The Hoop and the Drum – How to Be a Good Neighbor

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Each of the following shaylos is an actual case of inter-neighbor altercations that I was asked about or over which I presided. All these cases deal with shaylos about neighbor’s rights within the framework of halacha. What may I do or not do on my property that may infringe on my neighbor’s right to gain full benefit and enjoyment from his property?

Question #1: After moving into a new apartment, my grandmother discovered that her next-door neighbor practices his drums every day. On some days he even has band practice in his house. When we asked the drummer to limit his hours or decrease the volume, he insisted that he has been doing this for years and that this is his livelihood. Grandma finds the noise blasting through the walls highly distressing. Can we force the neighbor to drum elsewhere?

Question #2: Yehudah and Tamar dwell in a semi-detached house. Levi purchased the other side of the house as an investment, and rented it out. A few weeks later, Tamar calls Levi to complain about the objectionable behavior of the new tenants and asks Levi to have them shape up or ship out. Levi meets with his tenants, attempting to explain that their behavior is inappropriate for the neighborhood, but they insist that their behavior is normative. If this continues, do Yehudah and Tamar have the halachic right to insist that Levi terminate the tenants’ lease?

Question #3: There is always such a racket upstairs! I was certain that their kids are roller-blading or playing basketball right over my head, but their mother insists that they are just normal, active children. What may I do to improve the situation?

Question #4: Several years ago, Reuven (who lives on the ground floor) affixed a basketball hoop to the wall of the apartment building and laid out a regulation-sized half-court. Shimon, who now lives directly above Reuven, would like to hang a clothesline outside his window, but as any large item hanging from the clothesline will lie on the hoop and become dirty, he would like Reuven to remove the hoop to a different location. This, of course, will ruin the basketball court.

BACKGROUND TO THE SHAYLOS

Unless local custom dictates otherwise (a concept I will explain shortly), one may use one’s house for normal household use, provided that the said activity does not damage my neighbor’s person or property. “Typical domestic use” includes work done in one’s house to earn a livelihood. For this reason, at the time of the Mishnah, one could use one’s house for simple manufacturing, and people could not necessarily object to a neighbor using his house as a bakery or a cloth dyeing operation, even if the neighbor’s house became uncomfortably warm as a result (Mishnah Bava Basra 20b).

AN EXCEPTION

There is an exception to this general principle a person can object to his neighbor opening a store in his building. Why is a store different from other livelihoods? Because it generates a lot of foot traffic; therefore the neighbor has the halachic right to object to the noise and bustle.

But do people entering and leaving a small household store create more discomfort for the neighbor than the heat of a baker’s oven or a dyeing operation? Perhaps the heat of the oven is more uncomfortable than the traffic of the neighbor’s small store? Why, then, does the Mishnah rules that one can prevent the neighbor running a store, but not a bakery?

The reason is that although the discomfort generated by the store may sometimes be even less than that the heat of the oven, the Mishnah forbade opening the store because its proprietor could sell his wares in the town’s marketplace, which was the primary business location in town. Thus, there was no need to sell merchandise in one’s house, and insisting that a neighbor sell his wares elsewhere did not jeopardize his livelihood. Manufacturing, on the other hand, was generally done in people’s homes (Shu’t Chasam Sofer #92).

What is the halacha when two permissible domestic uses preclude one another? For example, Mr. Upstairs wants to use his house as a warehouse to store grain, whereas Mr. Downstairs wants to use his house as a bakery or a dyeing shop. Both of these uses are considered “typical domestic use,” since both use one’s domicile as a means of earning one’s livelihood. However, the two uses are mutually exclusive, since the heat from the bakery or dye shop will ruin the grain. Therefore, if Mr. Downstairs uses his apartment as a bakery, it will prevent Mr. Upstairs from storing grain in his house. May Mr. Upstairs prevent his neighbor from baking or not?

