur would be visiting his family here.”

“When the summer arrived,” Mrs. Weinberg continued, “I called the families back to arrange for the young people to meet. However, they told me that someone else suggested the shidduch, and that they are following up through the other shadchan. Are they permitted to cut me out of the arrangements? After all, it was my idea first!”

Does Mrs. Weinberg have a claim? If she does, for how much money and against whom?

SHADCHANUS GELT

Before we discuss these issues, we need to establish whether paying a shadchan is indeed a halachic requirement.

I often find that people feel that one is not required to pay a shadchan. However, this is a misconception, since the Rama (Choshen Mishpat 264:7) requires paying a shadchan a fee, usually called by its Yiddish name, shadchanus gelt.  Just as you expect to pay your real estate broker, so, too, you should assume you will pay the shadchan. (We should be aware that, according to the Rama, a shadchan’s claim for services rendered has a stronger foundation than a doctor’s fee for an office visit, see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 336:2; but that is a topic for a different article.)

Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with a shadchan requesting payment for services rendered, just as an attorney or accountant has every right to demand payment for services.

BROKERAGE FEES

Although it sometimes sounds strange, shadchanus fees are halachically categorized as brokerage fees. Just as one pays a real estate agent for arranging a transaction, so, too, one pays a shadchan for making the arrangements necessary for the engagement and marriage to transpire. Therefore, we must first explain the halachic sources for brokerage fees.

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 63b) mentions the responsibility to pay a broker’s fee to the person who arranges the sale of property or merchandise (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 185:1; Rama 87:39). This is a standard business practice, similar to paying a commission to a stockbroker, real estate agent, or personnel recruiter (sometimes called a “headhunter”).

BUT WHAT IF I DIDN’T ASK HIM?

People easily understand that if you approach a broker or agent, you thereby obligate yourself to pay him for his services. However, some people assume that if you did not solicit the service, you are not obligated to pay. Does this distinction have any basis?

According to halacha, you are required to pay for any unsolicited benefit that you would usually pay for. Providing unsolicited benefit is called yored lesoch sdei chaveiro shelo birshus, entering someone else’s field without authorization, and the provider of the benefit is referred to simply as the yored (Bava Metzia 101a).

HOW MUCH DO YOU OWE THE YORED?

You are required to pay the yored as much as you have benefited. If he performed work for you that would normally require you to hire someone, you must pay him the market rate for hiring someone for this work (Bava Metzia 76a; Sma, Choshen Mishpat 375:1).

WHY MUST ONE PAY THE SHADCHAN?

When a single person or the parent of a single person asks someone if they know of any marriageable prospects, they are asking them to perform a valuable service on their behalf. This service has a market value, just as any other brokerage or recruiting fee has a market value (Rama, Choshen Mishpat 264:7).

WHAT IF YOU DID NOT ASK THE SHADCHAN?

Although there are halachic differences whether you approach the shadchan or the shadchan offers his/her service, in either case you are required to pay the shadchan. The basis for this requirement is as follows:

Even if his service is unsolicited, the shadchan is considered a yored, since you received benefit from him for a service for which you would normally pay (Gra, Choshen Mishpat 87:117). As explained above, you must pay him whatever you would have otherwise paid for that service (Bava Metzia 76a, 101a).

AM I REQUIRED TO PAY SHADCHANUS TO A FAMILY MEMBER OR CLOSE FRIEND?

This shaylah was discussed hundreds of years ago. A professional shadchan contacted Mr. Reuven suggesting a gentleman he thought appropriate for Mr. Reuven’s widowed sister-in-law. Mr. Reuven was involved in researching the shidduch and in arranging the couple’s meeting. When the couple announced their engagement, Mr. Reuven informed the professional shadchan that he was expecting half the shadchanus gelt, claiming that he was the shadchan who convinced the woman to consider this shidduch. The professional shadchan contended that he was the only shadchan, and that Mr. Reuven was an interested party and not a shadchan. Mr. Reuven countered that the professional had never made direct contact with his sister-in-law but relied exclusively on him to encourage the shidduch. The matter was referred to Rav Yair Chayim Bachrach, known as the Chavos Yair (after one of the seforim he authored). The rav ruled that Mr. Reuven was indeed a shadchan, since he influenced his sister-in-law to pursue the shidduch. He was therefore entitled to half the shadchanus fee, even though he was related to one of the principals (Shu’t Chut HaShani #3, quoted in Pischei Teshuvah, Even HaEzer 50:16).

WHO MUST PAY THE SHADCHANUS FEE, THE PARENTS OR THE COUPLE?

Usually, the parents of an engaged party pay the shadchanus gelt. Are they required to pay this fee, or is it really the responsibility of the young couple that the parents assume? As we will see, there are halachic ramifications to this question.

The poskim debate this question, making razor-thin distinctions that have major ramifications. Some contend that the responsibility falls upon the young couple, since they are the ones who benefit, even though the prevalent custom is that the parents pay (Shu’t Avnei Nezer, Choshen Mishpat #36). Others contend that since the parents usually pay, the shadchan expects payment only from them, and, therefore, he has no claim against the young couple (Halichos Yisroel #3, quoting Eirech Shai, Choshen Mishpat Chapter 185).

There is a major dispute between these approaches. The first opinion holds that if the shadchan is unable to collect from the parents, he may collect from the couple. According to the second opinion, his only claim is against the parents, and if he cannot collect from the parents, he cannot claim his fee from the young couple.

WHO WENT TO WHOM?

Since we have learned that one must pay the shadchan whether or not one solicited him initially, does it make any difference whether I asked the shadchan or the shadchan approached me first?

There are several differences in halacha that pertain to whether you solicited the shadchan initially or vice versa, including when you are required to pay the shadchan and whether you violate the mitzvah of bal talin if you fail to pay the shadchan on time.

If you approached or telephoned the shadchan initially, then you have hired him or her to perform a job — in this case, to find an appropriate shidduch. If he/she succeeds in his/her mission, then you are required to pay when the job is completed, and you must pay the shadchan as soon as the couple becomes engaged (Shu’t Halichos Yisroel #1-2). Furthermore, if you do not pay him/her on time and the shadchan demands payment, you will violate a Torah prohibition called bal talin, not paying a worker on time, a mitzvah we will explain shortly.

However, if you did not hire the shadchan, then you do not violate bal talin if you do not pay him/her on time, since the shadchan is not your employee.

Another difference in halacha affected by whether the shadchan was solicited or not is whether you must pay him or her at the time the couple becomes engaged or at the wedding. If the shadchan solicited you, then the time you are required to pay the shadchan depends on minhag –– accepted local custom (Rama, Choshen Mishpat 185:10). If the local custom is that people do not pay the shadchan until the wedding, then the shadchanus gelt is considered a marriage expense to be paid then, not an engagement expense. However, if you solicited the shadchan then you are required to pay the shadchan when his/her job is completed, which is when the couple becomes engaged (Shu’t Halichos Yisroel #4).

BAL TALIN – PAYING WORKERS ON TIME

As explained above, if one hired the shadchan, one must pay him/her on time, because of the mitzvah of bal talin.

WHAT IS ON TIME?

There are two deadlines, sunset and daybreak, and one is obligated to pay one’s worker before the first deadline after the job is completed. Therefore, if the worker finished his job before the end of the day, I must pay him by sunset. If he completed the work at night, I must pay him before daybreak (Bava Metzia 111a). (As mentioned above, one violates this prohibition only if the worker demanded payment and the owner refused to pay and there was no understanding or prearrangement of late payment.) According to this approach, if you went to a shadchan who, Baruch Hashem, arranged a successful shidduch, you should make sure to pay him or her immediately after the couple becomes engaged, before the next deadline arrives (Shu’t Halichos Yisroel #11). Others contend that one need not pay the shadchan until the wedding, unless the custom is otherwise (Rav Elyashiv, introduction to Shu’t Halichos Yisroel).

Still other poskim contend that since the responsibility of paying the shadchan really lies with the marrying couple, there is no violation of bal talin if the shadchan is assuming that the parents are paying his fee, since they are technically not required to pay shadchanus gelt.

HOW MUCH MUST I PAY THE SHADCHAN?

One must pay the shadchan the accepted fee in your community for this service (Pischei Teshuvah, Even HaEzer Chapter 50:16).

DIVIDING THE FEE

What happens if two different shadchanim were involved at different stages of encouraging the shidduch? Are they both entitled to be paid? How does one divide the fee? As we can imagine, this is not a recent shaylah.

An early posek, the Shev Yaakov (Choshen Mishpat #13), discusses the following case: Levi recommended that Reuven’s son meet Shimon’s daughter. After the engagement of the young couple, Gad claimed that he had originally suggested the shidduch to the parties and thus he was entitled to part of the shadchanus.

The Shev Yaakov researched the claims. As it turned out, Gad had, indeed, originally suggested the shidduch to both parties, but Shimon and his family had no interest in pursuing it. Levi, however, was a more persistent shadchan and convinced Shimon to consider Reuven’s son for his daughter.

The Shev Yaakov ruled that Gad was not entitled to any part of the shadchanus fee. He contends that a shadchan is entitled to a fee only when he was involved in the part of the discussion that reached fruition. However, in this case, Gad’s proposal did not accomplish anything, and, therefore, he is not considered a shadchan.

By a similar reasoning, a real estate agent who showed prospective clients a house, but was unable to interest them in it, and then a different agent showed them the same house and succeeded in convincing them to purchase it, the second agent is entitled to the commission, according to halacha. (In these instances, if accepted business practice is different it might affect the halacha, which is a topic for a different time.)

Thus, it seems that Mrs. Weinberg is not entitled to any shadchanus fee in our situation, since she was not part of the actual introduction that took place.

Notwithstanding that the Shev Yaakov ruled that Gad was not entitled to a share of the fee, there are cases in which the shidduch involves several parties and each is entitled to a part of the fee. If Sarah suggested a shidduch, but then felt that Rivkah would be a better go-between, and eventually it was necessary to get Leah involved and she was instrumental in the couple subsequently becoming engaged, all three ladies are considered partial shadchanim, according to many poskim. The accepted practice in this case is to divide the accepted shadchanus fee and to award 1/3 to each of the ladies. Other poskim contend that only the person who suggested the shidduch and the one who finalized it are considered shadchanim and they split the fee – but that a go-between who neither suggested a shidduch nor finalized it is not viewed as a shadchan (Shu’t Avnei Nezer, Choshen Mishpat #36).

SOME INTERESTING SHADCHANUS STORIES

A shadchan unsuccessfully attempted to arrange a shidduch between a daughter of the wealthy Weiss family and the son of the wealthy Schwartz family. Although the two families did meet and enjoyed one another, the shidduch did not materialize, and the Weiss girl subsequently married someone else. Later, other shadchanim suggested a match between a younger Weiss daughter and the Schwartz boy, and the couple became engaged. The original shadchan now claimed that he is entitled to a percentage of the shadchanus gelt, claiming that his involvement in the previous unsuccessful shidduch was instrumental in forging the close relationship between the two families that caused the latter shidduch to happen. Does the original shadchan have a claim?

The parties referred this shaylah to the Avnei Nezer (Choshen Mishpat #36). In a very complicated ruling he contends that the original shadchan might be entitled to a very small percentage of the shadchanus gelt for his role. He suggests a compromise on this basis, but rules that one could not be certain that he is entitled to any part of the fee.

IF A SHADCHAN ASKS FOR A HIGHER THAN TYPICAL FEE, AM I REQUIRED TO PAY IT?

If the shadchan did not provide any unusual shadchanus service, and the fee for a shadchan in your area is fairly standard, then the shadchan is not entitled to the extra fee. However, if there is no standard shadchanus fee in your area, or the shadchan performed a special service, then one must pay the shadchan’s higher fee (see Rama, Choshen Mishpat  335:1 and 264:7; Shach 264:15). Shadchanus is like any other profession, where one may not charge significantly above the going rate. However, when there is no fixed accepted amount, then the shadchan is not overcharging, since there is no market amount. Similarly, if the shadchan extends him/herself more than is expected, he may command a higher fee, since one is paying for the extra service (see Rama 335:1).

According to the Midrash, Moshe Rabbeinu was the shadchan between Klal Yisroel and Hashem at the giving of the Torah. Furthermore, Hashem, Himself, is indeed the ultimate Shadchan of every marriage. Thus, we should respect the wonderful role of the shadchanim in our midst, who are involved in a mitzvah that emulates both Hashem and Moshe.

* All names and places have been changed to protect privacy.

 

Raiding the Pushka and Related Questions

In honor of Shabbos Shekalim, I present:

Raiding the Pushka and Related Questions

clip_image002Question #1: TREMENDOUSLY APPEALING!

Yehudah presents the following dilemma: “I often feel pressured to pledge to the tzedakah appeals in shul; however, I am afraid that I will forget to pay afterwards. Is there a simple way to avoid creating a problem?”

Question #2: BORROWERS ANONYMOUS

Susan asks: “I often borrow small change from the pushkas that I keep on my window sill, but I am meticulous to return what I borrowed. Am I, indeed, permitted to borrow from the pushka?”

Question #3: DIVERTING ACTIVITIES

Tamar calls: I have a pushka in the house from an organization with which I have no contact. Instead, I would like to donate the money to my son’s yeshiva, to demonstrate my hakaras hatov.

Answer:

In order to answer these questions, I first need to explain how a few general concepts affect the laws of tzedakah:

  1. NEDER – A VOW

The Torah requires us to fulfill our vows (Bamidbar 30:3), and the consequences for neglecting this obligation are very serious (see Kesubos 72a). To avoid violating this prohibition, it is better to simply fulfill the mitzvah involved without reciting a vow to commit oneself (Nedarim 9a). For this reason, concerned people say “bli neder” whenever stating something that may imply a commitment to perform a good deed. The words bli neder prevent the commitment from becoming a vow, although one is still obligated to fulfill what one has promised to keep (Shu’t Shevet HaLevi 10:156:1; see also Shla’h, Torah SheBe’kesav, Parshas Matos, Derech Chayim). (In this article, I am not going to distinguish between the technical differences that exist between a neder, a vow, and a shavua, an oath; but I will refer always to neder.)

TZEDAKAH PLEDGES

Pledging money to tzedakah is a vow that one must fulfill. To quote the Torah:

Motza sifasecha tishmor ve’asisa ka’asher nadarta LaHashem Elokecha nedava asher dibarta bificha. You must be careful and fulfill that which exits your mouth, according to the vow that one recited to Hashem your G-d – anything that you spoke with your mouth (Devarim 23:24).

The Gemara rules explicitly that tzedakah is included in the requirements of this verse (Rosh HaShanah 6a). Therefore, one is required min haTorah to redeem a pledge that one made to tzedakah. Because of this law, it is strongly advisable to make charitable commitments bli neder so that the pledge does not assume the severity of a vow (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 203:4 and 257:4).

  1. BAL TE’ACHEIR Do not delay paying

This mitzvah prohibits delaying the redemption of a pledge, such as a commitment to offer a korban in the Beis HaMikdash. Reciting a charitable pledge requires one to fulfill it as soon as possible; failure to do so violates the prohibition of bal te’acheir (Devarim 23:22; Rosh HaShanah 6a). The Gemara notes that the requirements of bal te’acheir for a tzedakah pledge are even more exacting than they are concerning other mitzvos, such as korbanos. One who (at the time of the Beis HaMikdash) pledges a korban may wait until the Festivals (Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos) to offer them, since he will then be traveling to Yerushalayim, anyway. (Technically, he is required because of a positive mitzvah to offer the korban the first Yom Tov, but does not violate the lo saaseh until all three Yomim Tovim pass.) However, since a pledge to tzedakah can easily be fulfilled as soon as one locates a poor person, one must disburse the funds quickly.

The mitzvah of bal te’acheir provides another reason why one’s pledges to tzedakah should be made bli neder. If someone pledged tzedakah without specifying bli neder, he/she is obligated to redeem the pledge immediately. However, if one specified that the obligation is bli neder, failing to redeem it immediately does not violate bal te’acheir.

We can now address Yehudah’s concern about responding to tzedakah appeals. His question was that he felt pressured to pledge donations and was concerned that he might forget to pay them. Ideally, he should donate without pledging, or alternatively, he can say that he is pledging with the understanding that he is not making any commitment whatsoever. (Essentially, this is disallowing his pledge.) A less preferable choice is to pledge bli neder, which accomplishes that, should he forget to redeem his pledge, he will not have violated either the prohibition of vows or of bal te’acheir.

THE APPEAL WAS SUCCESSFUL, BUT THE INSTITUTION DIED!

By the way, it appears that although the organizations making appeals in Yehudah’s shul are doing a good job, they could use logistic help in recording and collecting the pledges to their cause. Any reader interested in volunteering to help them out?

BORROWING FROM TZEDAKAH FUNDS

At this point, we will address Susan’s concerns about borrowing from the pushka. Her first question was: May one borrow tzedakah’s funds for one’s personal use? The following passage of Gemara discusses this issue:

Rabbah bar Avahu stated, “Someone who declares: ‘This sela coin shall go to tzedakah,’ may use it for his own purposes, and then later pay tzedakah a different coin” (Arachin 6a, as explained by Rashi).

Rabbah bar Avahu’s is teaching that although pledging a coin to tzedakah creates a charitable vow that one must redeem, one may still borrow that coin and replace it. The reason this is true is that tzedakah does not create sanctity that forbids its use (Rambam, Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 8:5). In essence, declaring “this coin shall go to tzedakah” is equivalent to saying, “I hereby commit myself to donate to tzedakah an amount of money equal to the value of this coin.” The coin remains the donor’s, and he may borrow it and later replace it (see Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 259:1).

The Gemara subsequently teaches that one may borrow the pledged coin only if it was not yet given to the gabbai, the tzedakah treasurer. Once the gabbai receives the money it is tzedakah’s property, and one may not borrow it. Under normal circumstances, a treasurer is not authorized to lend or exchange tzedakah funds (Bava Basra 8a; Rambam, Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 8:4). One exception is when the lending or exchanging benefits the recipient of the funds (Arachin 6b; see Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 259:4 for another exception).

LIMITED LIABILITY

By the way, the sanction to borrow pledged money is also a liability, since it sometimes makes the person responsible to replace the money if it is stolen (see Choshen Mishpat 301:6). On the other hand, in a case when one may not use tzedakah money, he is not liable, unless he is negligent, such as forgetting where he put it.

WHO OWNS THE MONEY IN THE PUSHKA?

May Susan borrow from the pushka? According to what we have just learned, this depends on whether the money in the pushka already belongs to the organization or is still Susan’s property. Many authorities debated this question extensively about 150 years ago. The shaylah that spawned this literature is interesting.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

For the last few hundred years, many Jewish Diaspora households owned a pushka dedicated to Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes, a fund whose purpose was to succor the indigent Jews living in Eretz Yisrael. In a responsum dated Marcheshvan 18, 5626 (1865), Rav Mordechai Eitinga, then rav of Lvov (currently located in western Ukraine), was asked about someone who had accumulated a large sum of money in his Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes pushka and now felt that the local poor had a much greater need for these funds. Could he divert the money to local needs, instead of sending it to Eretz Yisrael? Rav Eitinga discusses two issues:

(1) May money pledged to one charitable cause be diverted to a different one?

(2) Do the poor of Eretz Yisrael already own the money in the pushka?

If the answer to the first question is “yes,” and to the second question is “no,” then the money may be diverted to the local indigent. Otherwise, it must be sent to Eretz Yisrael, because either the terms of the pledge must be absolutely fulfilled, or one is “stealing” money that already belongs to the poor of Eretz Yisroel (Shu’t Maamar Mordechai #15).

Let us follow his analysis.

DIVERTING OR A DIVERSION

Whether one may divert tzedakah money from one individual or organization to another is, indeed, a dispute among early poskim. Why should one be permitted to divert the funds? Explaining this approach requires that we note a new factor that the Gemara did not discuss. In Rabbah bar Avahu’s case, the donor simply declared, “This coin goes to tzedakah,” without specifying a specific individual or organization. However, what happens if someone holding a wad of hundred dollar bills declares, “I dedicate this money to the Asher Richman Hebrew Academy.” Must he contribute this amount of money to the Richman Academy, or may he afterwards decide to send them to the Pauper Yeshiva? Does halachah require him to honor a pledge to a specific organization or individual, or is he simply required to donate this amount of money to any tzedakah? If indeed the pledge is simply a generic requirement to donate this amount to tzedakah, then it should follow that one may actually contribute the funds to a charity different from what he originally intended.

13TH CENTURY CHUTZPAH

Early authorities discuss this question. A major posek of 13th century Germany reports a very unusual din Torah. A pauper claimed that a wealthy individual promised him a specific amount of money and had not paid it, whereas the rich man denied ever pledging any money. The poor man contended that the pledge obligated the donor to pay him and that the case is therefore no different from any plaintiff claiming money from a defendant who denies that he owes any. The halachah, in such instances, is that the defendant is required to swear an oath (shevuas heses) denying the claim. Similarly, the Mordechai (Bava Kamma #172) ruled that the affluent man is required to swear that he never pledged any money to the pauper! He does not report whether this pauper was subsequently offered any positions as a publicity director for any major Torah institution.

The poskim prove from this Mordechai that when one pledges money to an individual tzedakah, the particular tzedakah can demand payment. Otherwise, what claim does the pauper have on the rich man? Even assuming that the rich man pledged him money, this is merely an obligation to give tzedakah, which the affluent man may donate anywhere. If the pauper indeed has a claim, it must follow that a pledge automatically includes a debt to the specific individual. Following this line of reasoning, money pledged to one tzedakah cannot be subsequently rerouted to a different one, however legitimate the need (Shach, Choshen Mishpat 87:51; Machanei Efrayim, Hilchos Tzedakah #7).

LOCAL OR ISRAEL?

Although not all authorities accept this position of the Mordechai (cf. Shu’t Maharit #22 and #39), many later authorities do follow his ruling (Ketzos HaChoshen, 87:21). Based on this analysis, most later authorities contend that money placed in a Rabbi Meir Baal HaNes pushka may not be given instead to the local poor (Shu’t Maharya HaLevi #49; Shu’t Beis Yitzchak, Orach Chayim #21).

This allows us to answer our third question asked above: “I have a pushka in the house from an organization with which I have no contact. I would like to donate the money instead to my son’s yeshiva, to demonstrate my hakaras hatov.” The answer is that although supporting the Torah institutions that educate our children is vital, since this money is already designated for one organization, one may not transfer it to another.

PUSHKA BORROWERS ANONYMOUS

All of this does not answer Susan’s question whether she may borrow money from the pushka. Even if money pledged to one institution cannot be transferred to another, until the money becomes the property of the institution, one may borrow it, as we learned before. Thus, we need to determine whether money in the pushka is already the property of the institution or not.

Now we reach an interesting question: What is the status of money in the pushka? Do I still have some control over it, and may I, therefore, borrow it, subject to the above conditions? Or is it now the property of the tzedakah and I may not?

This halachah depends on the following: Who owns the pushka? If I own the pushka, then placing money in the pushka requires me to donate it to tzedakah, but it is not yet their property and I may borrow it. As I mentioned above, this situation may create liability for the funds, should they be stolen.

On the other hand, if the organization assumes that money placed in the pushka belongs to them, then I may not borrow any of that money. The reason for this is that since the pushka is their vessel, money placed inside is equivalent to being given to the gabbai, the tzedakah treasurer (based on Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 200:3). Most authorities follow this latter interpretation of the halachah.

HABITUAL BORROWERS

Some people are in the habit of borrowing money from the pushkas on a regular basis. Now, after reading my words, they may realize that this practice is sometimes forbidden. Nevertheless, there is a method whereby a person may put money into any pushka and yet still be able to borrow it afterwards

; he should make a condition in advance that when he puts money into the pushka, he is not donating it to the institution, but simply pledging it to them. This way, the money is not yet the property of the institution, and one may borrow it. Although this solution will not help for the money already in the pushka, it can be used to avoid this problem in the future.

Some contemporary authorities suggest that someone who usually borrows from the pushka might be considered as if he made this condition from the beginning, i.e., that he is not giving the money yet to the tzedakah cause, but only pledging it (Derech Emunah, Matanos Aniyim 7:note 121).

To answer Susan’s question, I would suggest that she make a condition, henceforth, that when she places money in the pushka, she is not donating it at this time. In so doing, she reserves the right to borrow from the pushka, although she also creates a responsibility for herself, should the money be stolen. She may decide that she is better off curbing her habit of borrowing from the pushka and make an appointment to join Borrowers Anonymous.

Making change from the pushka benefits the tzedakah which would rather not distribute, transport or deposit its money as small change, but rather in the form of bills (Tzedakah Umishpat Chapter 8, footnote 25, page 148).

Unfortunately, most people do not realize the complex shaylos that arise from shul appeals and pushkas – hopefully this article helps repair this breach. May we all always be showered with berachos for contributing generously to tzedakah!

 

The Lost Gift: Parashas Mishpatim and Shomrim

In this parshas Mishpatim, the Torah discuss the responsibility that a shomer assumes for someone else’s property. Does a shomer always assume this much responsibility? Stay tuned and find out!

gift boxWhile learning in my study one day, I was greeted by a knock at the door. I opened the door to find two women, Rivkah and Leah, standing in the doorway.

“Rabbi,” Rivka began somewhat apprehensively, “We have a shaylah that we need to ask you. I was supposed to bring a present to Lakewood for Leah’s daughter, but, somehow, it got along the way. I feel responsible. Leah feels that I am not responsible and I should not feel any obligation to compensate her daughter, but I feel that I should.”

“If anyone is responsible it is I,” replied Leah. “I keep insisting that Rivka should not pay, and she keeps insisting that she should. We decided that we would refer this to the Rav to decide.”

The case turned out to be a very interesting halachic shaylah.

A family member bought a very expensive wedding gift for Leah’s recently married daughter, who now lives in Lakewood. Leah heard that Rivka’s husband was driving to Lakewood, so she called to ask if he could bring the gift with him. Rivka suggested that Leah drop by and put the gift in the trunk of the car, so that they wouldn’t misplace it.

Upon reaching Lakewood, Leah’s daughter arrives to pick up the package. Rivka’s husband checks the trunk of the car, but the gift is not there!! He calls Rivka, who in turn calls Leah, who says that she definitely placed the gift in the trunk. The gift seems to have inexplicably disappeared!

Who, if anyone, is responsible to replace the gift?

I asked for some time to think about the shaylah. In the interim, I needed to address some pertinent questions, which provides an opportunity to review the relevant halachos.

There are several halachic areas we need to clarify:

  1. To what extent are you responsible for replacing an item that you were watching without remuneration?
  2. If you permit someone to place an item in your house or car, does that mean that you are now responsible if the item is damaged, lost or stolen?
  3. If you agree to transport an item as a favor, is there an assumption of responsibility, and if so, to what extent?

WHAT IS A SHOMER CHINAM AND TO WHAT EXTENT IS HE RESPONSIBLE?

Someone who assumes responsibility to take care of an item, but receives no benefit for doing so, is called a shomer chinam. He is responsible if the item becomes damaged, stolen, or lost because of his negligence, but not if he took proper care of the item.

EXAMPLE: Binyomin entrusted money to a shomer for safekeeping. When he came to collect his money, the shomer replied that he does not remember where he put it. Rava ruled that not knowing where you put something is negligent and the shomer must pay (Bava Metzia 42a).

WHAT IF HE DID NOT EXPRESSLY ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY?

A shomer may specify that he assumes no responsibility for an item (Mishnah, Bava Metzia 94a). Furthermore, if he clearly did not assume responsibility, he is also not obligated to pay.