The Mishnah rules that whoever began his operation first has the right to continue. If Mr. Upstairs began storing grain before Mr. Downstairs opened his bakery, Mr. Downstairs may not open his bakery since he will be damaging Mr. Upstairs’ grain. However, if Mr. Upstairs has not yet begun to store his grain, Mr. Downstairs may open the bakery in his house. Once one neighbor begins using his house for a certain purpose, a second neighbor using his part for another, incompatible purpose is considered as creating damage. But if the second neighbor began first, he in entitled to continue.

WHY DO WE CONSIDER BAKERIES AND DYE FACTORIES “NORMAL HOUSE USES?”

In earlier times of cottage industries, most people making a living from crafts, small manufacturing, or trading used their house as their base of operation. Thus, using your house as a bakery, factory, or warehouse was normal household usage, provided one retailed the wares somewhere else.

DO LOCAL LAW AND CUSTOM AFFECT THESE HALACHOS?

Indeed they do. In general, halachos that involve financial arrangements between two parties are governed by the prevalent local practice. This is called, hakol kiminhag ha’medinah, “everything goes according to local custom.” The rationale of this is that the two parties involved assume that this is what governs their relationships. Therefore people buy or rent a house or apartment assuming that the neighbors will follow the accepted local norm. This is the guiding principle governing neighbor relations.

Therefore, today one may not open a bakery or dyeing operation in a residential building since it violates common practice.

Everything depends on contemporary local custom. Thus, examining the different responsa discussing these issues provides an interesting glimpse into how our forebears’ livelihoods and lives. For example, a Nineteenth Century responsum discusses the following situation:

A man passed on, leaving his large house to his three sons, who divided it into three apartments for themselves. One son opened a bar in his apartment, which was apparently an accepted practice in those days. However, the other brothers wanted him to close it because of the quantity and type of traffic it generated (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #92). On the other hand, the bartender brother contended that this was his livelihood and as such he is permitted to carry on his livelihood in his residence.

When the rav ruling this issue referred the shaylah to the Chasam Sofer, he discussed whether using your house as a tavern is considered a legitimate domestic use. Superficially it would appear that it is not, just as one may not use one’s house as a store, since it is not considered normal household use when many customers visit a residence. However, the Rav who referred the shaylah noted that it was common practice (in those times) to sell sugar or coffee out of one’s house because this was necessary for people’s livelihood. Even though these situations should also be prohibited according to the Gemara, nonetheless, minhag ha’medinah permitted it, and perhaps this same custom could justify opening a tavern in one’s house. Furthermore, the Rav contended that a tavern is not a business that one can carry out in the town’s marketplace, because a bar has to be a place conducive for people to sit together, relax, and drink.

Chasam Sofer suggests an alternative reason to require the closing of the tavern, based on the nature of the clientele that a tavern generates, but does not rule conclusively that this would provide the other brothers with a legitimate claim to close the tavern. Thus, we see that what would seem highly obvious to us – that it is forbidden to open a tavern in your residence against the wishes of your neighbors, was not obvious to the great poskim who ruled on this issue two hundred years ago. This demonstrates how times change.

THE DRUMMER

We can now try to apply the principles we have learned to the cases we mentioned at the beginning of the article. In our first shaylah, Grandma’s neighbor practices his drums, thus disturbing her. Grandma would like him to limit his hours or decrease the sound, but he insists that he has been doing this for years and that this is his livelihood. Can we force the neighbor to drum elsewhere?

Is drumming in your house an accepted practice? Can one claim that this is a permitted hobby in a residential neighborhood? Can one claim as an additional reason that it is necessary for one’s livelihood?

This would primarily depend on the accepted local custom. If indeed drumming is permitted during daytime hours and the drummer’s activities are legal and accepted according to local ordinance, then Grandma may have no right to prevent him from continuing his activity. However if local custom precludes this activity, one could prevent him from drumming even though it is his livelihood.

Thus, if Grandma moved into a retirement community where one would assume that everything will be nice and quiet, she can certainly insist that her neighbor drum elsewhere. However, in the absence of local custom, what would halacha dictate?

WHAT IS THE HALACHA IF THERE IS NO LOCAL CUSTOM?