EXAMPLE: While fleeing from the Napoleonic wars, Naftali buried valuables in a pit in his backyard, and offered Asher to hide his valuables there, too. The two of them fled to a safer area, hoping to return one day to unearth their valuables. Fortunately, the war ended, and they were able to return. Naftali was eager to unearth the valuables and give Asher back his money, but Asher was busy taking care of other matters. Naftali sent Asher a message that he was unearthing the valuables, but Asher did not arrive immediately. By the time Asher arrived, his valuables had disappeared. Does Naftali bear responsibility?

Naftali and Asher addressed the question to Rav Yaakov of Lisa, the author of Nesivos Hamishpat (291:2). The rav ruled that Naftali is not obligated to pay any damages, since he never assumed any responsibility for Asher’s valuables but merely made his hiding place available.

Thus, we have established that if a shomer assumes responsibility, he will have to pay for damage caused by his negligence, but if he does not assume responsibility, he does not have to pay.

However, our case is somewhat different from the case of the Nesivos. In his case, Asher knows that Naftali will not be around to supervise his property. In our case, Leah had accepted the gift on behalf of her daughter and Rivka suggested that it be placed in her car. Does that make Rivka responsible to replace it if it is lost?

Or, as we phrased our second question above: If you permit someone to place an item in your house or car, does that mean that you are now responsible if the item gets damaged, lost or stolen?

The Gemara raises the following shaylah which affects our question:

Daniel asked Shlomo if he could leave his sheep and some equipment in Shlomo’s yard. Subsequently, Shlomo’s dog, Fido, bit Daniel’s sheep; the next day, someone stole the equipment. Assuming that Shlomo was negligent, must he pay for the damages?

The question is whether Shlomo ever assumed responsibility for Daniel’s property. If he permitted Daniel to place the sheep and the equipment in his yard, does that mean that he assumed responsibility for this property? The Mishnah (Bava Kamma 47a) quotes a dispute between Rebbe and the Chachomim as to whether we assume that Shlomo took responsibility.

HOW DO WE PASKIN?

There are three opinions:

  1. Some rule that Shlomo is responsible for the damage. They contend that when someone grants permission to place items on his property, he assumes responsibility to look out for the items.
  2. Others contend that Shlomo is not responsible for the stolen equipment, but he is responsible for Fido biting the sheep (Shach 291:9). Permitting someone to place items on his property doesn’t mean that he assumes responsibility. However, Shlomo is liable if his animal caused damage to property that he allowed onto his premises.
  3. Shlomo does not need to pay at all since he never accepted responsibility (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 291:3). (According to this opinion, even though Shlomo’s dog bit Daniel’s sheep, Shlomo is not responsible for damage done by his own animal on his own property.)

The Shulchan Aruch rules like the third opinion that Shlomo is not responsible, although other poskim disagree. Thus, we see that although someone permits you to put something in his house or car, you cannot assume that this means he is taking responsibility for it. Thus, placing the gift in Rivka’s car does not, necessarily, mean that either Rivka or her husband is responsible for the gift.

However, there is a difference between Leah’s gift and Daniel’s sheep, other than the fact that one of them bleats. I am going to use another din Torah to demonstrate the difference between the two.

While Levi was packing his donkey to travel to the next city, Yehuda asked if he could send his shoes along. Levi responded, “You can put them on top of the donkey.” Yehuda complied, and Levi rode off without tying the shoes adequately to the donkey. Subsequently, when the shoes were lost, Levi claimed that he never assumed any responsibility for Yehuda’s shoes.

Is Levi responsible to pay Yehuda for his shoes? After all, he never told Yehuda that he was assuming responsibility; he simply allowed Yehuda to place his shoes on the donkey.

The Rosh (quoted by Tur Choshen Mishpat Chapter 291) ruled that Levi is indeed responsible, even though he never told Yehuda that he was assuming responsibility.

Why are Yehuda’s shoes different from Daniel’s sheep, where we assumed that Shlomo took no responsibility? The difference is that when Levi transports the shoes with him, Yehuda will no longer be able to watch them. Under these circumstances, we assume that Levi accepted responsibility, unless he specifically stated at the time that he did not. However, when Daniel puts his sheep into Shlomo’s yard, there is no reason why Daniel cannot continue to be responsible to take care of his sheep. Thus, there is nothing in Shlomo’s action that implies that he is assuming responsibility.

Based on the above analysis, it would seem that Rivka is indeed responsible since she made Leah the offer of placing the gift in her car. This implies that Rivka assumed responsibility.

However, Rivka’s gift is different from Yehuda’s shoes for two reasons:

  1. Rivka’s gift was not put into a place that requires any type of supervision. The locked trunk of a car is a secure place to leave items. Thus, it is less certain that we can assume that Rivka accepted responsibility.
  2. More importantly, Rivka told Leah to put the gift in the car, but also told her that her husband, not she, was going to Lakewood. Thus, Rivka certainly was not assuming responsibility for bringing the gift to Lakewood. We also cannot say that her husband assumed responsibility, when he never agreed expressly to take the package. Thus, it would seem that neither Rivka nor her husband is responsible. However, if her husband agreed to take the package, he would be responsible if, indeed, he had been negligent. Since we do not know where the package went, we would probably assume that the package disappeared because of some negligence on his part.

DOES THIS MEAN THAT LEAH IS RESPONSIBLE TO PAY HER DAUGHTER FOR THE GIFT?

Indeed it might. When Leah accepted the gift on her daughter’s behalf, she assumed responsibility as a shomer chinam. We now have a new shaylah: Did she discharge this responsibility when she placed the gift in Rivka’s car for the trip to Lakewood?

The Gemara records an interesting parallel to this case.

At the time of the Gemara, houses were not particularly secure places to leave valuables. For this reason, the proper place to store money and non-perishable valuables was to bury them in the ground. A shomer chinam who received money but did not bury the money would be ruled negligent, if the money was subsequently stolen (Bava Metzia 42a).

The Gemara mentions a case when this rule was not applied:

Someone entrusted money to a shomer who gave it to his mother to put away. His mother assumed that it was her son’s own money, not money that he was safekeeping for someone else, and therefore placed it in his wallet rather than burying it. Subsequently, the money was stolen and all three of them ended up appearing before Rava to paskin the shaylah.

Rava analyzed the case as follows: The shomer is entitled to say that he has a right to give something entrusted to him to a different member of his family for safekeeping. Furthermore, there is no claim against him for not telling his mother that the money was not his, because she will take better care of it assuming that it was his. Therefore, the shomer did not act negligently. The mother also did not act negligently – based on the information she had, she acted responsibly. Thus, neither one of them is obligated to pay (Bava Metzia 42b).

The principles of this last Gemara can be applied to our case. Neither Leah, nor Rivka, nor Rivka’s husband acted negligently in our case. Leah gave the gift to someone in a responsible way to get it to Lakewood. We have already pointed out that neither Rivka nor her husband ever assumed responsibility for the gift. Furthermore, neither one of them acted irresponsibly. Thus, it seems to me that none of the parties involved is halachically obligated to make restitution.

There is actually a slight additional angle to this story. Leah is, technically, obligated in an oath (a shevua) to her own daughter to verify that she indeed placed the gift in the car. However, since it is unlikely that Leah’s daughter will demand an oath from her, she is not obligated to pay.

Needless to say, Leah will apologize to her daughter even if she has no technical responsibility, and will probably offer her daughter a replacement gift. Hopefully her daughter will accept the loss of a gift as a minor mishap, and put it out of her mind.

In general, we should be careful when we assume responsibility for items belonging to others, to take good care of them and not leave them around irresponsibly or near young children. We should pray to be successful messengers when entrusted with other people’s property.

 

The Bankrupt Borrower

This week’s parsha, Behar, includes details about being honest in our business dealings. Is declaring bankruptcy to absolve one of one’s debts, considered honest according to halachah?

The Bankrupt Borrower

Mr. Gomel Chessed shares with his rav, Rav Chacham, the following predicament: “I loaned someone money, and I did not hassle him for payment when he told me that things were tough. Recently, I contacted him to ask if he is in any position to pay back. He replied that he was forced into bankruptcy and thereby absolved all his debts. Does he, indeed, no longer owe me for the loan?”

Gomel’s rav explains that although the Gemara and the Shulchan Aruch do not recognize a concept called bankruptcy, there are authorities who contend that, at least in some circumstances, halachah requires that a bankruptcy court’s decision be honored. Gomel is eager to hear the full explanation, so his rav provides him with some background material to read until they make an appointment to discuss the matter at length.

Gomel truly enjoyed researching the topic, and discovered that he also wanted to know all the related subjects. As a result, he became somewhat of an expert on much of the halachic material germane to his question.

Responsibilities of a Borrower

One of the first topics Gomel researched was the extent that a borrower must go to pay his debts. He was surprised to discover how strongly halachah requires someone to repay his debts and to make his payments on time. In addition, it is strictly forbidden to claim that one is unable to pay a debt when he can, and it is similarly forbidden to hide money so that a creditor cannot collect. This is true even if the creditor is very wealthy.

It is forbidden to borrow money that one does not think he will be able to repay. According to some authorities, money borrowed under the false pretense that the borrower intends to repay it is considered stolen, and not borrowed, funds. The halachic ramifications of this distinction are beyond the scope of this article.

If a debtor’s loan is due and he cannot pay, halachah requires that he sell his house, his furniture and his other household items, if necessary, to repay the debt, unless he can convince his creditor to forgive the debt or to wait longer for payment (Graz, Hilchos Halvaah 1:5).

Since the debtor must use whatever money he has available to pay his debt, he is required to trim his expenditures so that he can pay his creditor. Until his debt is repaid, he may not make significant contributions to tzedakah (Sefer Chassidim #454). Furthermore, he may not purchase a lulav and esrog, but instead must fulfill the mitzvah by borrowing from someone else (see Pischei Teshuvah, Choshen Mishpat 97:8). It goes without saying that luxuries and vacations are out. Someone who uses his money to purchase non-essential items when he has an overdue debt demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Torah’s priorities. One who squanders money and therefore is unable to repay his loans is called a rosho (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:3).

Systematic Collection

Having researched how responsible a debtor must be, Gomel next studied the following topic: If a debtor unfortunately owes more money than he can pay, how does the halachah decide that we divide the debtor’s limited financial resources among his creditors?

Gomel discovered that the halachos governing who collects first are highly complicated. He also discovered that, when there are insufficient financial resources to pay all of the person’s debts, halachah views the priorities of who receives, and how much, very differently from civil law. Here are some basic ideas.

The Gemara works with a concept called shibud by which most debts are automatically secured with property that the debtor owned at the time he created the obligation. When this system was followed, if a debtor defaulted on an obligation, a creditor who exhausted all means of collecting directly from the debtor’s holdings could collect these secured debts from real properties that the debtor once owned and had subsequently sold. The system in place allowed that potential purchasers could find out whether a property had a lien on it prior to purchasing it. (This would loosely parallel what we call today a “title search” performed before purchasing property to ascertain that the property is without any liens and that the seller has clear ownership.) The potential lien on all the properties of a debtor encouraged people to pay their debts so that they could sell their properties more easily, and also enabled people to borrow investment capital.

Who Collects First?

Under the Gemara’s shibud system, when there are two or more claims on a property whose value is less than the outstanding debt, the creditor with the earliest claim collects as much as he can, and, after his claim is paid, the creditor with the next earliest claim collects, and so on (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 104:1).

When Gomel asked contemporary halachic authorities if this system is used today, he was told that one would not be able to collect from such properties unless they were mortgaged.

Why did the halachah change?

Since today no one applies the system of the Gemara, the creditor did not expect to be able to collect from any properties after the debtor sells them. As a result, the creditor did not acquire shibud on any of the debtor’s properties (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2:62).

Bad Talmudic Debts

When there is no shibud claim on any properties, then, under the Gemara’s system, the outstanding creditors collect, but not proportional to the amount that each is owed. According to most authorities, we still follow whose claim is earliest. Others rule that everyone is paid equally according to the availability of resources (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 104:13 and Sma). Either approach results in a major difference between the Gemara’s system and the modern approach. Under the modern approach, the court calculates what is the ratio of the available resources to the debt, and pays all creditors a percentage of the debt based on the result.

By now, Gomel has studied much of the Gemara and commentaries on the topic of debt collection, and he has a good idea how bad debt was collected in the time of the Gemara. After reviewing his studies with Rav Chacham, Gomel is ready to understand how and if bankruptcy fits into a halachic system. He soon discovers that he now needs to master a very complicated concept of halachah called dina demalchusa dina.

Dina Demalchusa Dina

In the time of the Gemara, most countries and governments were kingdoms. This meant that the people living in an area recognized one individual to be responsible to maintain law and order within the country and to protect the citizenry from external enemies and greedy neighbors. Without a government, people are in constant danger from the chaos that occurs when there is no respect for a central authority. To quote the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (3:2), “Pray for the peace of the kingdom, for if people are not afraid of it, one man will swallow another alive.” Anyone who has ever seen or read of the mass looting that transpires when there is a breakdown of authority knows exactly what this means.

The king or government requires an army to protect the country from its external enemies, a police force to uphold law and order, and royal palaces and government offices that are well maintained so that the king’s authority is respected. All this requires funding, and the people realize that they need to pay taxes so that the king and/or government can protect them (see Rashbam, Bava Basra 54b s.v. VeHa’amar). The halachah of dina demalchusa dina recognizes that the king and his properly appointed agents have the right to collect taxes (Nedarim 28a).

Din Melech

When the tribes of Israel approached their prophet, Shmuel, requesting that he appoint a king, Shmuel attempted to dissuade them by noting the tremendous power that a king has. He will draft the most talented sons to till his fields, harvest his crops and perform other services; he will draft their daughters as perfumers, bakers and cooks; and he will raise high taxes (Shmuel I 8:11-18). The Gemara (Sanhedrin 20a) cites a dispute as to whether a Jewish monarch has the extensive authority that Shmuel describes or if Shmuel was simply threatening the people in an attempt to dissuade them from having a king. The Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 4:1) and most authorities rule that the king indeed does have this authority.

Some poskim understand that a non-Jewish king, also, draws his authority based on this concept of din melech. That is, the Torah reserved the rights described by the prophet Shmuel for any monarch. (Even for those who contend that Shmuel was merely threatening the people and that the king does not have this extensive authority, the concept of dina demalchusa dina is still accepted; they simply do not consider the din melech of Shmuel to be the source of the law of dina demalchusa dina.)

Democratic Taxes

Although the early authorities discuss dina demalchusa dina primarily in terms of the rights of a king, most later authorities understand that this halachic power exists equally in a democracy (see Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 5:63).

Gomel discovered that the vast majority of halachic authorities regard dina demalchusa dina as a Torah-mandated concept (see Shu’t Dvar Avraham 1:1; Avnei Meluim 28:2; Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #314), although there is a minority opinion that contends that dina demalchusa dina was introduced by Chazal (Beis Shemuel, 28:3).

Many authorities rule that a king may not arbitrarily create new taxes; he may only collect that which has been previously established (Ritva, Nedarim 28a; see lengthy list in Encyclopedia Talmudis, Volume 7, page 318, footnote 559). Why is this true? When people appointed the original king to protect them, they accepted certain taxes with which to pay him for his “services.” According to these rishonim, neither this king nor his successors have an arbitrary right to create new taxes or increase taxes without the consent of the governed.

Traffic and Safety Regulations

Thus far, we have seen that dina demalchusa dina governs the right of the king or the government to collect taxes. Dina demalchusa dina also requires obeying rules of the government, such as the prohibitions against smuggling and counterfeiting. However, dina demalchusa dina goes much further. Some authorities maintain that dina demalchusa dina requires everyone to obey government-created rules that are clearly for the common good (Ramban, Bava Basra 55a). One may argue that this includes traffic laws, and regulations governing sanitation, safety and health. Those who do not agree that dina demalchusa dina extends this far feel that dina demalchusa dina is limited to matters that more directly affect the government (see Maggid Mishnah, Hilchos Malveh 27:1). All opinions agree that dina demalchusa dina applies to matters which breach the authority of the governing parties (Igros Moshe op. cit.). The exact extent to which this is applied practically will affect Gomel’s original question, whether dina demalchusa dina applies to bankruptcy law.

No Government Influence

What areas of halachah are not subject to dina demalchusa dina?

Dina demalchusa dina does not replace the civil laws of the Torah (the laws of Choshen Mishpat) that govern the relationships between Jews (Shu’t Harashba 3:109, quoted by Beis Yosef, Choshen Mishpat end of Chapter 26; Shach, Choshen Mishpat 73:39). For example, dina demalchusa dina does not affect the laws of inheritance. These laws are governed by the Torah’s laws of yerushah.

Similarly, the laws of damages (nezakin), the laws of shomrim – responsibility for taking care of someone else’s property – and the property laws involved in  marriage are all areas of halachah in which Jews are required to follow the laws of the Torah. Therefore, when a Jew lends an item to another, the laws governing his responsibility are those of the Torah, not the local civil code. This is because it is no infringement on the government’s authority when people make their own arrangements as to how to manage these areas of their lives (Igros Moshe).

Government Influence

On the other hand, there are certain areas of contract law that are heavily influenced by dina demalchusa dina. For example, the laws of employee relations are governed by local custom (Yerushalmi, Bava Metzia 7:1), and these are usually heavily influenced by civil law.

What about Bankruptcy?

As I wrote above, the Gemara and the Shulchan Aruch do not mention any concept of bankruptcy. Gomel began to research if anyone discusses whether or not halachah recognizes the laws of bankruptcy under the laws of dina demalchusa dina. Indeed, he discovered a dispute among great authorities of the late twentieth century whether dina demalchusa dina applies to the laws of bankruptcy. In a responsum, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules

that dina demalchusa dina applies only to matters in which the government takes an interest because they may affect the stability of the country. For example, if the country does not have consistent markets, this could create problems that the government wants to avoid. Therefore, the government has a halachic right under dina demalchusa dina to insist that its laws insuring stable markets are followed.

Rav Moshe concludes that the laws of bankruptcy are within the parameters of dina demalchusa dina, since the government has a right to insist that there be a consistent rule of law applied throughout the country regarding how bad debts are discharged.

In the case brought before Rav Moshe, a company had gone bankrupt, and the directors had paid one of its creditors for his outstanding debt in violation of the bankruptcy rulings. The question was whether the individual was required to return the money that he had been paid because of dina demalchusa dina. Rav Moshe ruled that if the company had already filed for bankruptcy when this money was paid, then the creditor is halachically required to return the money. This is because dina demalchusa dina establishes the regulations how one may pay once one has filed for bankruptcy.

We find responsa from two prominent European authorities, Rav Yitzchak Weiss (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 3:134), then the av beis din of Manchester (and later the Gaon Av Beis Din of the Eidah HaChareidis in Yerushalayim), and from Rav Yaakov Breisch of Zurich, Switzerland (Shu’t Chelkas Yaakov 3:160). (It is interesting to note that these two great poskim were mechutanim.) From the limited description of the cases that each responsum contains, it seems that they were asked concerning the same situation:

Reuven advanced Shimon a personal loan, and Shimon subsequently declared bankruptcy. As required by law, Shimon had notified all his creditors, Reuven included, that he had filed for bankruptcy protection and that Reuven had the right to protest the bankruptcy arrangements. Reuven did not protest the bankruptcy proceedings, which ultimately ruled that Shimon was required to pay only thirty cents per dollar owed to his creditors.

Subsequently, Reuven sued Shimon in beis din for the entire loan. Shimon contended that he is not required to pay Reuven any more than the thirty cents to the dollar that the bankruptcy court ruled that he was required to pay. Reuven, the creditor, claimed that he had never forgiven any part of the loan. He claimed that he did not protest the bankruptcy proceedings for several reasons, among them that he was unaware that a personal loan which was not meant for profit is included in bankruptcy proceedings.

The rav who was asked the shaylah referred it to these well-known poskim. They both contend that dina demalchusa dina does not apply to bankruptcy procedures. In their opinion, dina demalchusa dina never supplants an area of halachah where the Torah provides its own guidelines.

They do agree that if there was evidence that Reuven had accepted the court’s ruling, he would no longer be entitled to full payment, because he had been mocheil, forgiven, the balance of the loan. Once someone is mocheil a loan or part of a loan, he cannot afterwards claim it. However, they contend that in the situation at hand, there is no evidence that Reuven was ever mocheil the balance of the loan.

It would seem from Rav Moshe Feinstein’s responsum that he would have ruled differently and contended that once the court declared Shimon bankrupt, Reuven would have been obligated to honor the court’s decision because of dina demalchusa dina.

At this point, Gomel sat down to discuss with Rav Chacham whether his own debtor can claim protection from the balance of his loan because he has declared bankruptcy. According to the Chelkas Yaakov, the Minchas Yitzchak, and other authorities, the debtor has no basis for claiming bankruptcy protection. According to Rav Moshe Feinstein, one would have to check with an attorney whether the debtor’s bankruptcy protects him legally from Gomel’s loan even though Gomel was not informed of the bankruptcy proceedings. Assuming that the bankruptcy proceedings can, indeed, protect the debtor, it would seem that, according to Rav Moshe and some other authorities, the debtor has grounds to his argument.

Conclusion

Lending money is a valuable mitzvah. When someone fulfills the mitzvah of lending money to a fellow Jew, he is not providing a gift, but a loan that he has a right to expect will be repaid. As the Tanna, Rabbi Shimon, notes in the second chapter of Pirkei Avos, “the evil path from which a person should distance himself” can be explained easily in the words of Dovid Hamelech: The wicked borrow and do not repay; whereas the righteous is gracious in his giving. Someone who borrows must always have a plan how he intends to return the funds.

The Saga of the Expired Ticket

PART I: The Saga of the Expired Ticket

Two yeshiva students, Beryl Bernstein and Aaron Adler*, make an appointment to discuss a financial matter with me. Thank G-d, there is no ill feeling between them, just a practical question regarding who is required to pay for a plane ticket. Here is the background to the story:

Beryl and Aaron were taking a brief trip to visit their families. Beryl purchased a round trip ticket, whereas Aaron had the return ticket from his previous trip and was planning to purchase a ticket back to Yeshiva from home. All went well on the trip there; however, shortly after their arrival, Beryl took ill and realized that he would be unable to return to yeshiva on the flight he had originally booked. The travel agent informed his parents that although it was impossible to transfer the ticket to a later flight, he could rewrite the ticket in someone else’s name with only a small transfer fee.

Beryl called Aaron, asking him if he had as yet purchased a ticket back, which indeed he had not. Aaron discussed the matter with his parents, who decided to help out the Bernsteins, since Aaron needed a new ticket anyway. Beryl’s parents instructed the agent to change the name on the ticket while leaving the billing on their credit card. The Bernsteins agreed that they will pay the change fee whereas the Adlers will compensate them for the price of the ticket.

All was fine until the morning of the flight. Aaron woke up sick; clearly he would not be flying today. The Adlers contacted the issuing travel agent to find out what he could do with the ticket. He responded that he could transfer the ticket yet again but needed the Bernsteins’ approval to change the billing on their credit card. The Adlers tried many times to contact the Bernsteins to arrange the change of ticket, but were unsuccessful at reaching them. Unfortunately, the ticket went unused and became worthless.

Later, both Aaron and Beryl purchased new tickets for the flight back to yeshiva. In the meantime, the Adlers have not yet paid the Bernsteins for the first ticket and have the following question: Must they pay for the ticket which they were unable to use, thus requiring them to pay for two tickets? In their opinion, all they were trying to do was to help out the Bernsteins from having the ticket go to waste, although unfortunately it did anyway. The Adlers contend that they had found a cheaper ticket and chose to help out the Bernsteins even though it was more expensive. They feel it unfair to expect them to compensate the Bernsteins for attempting to do a favor that backfired, particularly since they tried to reach the Bernsteins to make sure the ticket did not go to waste.

On their part, the Bernsteins contend that other people were interested in using Beryl’s ticket, and that they sold it to the Adlers for the Adlers’ benefit. Furthermore, they note that they were not home the day the Adlers called because they were away at a simcha and that they did have their cell phones with them.

Are the Adlers obligated to compensate the Bernsteins for the unused ticket or not?

PART II: Who Appears Before the “Judge”?

Aaron and Beryl came to me with the request that I resolve an issue germane to the payment of an airline ticket. Before hearing details of the case, I asked them who were the parties to the litigation. Were Aaron and Beryl assuming responsibility to pay? Both fine, young gentlemen respond that the parents are assuming responsibility. The bachurim noted that there is no ill will between the families, simply a true desire to do what is halachically correct. Both sets of parents felt that a rav near their sons’ yeshiva would be the easiest way to resolve the issue in an amicable and halachically proper fashion.

I pointed out to Aaron and Beryl that while asking a rav to clarify the halacha is indeed an excellent way to resolve the matter, at the same time, the situation was in one way somewhat unusual. Ordinarily, when two parties submit litigation to a rav or a Beis Din, each party makes a kabbalas kinyan (to be explained shortly) obligating them to obey the decision of that particular rav or Beis Din. In the modern world, the two parties also typically sign an arbitration agreement that they are accepting this rav’s or Beis Din’s adjudication. Although halacha does not require signing an arbitration agreement, this is done nowadays in order to provide simple proof that both parties accepted the particular Beis Din’s authority and to strengthen the Beis Din’s power as an arbitration board under secular law. (In most locales and circumstances, a civil court will accept the decision of a Beis Din as a form of binding arbitration.)

WHAT IS A KABBALAS KINYAN?

A kabbalas kinyan means performing an act that obligates one to fulfill an agreement. For example, prior to the signing of a kesubah, the chosson makes a kabbalas kinyan, usually by lifting a pen or a handkerchief, thereby demonstrating that he has accepted the responsibility to support his wife. Similarly, when appointing a rav to sell one’s chometz, one performs a kabbalas kinyan to demonstrate the authorization of the rav as one’s agent.

In our instance, a kabbalas kinyan demonstrates that one accepts the authority of this particular rav or Beis Din to rule on the matter at hand.

HARSHA’AH – POWER OF ATTORNEY

Beryl asked me, “Can’t I represent my parents in this matter?”

I answered him, “Certainly. One can appoint someone to represent him in halachic litigation by creating a harsha’ah. For example, let us say that it is impractical for the suing party to appear before the Beis Din in the city where the defendant resides. He can sue by appointing someone on his behalf and authorizing this by executing a harsha’ah, the halachic equivalent of a power of attorney.”

I returned to the case at hand.

“Therefore, in our case, the two of you could represent your parents by having them execute harsha’os appointing you as their respective agents.”

Aaron piped up: “I don’t think anyone really wants to make a full din torah out of this. I think we simply want to know what is the right thing to do according to halacha.”

Technically, without execution of harsha’os, either side could later claim not to have accepted the decision of the rav or Beis Din involved, and could avoid having the litigation binding. Nevertheless, in our situation, both parties seemed honorable and simply wanted to know the halacha. Both sons said that their parents had requested that they jointly ask a shaylah and that they would follow the decision. Thus, although following the strict rules of litigation requires both a harsha’ah and a kabbalas kinyan from each side, I elected to handle the situation informally, calculating that this would generate the most shalom.

PART III: Are They Parties or Participants?

Why didn’t I have the two bachurim each make a kabbalas kinyan binding themselves to my ruling?

Such a kabbalas kinyan would have no value, since the person making the kabbalas kinyan binds himself to accept the authority of the specific rav or Beis Din. However, the sons here are not parties to the litigation and therefore their kinyan would not bind either themselves or their parents unless they had previously executed a harsha’ah.