In this particular case, the parties involved lived in an area where there is no established practice prohibiting drumming during daytime hours. Grandma’s family wanted to know whether there were halachic grounds to prevent their neighbor from drumming when it greatly distressed her.

From what we have mentioned above, it appears that the drummer has a legitimate claim to use his home for his livelihood. However, this is not always the case, as the following 14th century responsum indicates:

A weaver had a home-operated business, which utilized a large and noisy loom. Although he had been operating this business for a number of years, his neighbor sued him in beis din to remove the loom from the property because of two claims:

1. The loom was causing damage to their common wall.

2. The wife of the neighbor was ill, and the noise disturbed her.

The Rivash (Shu’t #196) ruled that both claims were legitimate, and that the weaver must remove the loom even though it had been operating for years. He contended that although most people can tolerate this amount of noise, someone who is highly sensitive or ill can legitimately claim that noise injures them, thereby requiring the neighbor to cease the operation (Rama 156:2; see also Rama 155:39).

It is historically noteworthy that the Rivash did not prohibit having a large loom operating in one’s house under all circumstances. On the contrary, the Rivash implies that one could operate such a loom if it did not damage the property nor injure one’s neighbor.

Thus according to the Rivash’s psak, in the case of Grandma’s neighborly drummer, if her health is fragile and she would be ill-effected by the drumming, one could prevent him from drumming.

NOISY NEIGHBORS

We can now examine the background behind Questions #2 and #3 above: The downstairs neighbor finds the noise from the active family above them to be quite intolerable. The upstairs neighbor insists that this is the standard noise of normal, active children. Can downstairs ask beis din to force upstairs to relocate?

Aside from the questions of local custom (minhag ha’medinah) discussed above, we need to clarify something else in this case: Is the upstairs noise unusual, or is it simply the usual bustle produced by a large household, particularly one with children, and is the downstairs neighbor simply extremely sensitive to noise? Does the downstairs neighbor have a valid claim that the upstairs neighbor should be quieter, and if he does, must the upstairs neighbor relocate?

Similarly, question #3 also hinges on whether the neighbor’s noise is abnormal, regardless of who lives next door. If the neighbor is a bit noisy, and the complaining neighbor is merely more sensitive than most people, there are no grounds to require him to terminate the lease or to be unable to renew their lease. On the other hand, if the neighbor is really objectionable, the landlord should terminate their lease on this basis.

The Chazon Ish (Bava Basra 13:11) points out that Rivash’s case discussed involved use of a loom, which although suited to household use according to Chazal’s definition, is not a typical household use. Chazon Ish contends that one may not prevent someone from using his house for a typical household use, even if a neighbor finds the noise level distressful. Thus, someone whose family makes a great deal of noise may continue to do so. Even if a neighbor becomes ill and is intolerable of such noise, he still cannot force the noisy neighbor to move. Therefore, one cannot force a neighbor whose children cry in the middle of the night to move, even if Grandma lived there first. However, you can prevent them from having the kids play ball or rollerblading in the house since these are not typical household uses when you live above someone else.

Rav Tzvi Spitz, a dayan in Yerushalayim, discusses the following case: A family adopted a foster child, and the neighbors complain that the child makes loud noises at all hour of the night, disturbing their rest. The neighbors contend that although it is a mitzvah to take care of a foster child, the foster parents have no right to perform their mitzvah at the neighbors’ expense. The neighbors contend that they have a right to enjoy peace and quiet in their apartments. Can the neighbors force the foster parents to relinquish the foster child or move?

Rav Spitz ruled that since taking care of children is considered the major purpose of a house, the neighbors cannot claim that their rights preclude the rights of someone to raise a child in their house, and furthermore, one cannot distinguish between raising one’s own child or raising someone else’s (Minchas Tzvi 1:10).