PART IV: Opening Arguments

Let us review the points made by each of the parties: The Adlers claim that they were simply doing a favor for the Bernsteins. They were willing to absorb a small loss for the sake of the favor, but certainly had no intention of paying the Bernsteins for a ticket that they would never use. They also feel that since they could not reach the Bernsteins to change the ticket, the Bernsteins were partially responsible for the ticket becoming void.

The Bernsteins are claiming that the Adlers purchased the ticket from them and that what occurred subsequently is exclusively the Adlers’ predicament and responsibility. Furthermore, the Bernsteins contend that the Adlers did not really save them money because there were other people who would have purchased the ticket from them. And regarding their unavailability, they were at a simcha, which is certainly a reasonable reason to be away, and they were reachable by cell phone. It is not their fault that the Adlers did not ask them for cell phone numbers.

Do the Adlers owe the Bernsteins for the ticket that they did not use? After all, the Adlers point out that they were doing the Bernsteins a favor, and that they tried to contact the Bernsteins before the ticket became worthless. Having discussed the background to this “litigation,” we need to address the halachos pertinent to the case.

PART V: In the Judge’s “Chambers”

At this point, we can consider the arguments and counter-arguments of the two parties. The Adlers’ contention that the Bernsteins were unavailable does not affect the issues at stake. The Bernsteins are not obligated to be accessible at all hours of the day, and cannot be considered as having damaged the Adlers through their unavailability. Thus, whether the Bernsteins could have been reached by cell phone or not, whether they should have remembered to supply the Adlers with their cell phone number or not, and whether they were away to celebrate a simcha or not, are all not germane to the issue.

WHO OWNED THE TICKET?

Essentially, the Adlers are contending that they assumed no fiscal liability for the ticket unless they used it, and were simply attempting to help the Bernsteins. Does this perception reflect what happened?

Certainly, if the Adlers had told the Bernsteins that they were not assuming any responsibility for the ticket unless they actually used it, they would not be liable for it. However, they did not say this when they arranged for Aaron to obtain the ticket. Rather, they had agreed that the ticket be reissued in Aaron’s name without any conditions.

The issue we need to resolve is, “Who owned the ticket when it became invalid?” Here we have a somewhat complicated issue, since the ticket was reissued, yet it remained billed to the Bernsteins’ credit card.

Someone who purchased an item that was subsequently damaged cannot claim a refund from the seller unless the seller was guilty of deception (Bava Metzia 110a). Once the item has changed possession, any damage that occurs is the loss of its current owner and he cannot shift responsibility to the previous owner. This occurrence is called mazalo garam, his fortune caused this to happen (see, for example, Rashi to Bava Metzia 103a, s.v. azla lei). This means that each person has a mazel that will bring him certain benefits and losses during his lifetime, and one must learn to accept that this is Hashem’s will. Specifically, the Gemara refers to children, life and sustenance as three areas dependent on mazel (Moed Katan 28a). [One can daven to change one’s mazel, but that is not today’s topic (Meiri, Shabbos 156).] Thus, if the Adlers indeed owned the ticket, the resultant loss is theirs, and they should chalk it up to Hashem’s will. (Colloquially, we very accurately refer to this situation as being bashert.) Thus, what we need to determine is whether the Adlers had halachically taken possession of the ticket.

KINYAN

According to halacha, for property to change hands there must be not only the meeting of the minds of the buyer and the seller, but also the performance of an act, called a maaseh kinyan, that transfers the item into the possession of the buyer. Although both the buyer and the seller agreed to transact an item, it does not actually change possession until the maaseh kinyan transpires. Therefore, if the item is damaged after the two parties agreed to a deal, but before a maaseh kinyan transpired, the seller takes the loss since the item was still his when it became damaged. Determining the exact moment that the act of kinyan takes place and that therefore the item changed possession is therefore highly significant.

[It is important to note that, although a deal may not have been finalized without a kinyan, it is usually forbidden to back out once the two parties have made an agreement. This is based on the verse in Tzefaniah (3:13) which states that a Jew always fulfills his word (see also Pesachim 91a; Bava Metzia 106b). Someone who has a question whether he is bound to an agreement must ask a shaylah to find out whether he may abandon the deal.]

What act creates the kinyan? There is a vast halachic literature devoted to defining what exactly constitutes a maaseh kinyan and under which circumstances these kinyanim work. For example, the methods of transacting real estate are quite different from how one acquires chattel or food.

How does an airline ticket change possession? Obviously, there is no Mishnah or Gemara discussion teaching how one acquires an airline ticket.

In reality, we should first analyze, what exactly does one purchase when one buys an airline ticket? The ticket itself is only a piece of paper, and is even less if it is an e-ticket and has no intrinsic value.

What one is purchasing is the right to a seat on a flight, and the ticket is basically a receipt verifying the acquisition. If our analysis is correct, then the purchase of a non-refundable ticket is essentially buying a right to a particular flight. So we now have a halachic question: How does one acquire such rights and how does one transfer those rights to someone else?

SUTIMTA

One way of acquiring property is called sutimta, which means using a method of acquisition that is commonly used in the marketplace. Since society accepts this as a means of acquiring property, halacha recognizes it as a kinyan. For example, in the diamond trade, people consummate a deal by a handshake accompanied by the good wishes of “mazel ubracha.” Since this is the accepted method of transacting property, the kinyan is binding and halacha recognizes the deal as complete.

Based on the above, we can reach the following conclusion: When the Bernsteins instructed their travel agent to transfer the ticket to Aaron’s name, they were asking him to change the ownership of the right to the seat on that flight from Beryl to Aaron. Once the agent followed up on their instruction and reissued the ticket, the right to that seat became Aaron’s, and the Bernsteins are exempt from any fiscal responsibility. Although Aaron was unfortunately unable to utilize this right and it became void, there is no basis to making the Bernsteins pay for the ticket once it was transferred.

Therefore, the Adlers should accept that Aaron’s illness and the resultant loss of the ticket is Hashem’s will which we do not challenge. Since the loss of this money is attributed to mazel, had the ticket situation developed differently they would have suffered this loss in a different, perhaps more painful way, and they should not be upset at the Bernsteins for the financial loss.

Knowing how some people react to these situations, there is a good chance that the Adlers may be upset at the Bernsteins for what happened, even though this anger is unjustified. To avoid this result, I suggested that the Bernsteins offer some compensation to the Adlers for the ticket. It is very praiseworthy to spend some money and avoid bad feelings even if such expenditure is not required according to the letter of the law.

A Jew must realize that Hashem’s Torah and His awareness and supervision of our fate is all encompassing. Making this realization an integral part of our lives is the true benchmark of how His kedusha influences us personally.

*Although the story is true, all names have been changed.

Special Tochacha Situations

Question #1: Talkative Boss

“My boss likes to gossip, and much of it is loshon hora. Am I required to tell him that this is prohibited according to halacha?”

Question #2: Admonishing a talmid chacham

“I saw a highly respected scholar talking during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. Should I say something to him?”

Question #3: Public Tochacha

“I know of situations where great scholars protested in public what people did, embarrassing them publicly. Is this a proper way to observe the mitzvah of tochacha?”

Answer:

In this week’s parsha, Moshe admonishes a Jew for beating his fellow Jew, thus providing ample reason to continue our discussion on the mitzvah of tochacha, the Torah’s requirement to reprove someone for misbehavior. The two previous articles analyzed the basics of tochacha. We learned that the underlying principle of tochacha is the realization that fulfilling Hashem’s mitzvos is not merely an individual’s pursuit – it is a responsibility that I share with all of Klal Yisroel (see Sefer Hamitzvos #205). We are all members of the same people and share a common, collective mission.

In the previous articles, we also learned that, for tochacha to be successful, it must come from sincere caring about the person who has sinned, and should be conveyed in that tone. Tochacha should be presented in a way that is most likely to persuade the wrongdoer to mend his or her ways. We also learned that there are instances in which one should not admonish a sinner, such as when he/she does not realize that the action violates the Torah and it is clear that any reprimand will be ignored. On the other hand, we should note that the Chovos Halevovos (Shaar Cheshbon Hanefesh #17) quotes early sources (Shemos 2:13; Avodah Zarah 4a) that imply that, at times, one is required to protest, even when he knows that the offending party will not listen.

This article will discuss aspects of the mitzvah of tochacha that were not included in the previous essays, and with this information we will be able to answer our opening questions.

Someone who has wronged me

The mitzvah of tochacha applies when I was aggrieved by another person. If someone mistreated me, I may not resent, in silence, what that person did. This attitude violates the Torah’s prohibition of Lo sisna es achicha bilvavecha, “Do not hate your brother in your heart,” meaning, to bear the grudge in silence. Instead, there are two permitted courses of action from which I may choose:

1. I may tell the person that I am upset because he wronged me. This statement qualifies as a form of tochacha.

2. The other option is to forgive the evildoer for his ill-doing. This latter choice is the preferred course of action (Rambam, Hilchos Dei’os 6:9; see also Tosafos, Arachin 16b s.v. Va’anavah).

What is prohibited is for me to continue bearing a grudge silently against the person who perpetrated wrong against me. This is prohibited unless the person has the status of being a rosho, someone viewed as wicked according to halacha.

Repeat offender

In the previous article, we discussed what the halacha is if you see a person doing something wrong for which you have previously rebuked him. Are you required to rebuke him again? The Gemara rules that one is required to rebuke an evildoer repeatedly (Bava Metzia 23a). However, we find a dispute among rishonim whether or not this law applies in all situations when one is required to rebuke an evildoer (see Magen Avraham 608:3; Orach Meisharim, page 159), or whether it applies only to someone with whom you have a very close relationship, such as a sibling or parent (Sefer Chassidim #413).

In a situation when the Torah requires one to reproach the sinner repeatedly, is there no limit at all to how many times one must rebuke him? What if the sinner gets so angry that he curses, or even strikes, the person censuring him? Is the mochiach required to continue reproaching, even though he may be subjecting himself to physical or emotional abuse?

The Gemara cites a dispute among the three great, early amora’im, Rav, Shmuel, and Rabbi Yochanan, concerning the point at which one may refrain from rebuking the sinner. All three amora’im concur that there is a point at which the mochiach should refrain from admonishing. According to Rabbi Yochanan, once the evildoer becomes so upset that he responds with a nasty retort, the mochiach may refrain from further reprimand. Shmuel contends that angering the sinner to this extent is not sufficient reason to stop the censure, but one should continue until the sinner curses the mochiach. Presumably, Shmuel feels that, at this point, nothing is gained by the tochacha, since it is now causing the wrongdoer to sin even more by cursing a fellow Jew. Rav disagrees, contending that even if one is cursed by the sinner, one should continue to rebuke him, until one is concerned that the sinner may become violent (Arachin 16b).

I mentioned above that some authorities contend that one should not repeatedly rebuke anyone with whom one does not have a close relationship. According to this opinion, the dispute of Rav, Shmuel, and Rabbi Yochanan concerns only a close relative or friend who is rebuking, where the halacha is that he should reproach the sinner repeatedly – until the sinner responds either by shouting nastily, by cursing, or by striking, depending upon which opinion one follows. However, according to those who dispute this conclusion and contend that one must repeatedly admonish any sinner, the amora’im are discussing anyone who reproaches a sinner.

Becoming harsh

In the previous article, we learned that one should admonish in a gentle, soft way that conveys the message, “I care for you deeply; this behavior is not in your best interest.” One should never initiate reproach in a harsh manner. However, this halacha applies only in the initial stages of reproaching someone. When the repeated offender’s sin is bein adam lamakom, between himself and Hashem, and positive approaches have been unsuccessful, the authorities rule that one is required to become harsh with the evildoer, even to the point of embarrassing him in public to get him to do teshuvah (Rambam, Hilchos Dei’os 6:8; Sefer Hachinuch #239).

Other limitations

The Rema (Yoreh Deah 334:48) and the Mahari Weill (#157) rule that the Torah does not require one to spend money to fulfill the mitzvah of tochacha. They extend this idea to include that one does not need to be mochiach someone who might hurt you physically or financially. Someone who is being mochiach is not required to endanger himself or lose money to fulfill the mitzvah. (This appears to follow the approach of the Sefer Chassidim that the dispute among amora’im concerning to what extent one is required to be mochiach applies only when one is being mochiach close relatives, but not to others.) An extension of this law is that you are not required to be mochiach someone who might hurt you physically or financially (Rema, Yoreh Deah 334:48; Levush, Yoreh Deah 157:1; see Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 157:5; cf., however, Teivas Gomeh, quoted by the above-mentioned Pischei Teshuvah, who disagrees.)

In the same context, the Darchei Teshuvah (157:20) quotes the following question in the name of the Tzemach Tzedek of Lubavitch: In a certain city, the local physician was a non-observant Jew. The question was whether there was a mitzvah to admonish him for his sins, knowing that such admonishment might cause him to relocate. This would endanger the populace, since they would now be without a physician to treat them. The Tzemach Tzedek ruled that they are not required to admonish him, since the result might imperil the community.

Admonishing the boss

At this point, we can address the first question we asked above:

“My boss likes to gossip, and much of it is loshon hora. Am I required to tell him that this is prohibited according to halacha?”

If the only concern here is the mitzvah of tochacha, it seems that there is no requirement to admonish one’s employer, if you are concerned that, as a result, he may fire you. However, there is probably a more serious question here: that of hearing loshon hora, since this boss probably enjoys sharing his gossip with you. There is discussion about such a shaylah in the sefer Chofeitz Chayim (Hilchos Loshon Hora 6:5). I refer the reader who has a specific question on this topic to his or her own rav or posek for a decision.

Tacit approval

Even though one is not required to admonish the evildoer, one should be careful not to imply that his actions are acceptable. This would violate the prohibition of chanufah, usually translated as flattery, which is a very serious Torah violation.

The story of Agrippas

The following story demonstrates how serious this prohibition is. King Agrippas, who reigned towards the end of the Second Beis Hamikdash, was an excellent ruler, highly respectful of the Gedolei Torah of his era and committed to the observance and spreading of Torah and mitzvos. Notwithstanding his many good qualities, calling himself “King” over the Jewish People violated halacha, since he was descended from gentile slaves, and the Torah states, lo suchal laseis alecha ish nachri asher lo achicha hu, “You may not place over yourselves a gentile who is not your brother” (Devarim 17:15). Agrippas, himself, realized that he was not permitted to be king, for when he observed the hakheil ceremony in the Beis Hamikdash on Chol Hamoed Sukkos (see Devarim 31:10-13 and Mishnah, Sotah 41a), he stood up while reading the Torah rather than read it while sitting, since sitting in the Azarah section of the Beis Hamikdash is a special privilege permitted only to kings who are descendants of David Hamelech. When Agrippas reached the words of the Torah that prohibit appointing a king who is not a Jewish native, his eyes began to tear, for he realized that he, himself, was violating this law. At that moment, the Sages present told him, “Don’t worry, Agrippas. You are our brother,” thus approving his reign, in violation of the Torah.

The Gemara (Sotah 41b) teaches that the leaders of the Jews should have been destroyed for violating chanufah, and that, at that moment, many catastrophic occurrences befell the Jewish people, resulting in extensive loss of life. Although, under the circumstances, the Sages were not required to admonish Agrippas for being king, they were forbidden to give the impression that they approved of his being a monarch. They were required to remain silent (Tosafos, Sotah 41b s.v. oso), which would constitute a respectful disapproval.

The Chovos Halevovos (Shaar Cheshbon Hanefesh #17) expands this concept. Although we have enumerated many instances where one is not obligated to be mochiach, in each of these situations one is required to internalize strong disapproval of the violations that one observes. The Chovos Halevovos bases this idea on the words of David Hamelech: I hated the gathering of evildoers (Tehillim 26:5).

Admonishing a talmid chacham

If someone who is not scholarly sees a talmid chacham do something that appears to be halachically incorrect, what is the proper thing for him to do? Does the non-scholarly person have a mitzvah to admonish the Torah scholar for his lapse?

The halacha is that one is required to rebuke the talmid chacham, and that even a disciple has a responsibility to be mochiach his own rebbe (Bava Metzia 31a). There are halachic details for giving such tochacha. The easiest approach is for the student to ask his rebbe respectfully what is the halacha in the situation (that was ostensibly violated). In this way, the disciple neither acts nor speaks disrespectfully since he did not tell his rebbe that he had committed a violation. If, indeed, the rebbe was in violation of a halacha, it has now been brought to his attention in an appropriate way. It also may be true that the rebbe is aware of opinions who permit the action under the specific circumstances involved.

The Gemara (Shabbos 55a) provides an example of this: Rav Yehudah was listening to the Torah lecture of his rebbe, the great amora Shmuel, when a woman entered and began screaming at Shmuel. Shmuel ignored the woman and continued his teaching. Rav Yehudah turned to his master, asking him: Does the master not accept the teaching of Mishlei (21:13): “One who closes his ears from the outcry of the poor will not be answered when he calls out (in prayer).” If Shmuel felt that the verse in Mishlei did not apply in his circumstance, he could have explained to his disciple why this is so.

There is an interesting sequel to this story, based on the following Talmudic passage. The amora, Rav Yosef the son of Rav Yehoshua, had an out-of-body experience in which he saw elyonim lematah vetachtonim lemaaleh, meaning that he had a vision of olam haba and saw that things there are often the reverse of how they appear in this world. Rabbeinu Chananel records that there was an oral tradition from the ge’onim, passed from one generation to the next, that what Rav Yosef saw was that in olam haba Shmuel was studying and imbibing Torah from Rav Yehudah, notwithstanding the fact that, in this world, Rav Yehudah was Shmuel’s disciple. In the world to come, the great amora Shmuel is treated as Rav Yehudah’s disciple, because of this one instance in which Rav Yehudah taught Shmuel the proper way to act (Tosafos, Bava Basra 10b s.v. Elyonim).

Here is another example:

A talmid sees his rebbe speak during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. It is correct for the talmid to ask his rebbe: “Didn’t we learn that one may not talk during the chazaras hashatz?” Framing the rebuke as a question is milder than saying to his rebbe directly: “It is forbidden to talk during chazaras hashatz.”

As we noted above, someone who sees a person talking during chazaras hashatz is required to feel tremendous love for this person, so much so that it pains him to realize that the talker will be punished for his misdeed. Then, the mochiach tries to figure out what will be the most effective way of communicating both these feelings and the message to the wrongdoer.

Did the talmid chacham do teshuvah?

The Gemara shares with us an interesting insight: One who observes that a talmid chacham did something wrong should assume, by the next day, that the talmid chacham has already done teshuvah for his sin (Brachos 19a). Although it is possible that, in the passion of the moment, the talmid chacham may have sinned, he will certainly regret his failure afterwards and will do teshuvah for it.

The halachic authorities ask the following question: Does this insight, that a day after witnessing his misdeed one should assume that the talmid chacham has already done teshuvah, have ramifications as to whether one should admonish the talmid chacham when one next sees him? Should one assume that the talmid chacham has already performed a complete teshuvah and that admonishing him at this point is no longer necessary or correct?

We find a dispute among the acharonim concerning this question. Some rule that one should assume that the talmid chacham did teshuvah already, and that there is no more reason to be mochiach him (Yad Ha’ketenah, as explained by Zeh Hashaar and Shevilei Chayim 4:20). Others contend that one should be mochiach, unless one knows that the talmid chacham has already done teshuvah (Be’er Mayim Chayim, Hilchos Loshon Hora 4:18).

Conclusion

The Gemara tells us the following pithy statement: A talmid chacham is beloved by the other residents of his city not because he is so wonderful, but because he fails to admonish them on heavenly matters (Kesubos 105b). As we mentioned above, when admonishing people for not being careful about matters between man and fellowman, one rebukes only in private. However, when one needs to reproach people for violating their responsibilities to Hashem, one may be required to rebuke them even in public.

More on Tochachah

Question #1: Un-coifed Colleague

“A colleague at work who does not cover her hair asked me what I think of her new hairstyle.  How should I answer?”

Question #2: Wayward Classmate

“I met my former classmate, and I see that she is no longer observing the level of tzeniyus that we did when we were together in seminary. Must I say something to her about this?”

Question #3: The Davening Talker

“I find it disturbing to see people talking or whispering during chazaras hashatz, the repetition of the tefillah, but I must admit that sometimes I’ll answer someone who asks me something during that part of the davening. Do I have a responsibility to tell people that they should not talk during chazaras hashatz?”

Answer:

In this week’s parsha, Yaakov avinu admonishes his sons prior to his passing. Last week, we noted that when Yosef said ani Yosef, ha’od avi chai? “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive,” he was admonishing his brothers for their inconsistent behavior. This provided an to discuss the laws of tochachah, which continues in the present article.

As I mentioned last week, the underlying principle of tochachah is the realization that fulfilling Hashem’s mitzvos is not merely an individual pursuit – it is a responsibility that one shares with all of Klal Yisroel (see Sefer Hamitzvos #205). We also learned that the mitzvah of tochachah applies whether the sin perpetrated is between man and his fellowman or whether it is between man and Hashem (Sefer Hachinuch #239). In addition, we noted that the most basic rule of tochachah is that the mochiach, the person who is reproving, must truly care for the offender.

On the other hand, the halachah is that when it is clear that a sinner will ignore any reprimand, one should not attempt to admonish him. In these instances, censure will cause the evildoer to sin more, rather than to do teshuvah, and, therefore, it must be avoided. However, only when it is absolutely certain that the sinner will not listen, is there no mitzvah either to rebuke or to protest. As long as the possibility exists that the sinner might listen, one is required to rebuke him.

Someone who rejects Torah

There is no mitzvah to admonish an evil person who hates those who observe Torah (Tanna debei Eliyahu Rabbah, Chapter 18). When the Torah presents this mitzvah, it states, hochei’ach tochiach es amisecha, “surely, rebuke your ‘fellowman,’” but the word used, amisecha, refers to someone who observes Torah and mitzvos. The Mishnah Berurah rules that there is no mitzvah to reproach someone who desecrates Shabbos in public or who eats non-kosher when he has kosher food readily available – such a person is beyond the pale of being called amisecha. The Mishnah Berurah is uncertain whether there is a mitzvah to admonish someone who observes Shabbos, but keeps kosher only when it is convenient to do so, or someone who observes Shabbos in public, but desecrates it in private (Biur Halachah, 608:2 s.v aval; however, see Shu’t Avnei Neizer, Yoreh Deah #461, who understands that, in all these instances, there is still a mitzvah of tochachah).

 

Rebuking a Torah scholar

There is a dispute among acharonim whether admonishing a talmid chacham applies after he did the aveirah. Perhaps one should assume that he did teshuvah already and that, therefore, there is no more reason to be mochiach him. This latter approach is that of the Yad Haketenah as explained by the Zeh Hashaar and the Shevilei Chayim 4:20. The Be’er Mayim Chayim ((Hilchos Loshon Hora 4:18) does not agree and contends that one should be mochiach, unless one knows that the talmid chacham did teshuvah.

Mutav sheyihyu shogagin

Last week, we learned that one should not reprimand someone who commits a violation that he is unaware is forbidden, when one is certain that he will continue after the prohibition is called to his attention. This is usually the proper approach to follow when a sizable population does something that is clearly forbidden (Biur Halachah, 608:2 s.v. Vedavka, quoting Shu’t Me’il Tzedakah #19 and Machatzis Hashekel).

What if he asks?

Many years ago, I was among a group of married women who, although observant, did not cover their hair. Because of the halachah of mutav, I was not permitted to discuss this question with the group. However, when a woman from this group asked me to explain the halachah, I was required to answer the halachah accurately and in full detail (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:36). The halachah of mutav applies only in a situation of tochachah. Furthermore, the Maharshal demonstrates that one may never distort a detail of the Torah, since this is considered falsifying the Torah. He rules that this is considered a severe enough prohibition of the Torah that it is yaharog ve’al yaavor – one is required to give up one’s life rather than to distort even one law of the Torah (Yam shel Shlomoh, Bava Kama 4:9). Falsifying the Torah is equivalent to denying the entire Torah, which is why one is required to sacrifice one’s life, rather than misrepresenting a Torah truth.

Probably won’t listen

Should one reproach an ill-doer when one knows that he probably will not listen? The halachah of mutav applies only when one is certain that the offending party will not listen. When one thinks that he will probably not listen, but it is not certain, one is required to admonish the offender (Tosafos, Bava Basra 60b s.v. Mutav).

Clearly in the Torah

Are there any instances when tochachah should be given and the rule of mutav does not apply, even when the person doing something forbidden will not listen to tochachah? Yes, there are.

The rishonim dispute whether the law of mutav applies even when the prohibition is written unmistakably in the Torah. Many rishonim contend that when the Torah overtly prohibits the activity, there is an exception to the law of mutav. In this instance, these authorities contend that one is required to rebuke those who violate this prohibition, even when the lack of concern about the prohibition is quite common. Others contend that when you are certain that the wrongdoer will ignore the admonition, you are not required to rebuke, even when the prohibition is distinctly delineated in the Torah. (Both opinions are quoted in Biur Halachah 608:2 s.v. Aval.) The Rema (Orach Chayim 608:2) concludes that one is required to admonish, in accordance with the first opinion.

Some authorities contend that this law applies only when we are in a position to stop the evildoers from their errors, but that there is no requirement to protest when we cannot prevent sinners, even when the prohibition is written overtly in the Torah (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 608:4). Others contend that, under these circumstances, one will not be punished for not having protested, but there is still a mitzvah to protest the misdeed (Magen Avraham 608::3, quoting Semaq).

Maybe it is clear

Assuming that we follow the Rema and rule that one is always required to rebuke someone violating a prohibition that is explicitly expressed in the Torah, there is a further dispute among authorities whether the rule of mutav applies when it is questionable if the sinner will be violating a Torah law, such as someone who violates Shabbos during the bein hashemashos period when it is questionable if Shabbos has already begun. The Yam shel Shlomoh (Beitzah 4:2) rules that the rules of mutav apply, whereas the Machatzis Hashekel (on Magen Avraham 608:2) is uncertain whether mutav applies in this situation.

Ruled in error

Similarly, there is no mitzvah to admonish someone who received a clearly erroneous ruling permitting a particular activity, since he will not listen. However, once the person who issued the decision recanted it, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that there is now a mitzvah of tochachah, since the possibility exists that the errant party may now listen to reason or re-ask the question (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Even Ha’ezer 4:61:2 s.v.Ulefi zeh).

Repeat offender

What is the halachah if you see someone do something wrong for which you have previously rebuked him in a soft, kind way, as described above. Are you required to rebuke him again?

The Gemara rules that one is required to rebuke an evildoer repeatedly (Bava Metzia 23a). Nevertheless, we find a dispute among rishonim whether or not this law applies in all situations where one is required to be mochiach. The Sefer Chasidim explains that this Gemara is discussing someone with whom you have a very close relationship, such as your brother or parent. Such a person will not begin to hate you if you admonish him repeatedly for his sinful behavior, and, therefore, there is no limit to the number of times that you must rebuke him. However, in the opinion of the Sefer Chasidim, one should not admonish repeatedly someone with whom there is not such a close relationship — out of concern that repeating the rebuke may cause him to hate you (Sefer Chasidim #413, quoted by Magen Avraham 608:3).

It appears that most authorities do not accept this distinction of the Sefer Chasidim, but rather rule that whenever I have a mitzvah to rebuke someone, I must do so repeatedly (see Magen Avraham 608:3; Orach Meisharim, page 159).

Who is a true friend?

At this point, we can address one of the questions we asked above: “I met my former classmate, and I see that she is no longer observing the level of tzeniyus that we did when we were together in seminary. Must I say something to her about this?”

Under most circumstances, one is required to think of the most effective way that would get the classmate to realize that she is harming herself, and to figure out how to present this to her in an effective and loving fashion. Even if one is unsuccessful, the mitzvah of tochachah is fulfilled.