HOOP VERSUS CLOTHESLINE

In many places it is standard domestic use to have a clothesline hanging outside your window. In these locations, one has a right to hang a clothesline. On the other hand, is it normal domestic use to hang a basketball hoop? If this is a location where both uses are considered normal, then whoever was there first would have the claim, similar to the Gemara’s case of the bakery and the storage area. If the right to a laundry line is considered normal house use, and the basketball hoop is not, one could argue that the hoop should be taken down to make way for the laundry line.

With a healthy dose of mutual good will, most people should manage to live with their neighbors in peace and tranquility. And in cases of conflict, we must not hesitate to use halacha as our guide, just as we do in all other aspects of our lives.




How Does a Jew Litigate?

 

clip_image002Mendel Greenberg has been unable to resolve a matter with one of his suppliers. He has attempted to discuss the matter with him, but the last time he tried, the phone was abruptly slammed down. To his chagrin, Mendel realizes that he has no choice but to sue the supplier. Not knowing how to proceed, he makes an appointment with his rav to discuss what to do.

PROHIBITION OF USING NON-HALACHIC COURTS

After Mendel finishes explaining his predicament, his rav explains that it is absolutely forbidden for a Jew to submit litigation against a fellow Jew in a secular court, even if both parties agree (Gemara Gittin 88b; Rashi and Ramban, beginning of Parshas Mishpatim). This is known as the prohibition against using arka’os, or non-halachic courts. When a person chooses a civil court for one’s litigation instead of the Torah’s system, one implies that one does not believe that the system set up by Hashem is the best one. According to the Midrash, this is a chillul Hashem (Midrash Tanchuma, Mishpatim #3).

Unfortunately, even frum people sometimes assume that legal rights and responsibilities are governed by secular law. A Torah Jew must realize that every aspect of life is directed by Torah – including how one litigates. The true believer in Hashem understands that the only procedures to be followed are those sanctioned by the Torah.

In addition to the severe prohibition against using arka’os, someone who submits litigation to civil court will probably end up stealing by receiving money to which one is not entitled, according to halacha. The fact that a court ruled in the plaintiff’s favor, or that the defendant chose to settle rather than contest the court case, does not permit taking ill-gained money.

“I am well aware of the problem,” says Mendel to his rav. “I personally know frum people who use the civil courts to resolve their matters.”

“Every generation has its nisyonos, its tests, of its resolve to observe Torah,” his rav sighs. “In our grandparents’ generation, it was Shabbos. During our parents’ generation, there were many difficult issues such as tznius, shatnez and proper standards of kashrus. In our generation, I find that one of the weakest areas of proper mitzvah observance is the usage of civil courts.

“Let me share a very recent incident with you,” the rav continued. “Someone hired a frum lawyer to resolve a legal problem. I discovered that the lawyer had filed a lawsuit in civil court. ‘Which rav has permitted filing a civil lawsuit?’ I asked the plaintiff. It turned out that the plaintiff was totally unaware that there was any halachic issue, and had relied on the halachic know-how of the lawyer! I explained the severity of the prohibition involved, and the matter was transferred to a beis din.

“Look how serious this prohibition is,” said the rav, pulling a sefer off the shelf. “Listen to this Rambam: ‘Whoever has his case judged by non-Jewish laws or courts, even if their laws are the same (as the Torah), is a rasha. It is as if he blasphemed and raised his hand against the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu’” (Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:7).

GOING TO JEWISH JUDGES

“Are Israelis allowed to use their civil courts that employ Jewish judges?” asked Mendel.

The rav pulled another sefer off his bookshelf and began reading the following passage from a sefer of the Chazon Ish:

“‘There is no halachic difference between going to gentile judges and going to Jewish judges who use non-Torah laws. As a matter of fact, it is far worse to go to Jewish judges who have traded away a Torah system for a worthless, empty system. Even if the city residents have accepted this court’s system and authority, their acquiescence has no validity. To force someone to follow this system has the status of stealing from them and of raising one’s hand against the Torah given to us by Moshe Rabbeinu’ (Chazon Ish, Sanhedrin 15:4). The identical ruling was issued by Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank and Rav Yitzchak Herzog.” (See Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer 12:82.