Upon this basis, we can appreciate the following statement of Chazal:

If you have two groups of friends, one which praises you and the other which admonishes you, love the admonishers and despise those who praise you, because the admonishers will bring you to eternal life (Avos derabbi Nosson 29:1, quoted in Shaarei Teshuvah 3:292).

Straighten yourself first

What is the halachah if I see someone do something wrong, but I know that I myself sometimes slip and violate this law? Does my somewhat lackadaisical attitude towards this halachah exempt me from the requirement of reproaching someone else for its violation?

The halachah here is very straightforward: I cannot effectively rebuke someone for something that I myself violate, but, at the same time, this does not exempt me from the requirement of reproaching him. As we are all aware, one cannot influence someone else to be careful about behavior that one does not, himself, observe. Therefore, one has no choice but to stop his own incorrect behavior, and then, after one has done teshuvah for it, one should be mochiach the person who is still violating it. The Gemara records this ruling in the following pithy way: Straighten out yourself, and then proceed to straighten out others (Sanhedrin 18a). Actually, this idea predates the Gemara: The prophet Tzefaniah 2:1 had already pointed out that one has a responsibility to straighten out his own actions, so as to be able to reproach others for their shortcomings.

At this point, we can address the third question raised at the beginning of our article:

“I find it disturbing to see people talking or whispering during chazaras hashatz, the repetition of the tefillah, but I must admit that, sometimes I’ll answer someone who asks me something during that part of the davening. Do I have a responsibility to tell people that they should not talk during chazaras hashatz?”

The halachah is very clear: The individual asking must work on himself not to talk during the chazaras hashatz, both because of the halachah that requires this and because of the mitzvah of tochachah that he violates when he is unable to reproach people for this transgression.

Tochachah for gentiles?

We now understand why the mitzvah of the Torah does not include a commandment to rebuke gentiles. That some prophets were instructed to admonish the gentiles for their ill behavior was not part of the Torah’s regular mitzvah of tochacha, but a special commandment that these prophets received as part of their prophecy.

Conclusion

As I mentioned above, the basis of the mitzvah of tochachah is that my role in observing mitzvos is as a member of Klal Yisroel –and that I carry responsibility for my brethren at all times. It is insufficient for me to feel that I am minding my own garden when there are other Jews who are distant from our Father. I should always think of ways to help them return to the protective guidance of Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

Essentials of Tochachah

Question #1: Cross-gender Tochachah

“The Mishnah states that a man should not converse unnecessarily with a woman. At my workplace, there is a girl who is ostensibly observant, but I see inconsistencies in her observance level. Am I supposed to try to help her become more committed?”

Question #2: Ignored Admonition

“Is there a mitzvah to admonish someone when I know that he will ignore me?”

Question #3: Admonisher or Enemy?

“I know that there is a mitzvah to be mochiach, but I am always concerned that I will make these people into my enemies. Should I be concerned?”

Answer:

In this week’s parshah, Yosef reveals himself to his brothers, by saying the immortal words, ani Yosef, ha’od avi chai? “I am Yosef. Is my father still alive?” According to many commentaries (Ha’amek Davar, based on Chagigah 4b), Yosef intended these words as admonition, tochachah, to his brothers: Why are you suddenly concerned about how your father will react to Binyomin’s disappearance, when you were not concerned how he would react to my disappearance?[1] This provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the laws of tochachah, the requirement to reprove someone for misbehavior, a frequently misunderstood mitzvah.

The underlying principle of tochachah is the realization that fulfilling Hashem’s mitzvos is not merely an individual pursuit – it is a responsibility that I share with all of Klal Yisroel (see Sefer Hamitzvos #205). In explaining the reason for the mitzvah of tochachah, the Shaarei Teshuvah (3:19) notes that a devoted servant or employee performs his own work diligently and also tries to see that his co-workers do their jobs conscientiously. We are all members of the same people and share a common, collective mission.

The mitzvah of tochachah applies whether the sin perpetrated is between man and his fellowman or whether it is between man and Hashem (Sefer Hachinuch #239). Furthermore, the mitzvah applies equally to men and women – both have a requirement to be mochiach, and both should be admonished when they violate the Torah (Sefer Hachinuch #239). In addition, tochachah is a mitzvah that one should fulfill cross-gender; that is, a man is required to be mochiach a woman, and a woman is required to be mochichah a man. We can demonstrate this principle through the following passage:

Eili and Channah

The pasuk describes how Channah went to Shiloh, the location of the Mishkan, at the time the primary religious headquarters of the Jewish people, and prayed to Hashem that she merit conceiving and bearing a child. She prayed at great length to Hashem, and Eili was watching her mouth. Channah spoke in an undertone, with only her lips moving but her voice inaudible, and Eili thought that she was intoxicated. So, Eili told her, “For how long will you continue to be intoxicated? Remove your wine from yourself!” Channah responded, saying, “No, my lord, I am a woman who is greatly distressed. Wine and other intoxicating beverages I have not imbibed. I am pouring out my soul before Hashem (Shmuel I, 1:12-15).

Based on Eili’s reproof of Channah, the Gemara derives that the mitzvah of tochachah includes not only admonishing someone for sinning, but even for inappropriate behavior that is not sinful (Brachos 31b, as explained by Tosafos ad loc.) After all, Eili was admonishing her not for doing something specifically sinful, but for behaving in an inappropriate manner.

The cardinal rule of tochachah

The most basic rule of tochachah is that the mochiach, the person who is reproving, must truly care for the offender. Being sincerely concerned about the other person’s welfare is a condition which must be met, if the reproof is to be successful. Thus, tochachah is an extension of Ahavas Yisroel, loving our fellow Jew. The Rambam (Hilchos Dei’os 6:7) writes that the mochiach should explain that he is helping the offender earn a greater share in olam haba. To quote him: “One who sees his friend sinning or following a lifestyle that is not good has a mitzvah to influence him to return to the proper way and to inform him that he is harming himself… The one who rebukes must do so privately, with a pleasant manner and a soft voice.”

So, how do I influence someone if I do not love him? The answer is that I am required to teach myself to love him, both to observe the mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel and in order to fulfill the mitzvah of tochachah.

That tochachah must be performed in a pleasant manner is again borne out in the following Talmudic passage: the Mishnah (Shabbos 34a) rules that shortly before Shabbos begins, a man is required to ask his family members whether all maasros and challah portions have been separated and whether the eruv has been set up. He then instructs them to kindle the lights in honor of Shabbos. The Gemara makes a point of noting that one should say all these things in a soft voice. These instructions are, in a way, very similar to admonishing one’s family members.

One size does not fit all

Prior to admonishing someone, the mochiach should analyze carefully what will be the most effective way to influence the offender. The tochachah should be tailor-made to the person receiving it and presented in a way that it is most likely to influence him or her to change. One should use stories, parables, and/or logical proofs, depending on what will speak most convincingly to the heart of the person one seeks to persuade (Sefer Chassidim #5).

Example:

Yitzchak is aware that he is required to influence his next-door neighbor, Benny, to be more observant. Yitzchak realizes that, to draw Benny closer to mitzvos, Yitzchak must sincerely care about him. Thus, Yitzchak’s first step is to truly care for Benny and to use every opportunity to develop a friendship. Once Benny feels that Yitzchak truly cares, he will be open to listening to what his friend has to say. At this point, Yitzchak can begin to explain the benefits Benny reaps by observing mitzvos carefully.

We can now understand the following, somewhat rhetorical, declaration of the Gemara: Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah said: I would be astounded to learn that there is anyone in our generation who knows how to admonish” (Arachin 16b).

Notwithstanding this observation, the halachic authorities rule that there is still a mitzvah of tochachah, and that one is required to strive to observe it (see Le’reiacha Kamocha pg. 286, quoting numerous authorities).

It is axiomatic that admonishing someone should not embarrass him (Arachin 16b; Toras Kohanim to Parshas Kedoshim). The recipient of the tochachah must be taught that it is in his best interest to improve, something that cannot usually be accomplished in an antagonistic interaction.

On the other hand…

Whoever has the ability to protest the misdeeds of members of his household and fails to do so is accountable for what they have done. The same is true for someone who could protest the misdeeds of the residents of his city and even the entire world and fails to do so. Therefore, the household of the Exilarch (Reish Galusa) is accountable for the misdeeds of the entire world (Shabbos 54b). Similarly, the entire Jewish people were punished in the days of Yehoshua for the crime of one individual, Achan (Yehoshua 22:20). Again, we find that the Kohen Gadol was responsible for the entire Jewish people. If one man sins, the entire nation will be punished, because of their failure to reproach him (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:72).

However, someone who admonished the evildoer appropriately has fulfilled the mitzvah of tochachah and will not be punished for the sinner’s evil deeds (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:72; Sefer Chasidim #5). To quote the Navi, Yechezkel: Because you warned the evildoer to repent from his way, even though he did not repent – he will die for his sin, but you have saved your own life (Yechezkel 33:9).

Tochachah that will be ignored

However, the halachah is that when it is clear that a sinner will ignore any reprimand, one should not attempt to admonish him, as it says in Mishlei (9, 8): Do not rebuke a scoffer, lest he come to hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. As the Gemara expresses this idea: Just as it is a mitzvah to say something that will be heeded, so it is a mitzvah to refrain from saying that which will be disregarded (Yevamos 65b). In these instances, censure will cause the evildoer to sin more, rather than to do teshuvah, and, therefore, it must be avoided.

Who qualifies as a scoffer?

This question is discussed in a different passage of Gemara (Shabbos 55a), where we find the following conversation:

Rabbi Zeira said to Rabbi Simon: “The master should chastise the members of the Reish Galusa’s household.”

Rabbi Simon responded: “They will not listen to me.”

To this, Rabbi Zeira retorted: “Even if they will not listen, admonish them.”

Rabbi Zeira then quoted an Aggadic passage, in which a conversation transpired between Midas Hadin, the attribute of justice, and Hashem. At one point in this “conversation,” Midas Hadin challenged Hashem to punish the righteous for not protesting the evildoings of the wicked. Hashem answered: “I know for certain that even had the righteous protested, the wicked would not have listened.” To this, Midas Hadin retorted: “You knew that the wicked would not have listened. But how did the righteous people know?” And since the righteous had no way of knowing that the evil would not listen, they should be punished for not having attempted to influence them.

We can therefore conclude that only when it is absolutely certain that the sinner will not listen is there no mitzvah either to rebuke or to protest. However, as long as the possibility exists that the sinner might listen, one is required to rebuke him.

Mutav sheyihyu shogagin

There are other instances when one should not rebuke someone who is sinning. This is when one is certain that the sinner will not change after being admonished and, also, he may not know that the activity is forbidden (Sefer Chasidim #413). This halachic status is called Mutav sheyihyu shogagin ve’al yihyu meizidin, “Better that they sin out of ignorance than that they become intentional sinners” (Beitzah 30a; Bava Basra 60b). For brevity’s sake I will refer to this status as “mutav.”

In this situation, the tochachah will probably accomplish only that the person will now be sinning intentionally, instead of out of a lack of knowledge. Since the result of the reproach is not constructive, it should be avoided.

The law of mutav, better that they sin unintentionally than intentionally, is true even when the prohibition is quite clear and could easily be discovered by the sinner. In other words, the sinner is considered shogeig, uninformed that what he is doing is forbidden, only because he does not want to know the truth. For example, even when all halachic authorities discuss the matter and prohibit the activity, the sinner is still considered one who acted out of ignorance rather than with intent. One should avoid telling him of his error when one assesses that knowledge of the sin will not affect his behavior.

This background allows us to understand a passage of Gemara that otherwise seems extremely strange:

A person should always live in the place where his rebbe does, for as long as Shimi ben Geira [Shlomoh Hamelech’s rebbe] was alive, Shlomoh did not marry the daughter of Pharoah. [Rashi notes that the verse mentions Shlomoh marrying Pharoah’s daughter immediately after it mentions Shimi’s death, see Melachim I, 2:46 – 3:1.] However, there is a beraysa that says that one should not live in the place of his rebbe. [Thus, we have two halachic statements that seem to say diametrically opposite ideas.] These two statements do not disagree. One is discussing someone who listens to the rebuke of his rebbe and therefore being proximate to his rebbe will prevent him from sinning. The Beraysa is discussing someone who does not listen to his rebbe (Brachos 8a).

As Rashi explains, someone who does not listen to his rebbe is better living distant from his rebbe, so that he is considered negligent when he does not hear his rebbe’s admonition. This is less severe than someone who ignores the admonitions. The latter person will become an intentional sinner when he ignores his rebbe’s admonition. The rule of mutav applies notwithstanding his having moved a distance from his rebbe so as not to be reproached for this misdeed!

Probably won’t listen

Should one reproach an ill-doer when you know that he probably will not listen? The halachah of mutav applies only when one is certain that the offending party will not listen. When one thinks that he will probably not listen, but it is not certain, one is required to admonish the offender (Tosafos, Bava Basra 60b s.v. Mutav).

We will continue our discussion about the mitzvah of tochachah next week.


[1] For a halachic explanation of the sale of Yosef, see the chapter on this topic in my book From Buffalo Burgers to Monetary Mysteries.

Explaining the Mitzvah of Pidyon Shevuyim

Question #1:

“Recently I saw an advertisement saying that it was pidyon shevuyim to save a child from being raised non-Jewish. But I thought pidyon shevuyim is to free a captive, and these children are with their non-Jewish father.”

Question #2:

“Is there a mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim when someone was captured because he was doing something irresponsible or illegal?”

Question #3:

“I know that the Mishnah states that one should not redeem captives at greater than their market value, but how does one establish market value for a person?”

Answer:

Many news items have revolved around the issue of pidyon shevuyim, the mitzvah to redeem captives or hostages, which Chazal call a mitzvah rabbah — a great mitzvah. And yet, notwithstanding how important a mitzvah it is, at times Chazal placed limitations on pidyon shevuyim. The goal of this article is to understand the importance of this mitzvah and its basic halachic rules and concepts.