DINA DI’MALCHUSA DINA

“I have often heard that dina di’malchusa dina (secular civil law) determines halacha in business matters; isn’t it so here?” Mendel inquired.

Realizing that Mendel was not questioning his authority, but simply attempting to clarify this confusing issue, his rav gave him a patient reply.

“What you’ve just quoted is an incorrect understanding of dina di’malchusa dina,” he began. “Dina di’malchusa dina requires obeying rules of the government such as paying taxes and obeying traffic and safety regulations, and prohibits us from smuggling and counterfeiting. But it does not replace the civil laws of the Torah (the laws of Choshen Mishpat) that govern relationships between Jews, nor does it supplant the Jew’s responsibility to bring his litigation before a proper beis din.”

“I must say,” continued the rav sadly, “that I find it peculiar that often the same person who quotes dina di’malchusa dina when it does not apply, happily ignores it where it does apply. Interpreting business halachos conveniently without checking it out with a rav is another example of an unfortunate weakness prevalent in our generation.

“But please let me clarify one point,” the rav continued. “When I say that dina di’malchusa dina does not apply in litigation, this should not be confused with the similar concept of minhag hamakom.

“Certain areas of halacha, such as the contract laws for buying and hiring, are governed by the concept of minhag hamakom – that normative business practice determines what is halachically accepted. When a person agrees to a contract, both parties assume that they will be following what is normally done, unless it is specified otherwise. For this reason, the halacha regarding sales and employee rights is often governed by accepted practice. And since normal practice is influenced by civil law, these areas of halacha are influenced by civil law. This is not because halacha recognizes civil law, but because of the influence civil law has on business practice.

“However,” the rav concluded, “it should be noted that certain areas of halacha, such as laws of inheritance, are not affected by secular law at all” (Shu”t Rashba, quoted by Beis Yosef, Choshen Mishpat end of Chapter 26).

“How should I begin the litigation I came here to discuss?” asked Mendel.

TWO KINDS OF BATEI DIN

“There are two kinds of batei din,” replied his rav. “An established beis din or an ad hoc beis din known as ‘zabla.’ Zabla is the acronym for ‘zeh borer lo echod,’ because each party chooses one of the dayanim (judges) who will judge the case, and then those two dayanim choose a third person to join them and form a beis din.”

Mendel realizes that zabla will probably not benefit him, since it is doubtful that the supplier will willingly submit to arbitration of any type. Therefore, he asks his rav how he proceeds to apply for a beis din to hear his case. The rav refers him to the mazkir, the bailiff or representative, of a nearby beis din. The mazkir issues a summons to the supplier to appear before a beis din.

“What do I do if the supplier comes to beis din and then refuses to obey the decision?” Mendel asked the mazkir.

“Every beis din insists that the litigating parties agree to be bound completely by the decision of the beis din they use,” explained the mazkir. “In addition, beis din proceedings are binding in civil law as arbitration agreements. This means that once the parties sign an agreement submitting their litigation to beis din for arbitration, the civil court will uphold the beis din’s decision. If one party subsequently fails to honor the psak of the beis din, the beis din will authorize the use of secular authorities, if necessary, to enforce its ruling.”

Ultimately, the supplier ignored the summons to appear before the beis din, a serious halachic offence in its own right. Halacha requires a Jew to respond to a summons to appear before a beis din. The fact that it is an unpleasant experience is no excuse for not responding.

In the vast majority of cases, the defendant has the right to request that the case be heard in a different beis din or to request that the matter be decided through zabla. However, he is responsible to convey this intent to the mazkir beis din.

WHAT IF THE DEFENDANT REFUSES TO GO TO BEIS DIN?

What does Mendel do? Unfortunately, Mendel’s situation is neither uncommon nor recent, and apparently occurred even at the time of the Gemara (see Bava Kamma 92b, as explained by Rosh). If this happens, the required procedure is to file the case with a beis din. The beis din summons the defendant to appear. If the defendant fails to appear or indicates that he will not appear, the beis din authorizes the plaintiff to sue in secular court (Choshen Mishpat 26:2). Under these circumstances, the plaintiff has not violated the prohibition of going to civil courts since his suit was authorized by beis din.