Introduction:

The magnitude of the mitzvah of pidyon shevuyim is reflected in the following passage of Gemara, which is, at the same time, a commentary to a very heartbreaking passage of Navi:

Rava asked Rabbah bar Mari: What is the source for the Sages’ statement that redeeming captives is called a “great mitzvah”?

In response, Rabbah bar Mari cited the following verse in Yirmiyahu, which contains tremendously harsh rebuke of the Jewish people:

“Vayomer Hashem eilai, im yaamod Moshe UShmuel lefanai, ein nafshi el ha’am hazeh; shalach mei’al panai veyeitzei’u. Vehayah ki yomru eilecha ana neitzei? Ve’amarta aleihem, ko amar Hashem, asher lamaves, lamaves; va’asher lacherev, lacherev; va’asher lara’av, lara’av; va’asher lashevi, lashevi.

“Hashem said to me, even were Moshe and Shmuel to stand before me and plead on behalf of the Jews, I have no interest in this people – send them away from before me, and they shall go.

“And if they [the Jews] ask you [Yirmiyahu], ‘Where are we going?’ Tell them, ‘So said Hashem: he that is destined for natural death will meet natural death; he that is destined for the sword will meet the sword; he that is destined for hunger will perish through hunger; and he who is destined for captivity will be captured’ [Yirmiyahu 15:1-2].

Rabbah bar Mari then added the commentary of Rabbi Yochanan: “This pasuk is organized according to progressively harsh travail. Violent death is more severe than natural death. Death from starvation causes far greater suffering than violent death. Being captured is a greater calamity than death itself — because it includes all the others.” (Bava Basra 8b)

The Rambam (Hilchos Matanos Evyonim 8:10) codifies the conclusion of Rabbah bar Mari ‘s statement:

Redeeming captives receives priority over providing the poor with food and clothing. There is no mitzvah greater than redeeming captives, because a captive is included among those who are starving, those who are thirsty, those who are without clothing, and he is in life-threatening danger. Someone who hides from redeeming him violates the following Torah prohibitions:

(1) Lo se’ameitz es levavecha — do not harden your heart from helping the poor (Devarim 15:7)

(2) Lo sikpotz es yadcha — do not close your hand (ibid.)

(3) Lo saamod al dam rei’echa — do not stand by when someone’s life is in danger (Vayikra 19:16)

(4) Lo yirdenu befarech le’einecha — do not subjugate him with hard work (Vayikra 25:53).

He also violates the positive mitzvos of:

(1) Ki paso’ach tiftach es yadcha lo — you shall surely open your hand to him (Devarim 15:8),

(2) Vechei achicha imach  allow your brother to live with you (Vayikra 25:36)

(3) Ve’ahavta le’reiacha kamocha love your fellowman as yourself (Vayikra 19:18).

The halacha is that, if necessary, one may sell a sefer Torah to raise the money for redeeming captives (Tosafos, Bava Basra 8b s.v. Pidyon; Shach and Taz to Yoreh Deah 252:1) Although one should not sell a shul to be able to redeem captives, this is only because we want people to dip into their pockets deeply enough to produce the resources. However, when one knows that this will not provide sufficient funding, one may even sell a shul for pidyon shevuyim money (Shach and Taz ibid. Mishnah Berurah 153:24; cf., however, Derishah to Yoreh Deah 252 who disagrees).

Why don’t we redeem captives?

Thus, we find it very surprising that, under certain circumstances, Chazal prohibited redeeming captives. The Mishnah (Gittin 45a) rules one may not redeem captives for more than their market value, because of tikun olam. What does this Mishnah mean that there is a tikun olam, which literally translates as an improvement of the world, not to redeem captives? And what does the Mishnah mean when it says for greater than their market value?

The Gemara presents two disputing reasons how tikun olam is accomplished by limiting the redemption outlay for captives.

(1) The financial pressure will be greater than the community can bear.

(2) The captors will strive to capture other Jews as a result.

Let me explain. In earlier generations, the main cause for someone being captured was not for ransom and not as a hostage for political or prisoner exchange, but because pirates or a marauding armed gang would seize whatever they could of value, and human captives had commercial value as slaves. Thus, any person capable of working had an estimated market price at a slave auction (see Rashi, Kesubos 52b s.v. Trei; however, cf. Shu’t Radbaz 1:40). Notwithstanding the tremendous mitzvah of redeeming captives, Chazal limited how much one should pay to free captives, out of concern that pirates and other criminals would discover that capturing members of the Jewish people is particularly lucrative, and, as a result, they would deliberately target Jews. Thus, the Mishnah‘s takanah established a law that avoids saving one Jew at the expense of creating a menace to others; which explains why it is a tikun olam — it improves world safety.

Why is financial pressure greater than pidyon shevuyim?

This explains the Mishnah‘s takanah according to the second reason cited by the Gemara. However, the Gemara had previously cited a different reason for the tikun olam, which was that redeeming captives at a high price might cause undue financial pressure on the community. This appears to be a strange reason to prevent redeeming captives, particularly when we consider every captive to be in a circumstance of life-threatening emergency. Why would Chazal establish that financial pressure should override pikuach nefashos?

The Chasam Sofer (Shu’t Choshen Mishpat #177 at end) explains that when unlimited redemption funds are paid by the Jewish community coffers, the population itself will become impoverished, which will result in numerous life-threatening emergencies. (The current European financial and political crises are reflective of this.) Therefore, both reasons of the Gemara prevent the threat to one individual from endangering many others.

To sum up. The Mishnah cites a takanah not to redeem captives at greater than their market value because of a tikun olam, and the Gemara cites two reasons to explain the tikun olam, both of which are meant to avoid an inevitable situation that will endanger more people.

A difference in practical halacha

Is there any difference in halacha between the two reasons? Indeed, there is.

According to the first reason — that we are concerned about impoverishing the community – the takanah includes only a situation in which public funds are being used, but not when the redemption money is raised privately. However, according to the second reason, that we are concerned that criminals will now target Jews, the takanah is applicable even when we are raising private funds to redeem the captive, since this establishes a precedent that endangers other people. Thus, the two explanations of tikun olam disagree whether the takanah was specifically that the official community coffers may not be used to redeem captives at greater than market value, or whether this was an absolute takanah binding on all individuals.

To explain this consequence, the Gemara cites the story of a man named Levi bar Darga, who redeemed his captured daughter for a huge sum. The Gemara notes that whether Levi bar Darga was permitted to do this or not depends on which of the two answers of the Gemara we accept. If the tikun olam was to protect future captives, Levi bar Darga was not permitted to redeem his daughter at above her value in the slave market, since this would encourage the targeting of Jews. However, if the tikun olam is to avoid undue pressure on the community chest, Levi bar Darga and any other individual who is paying a ransom out of his personal pocket are permitted to pay whatever they choose, since they are making no requests of the community.

An interesting exception

There is one interesting exception to this rule. The poskim rule that the takanah not to redeem a captive for greater than his market value applies only to a third party redeeming someone, but does not apply to the captive himself, who may redeem himself at whatever price the captors demand (Tosafos, Kesubos 52a s.v.Vehayu; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 252:4).

If the captors threaten bloodshed

Now that we understand why we may not redeem captives for more than “market value,” we will explore whether there are any other exceptions to the tikun olam rule.

Is there any exception when the peril to life is more direct, such as when the captors threaten to execute the captives if their ransom demands are not met? Granted that the Rambam states that every instance of redeeming captives is pikuach nefesh, there are instances in which the level of pikuach nefesh is much greater, such as when the bloodthirsty captors may execute their hostage rather than sell him or her into slavery. Under these circumstances, does the rule of not redeeming captives above their market price still exist?

Indeed, many authorities consider this case to be an exception to the rule (Tosafos, Gittin 58a s.v. Kol and 45a s.v. Delo). They rally support to this position from the following story recorded by the Gemara (Gittin 58a). The great Tanna, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, was in Rome shortly after the churban of the Beis Hamikdash when he heard of an unusually gifted lad who had been captured. Rabbi Yehoshua succeeded in communicating with the child and was tremendously impressed by the child’s acumen, realizing that this child would become a valuable asset for the Jewish people if he would be allowed the opportunity to develop into a Torah scholar. Rabbi Yehoshua decided to buy the child’s freedom at whatever this would cost, which he succeeded in doing at a very high premium. The child grew to become the Tanna Rabbi Yishmael.

Tosafos raises the question: how was Rabbi Yehoshua permitted to collect such a high ransom, when Chazal prohibited redeeming captives at above market price? Tosafos presents three reasons why Rabbi Yehoshua was permitted to do so.

(1) When there is a clear danger, the takanah does not apply.

(2) The Jewish people’s need for Torah scholars is very great, and therefore, one may redeem talmidei chachamim and potential talmidei chachamim at a higher price.

(3) At the time of the churban, how much ransom one paid to release a particular prisoner would not affect how many captives the Romans seized. Thus, the reason for the takanah did not apply in this instance.

Targeting talmidei chachamim

Many of us know of the famous story of the Maharam of Rottenberg (Germany), the famous thirteenth century “Captive Rabbi,” who refused to allow himself to be redeemed for an excessive price, out of concern that this would become a common practice of gentile kings and marauders. There is no reason to assume that the Maharam disagreed with Tosafos‘ conclusion that one may redeem Torah scholars at above market price. It is more likely that the Maharam realized that in his day, were he to have be redeemed for an exorbitant ransom, it would have endangered other talmidei chachamim and caused a great loss of talmidei chachamim to klal Yisrael.

Redeeming from imminent danger

Later poskim debate whether the first answer of Tosafos, that the takanah does not apply when the captive is in grave danger, is considered the final say in halacha (see Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 252:4). For example, the following responsum disputes Tosafos’ conclusion:

In the early sixteenth century, the Maharam of Lublin, Poland, was asked the following question by the Jewish community of Apta. (We should be careful not to confuse him with the Maharam of Rottenberg whom I mentioned above, who lived in Germany some 300 years earlier.) A young man of their community had been seized by gentiles, who contended that they had caught him engaged in unsavory activities, and that they were going to either execute him or forcibly convert him to their religion, in this instance, Islam. The community questioned whether it was required to redeem the young hostage, since he was accused of violating halacha and, in addition, had caused his own imprisonment by acting foolishly. In addition, assuming that they were responsible for redeeming him, they asked whether they were required to do so if the ransom demanded was excessive. (It appears from the responsum that the redemption funds would come from the general community funds or, perhaps, a special tax collection for this purpose.)

The Maharam responded that even were we certain that the young man had sinned, this fact would not exempt the community from redeeming him, even with use of public funds. Nevertheless, the Maharam contends that although they are required to redeem him, they are not required to pay more than his market value, even though his life is in serious danger. The Maharam contended that every captive is in life-threatening danger, yet Chazal ruled that we do not redeem captives at greater than “market value” because the potential life-threatening menace to the larger community endangers more people (Shu’t Maharam Lublin #15).

(The responsum of the Maharam has a surprising ending. After discussing all the halachic ramifications of the question asked, he reports that he consulted with a wise scholar familiar with the political scene near Apta, a certain Rav Moshe ben Rav Yehoshua, who advised that the accusation against the young man was merely an excuse of the jealous and greedy gentiles to demand funds from the Jewish community, and that the particular crime of which the young man was accused did not warrant the punishment they were threatening. Furthermore, the Maharam notes, it was uncertain whether the young man had indeed performed the act of which he was accused.)

Kidnapping for ransom

Does the takanah apply today, when the potential captors are not looking for prisoners that they can sell as slaves, but rather hostages that they can hold for ransom?

In an early responsum, the Radbaz (Shu’t #40) notes that the custom is to redeem captives at above the value that they would fetch in the slave market. He contends that even though the price is often ten or more times the captive’s slave value, the fact that the captors are not looking specifically for Jews means one can pay the higher price that a ransom would fetch. However, he notes that one should not pay more than gentiles would pay as ransom, since this could lead the captors to single out Jews in the future. The Radbaz notes, however, that common custom was to redeem at even higher prices. The Radbaz then proceeds to explain that this practice, which appears to run counter to the takanah of the Mishnah, is based on the following four heterim.

  1. Since there are wealthy gentiles who pay high ransoms for family members, potential kidnappers will target wealthy people, not necessarily Jews.
  1. Sometimes, the captive qualifies as a talmid chacham, who may be redeemed at above market price.
  1. When there are minors involved who will be lost to Judaism, we may redeem them at any price.
  1. We are not providing public funds, but seeking donations for these redemptions, which is not included in the takanah according to the first approach of the Gemara. (This last reason of the Radbaz is surprising, since the Rif, Rambam, and other major halachic authorities all rule according to the second reason the Gemara cited.)

Saving children from shmad

The third justification of the Radbaz touches on a different question, which unfortunately has become common, and leads us to a discussion about a different type of pidyon shevuyim. This is where we are not endeavoring to save someone’s physical life, which may not be at risk, but to save their spiritual life. It is accepted halacha that, in such a situation, there is no limit to how much money one is required to spend to save them, and the acts undertaken to save them supersede all the mitzvos of the Torah. This means that if one needs to travel on Shabbos or violate Shabbos in some other way to save a child from falling under non-Jewish influences, one is required to do so, just as saving physical lives supersedes Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 306:14). Therefore, someone who needs to fight a legal custody battle to save a minor from being raised in a non-Jewish environment is required to spend as much money as it takes to save the minor, even when the chances of winning are slim and communities are required to contribute significant sums to help.

In conclusion

The circumstances surrounding any situation of pidyon shevuyim are extremely painful; yet, precisely for this reason, it is the greatest mitzvah of chesed we can perform on behalf of another Jew, whether we are involved in redeeming him physically or spiritually. We should be certain to respond generously whenever we are approached to help in this mitzvah, and see it as a huge opportunity to do Hashem‘s will.