The usual practice is to issue a summons to the defendant three times before authorizing the plaintiff to sue in secular court (Beis Yosef and Sma to Choshen Mishpat, Chapter 26, citing Rav Sherira Gaon). However, it should be noted that this is the prerogative of the beis din. If the beis din feels that the defendant will not heed an additional summons, they may authorize the plaintiff to sue in civil court after receiving just one rejection. Sometimes, the beis din’s representative might simply phone the defendant to find out if he will honor beis din’s summons.

It should be noted that even if someone gets authorization to go to secular court, he is still not entitled to receive more in the settlement or ruling than he is entitled to according to halacha. Therefore, he should ask a posek how much of the award he is permitted to keep.

WHAT HAPPENED TO MENDEL GREENBERG?

Unfortunately, the supplier did not respond to the summons of the beis din, so the beis din signed a document authorizing Mendel to take his case to civil court. As noted above, going to civil court under these circumstances is permitted once authorized by beis din. Mendel has not made a chillul Hashem since he has demonstrated his desire to have his case adjudicated according to halacha. Here, it is the supplier who refused to be bound by beis din’s authority and has demonstrated his contempt for beis din, halacha and Hashem’s Torah, thereby creating a chillul Hashem.

Mendel chose an attorney he knew from shul to represent his case. When he met with the attorney, he explained all that he had learned about the prohibition against going to arka’os. The attorney himself was aware of Rashi’s statement that it is a tremendous desecration of Hashem’s presence to use civil courts. However, he had assumed that it only referred to courts of idol worshippers.

Now Mendel felt confident that he could convey some of his newly gained knowledge. “My rav told me that it is forbidden to use any secular court, and that a chillul Hashem is involved every time one goes to a court that does not recognize Torah as its law system.”

The lawyer suddenly realized that he had many shaylos of his own.

MAY A LAWYER FILE A LAWSUIT IN CIVIL COURT ON BEHALF OF A JEWISH CLIENT?

This is unfortunately a very common shaylah. A Jewish lawyer representing a Jewish client sues another Jewish client in civil court. May the lawyer file a lawsuit in secular court? Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank ruled that this is absolutely prohibited and that it is a major chillul Hashem to do so.

However, this situation provides the lawyer with a great opportunity to perform a kiddush Hashem. He can explain the advantages of going to beis din to his not-yet-observant client. Firstly, it is far less expensive and usually far more efficient, since most frum communities have batei din where a din torah can be arranged within days.

Of course, an observant Jew should not have to be told extraneous reasons why it is beneficial to go to beis din. For one, the only salient point should be that this is what Hashem wants one to do. Certainly, the reward for following halacha is infinitely greater than anything gained by violating halacha. However, since the non-observant client may not appreciate these considerations, the lawyer may convince the client in a way the client will understand.

MAY ONE TESTIFY IN SECULAR COURT ABOUT A CASE THAT WAS ALREADY DECIDED IN BEIS DIN?

Yes, it is permitted to do. Furthermore, it is permitted and a mitzvah for the dayanim of the beis din themselves to testify in secular court regarding their adjudication. There is a discussion in poskim whether it is a lack of kovod haTorah for the dayanim to testify as witnesses in a secular court. The conclusion is that it is not considered a lack of kovod haTorah as long as the secular court is honest (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #3).

MAY A LAWYER DEFEND A CLIENT IN CIVIL COURT, OR DOES THIS REQUIRE AUTHORIZATION FROM BEIS DIN?

If a Jew is sued in secular court, it is a mitzvah to defend one to the best of one’s ability, since the plaintiff violated halacha by suing in civil court. There is no need to get authorization from beis din.

IS IT PERMITTED TO SUE A NON-JEW IN CIVIL COURT?

A non-Jew is not required to submit his litigation to beis din. For this reason, a Jew may sue a non-Jew in secular court. Therefore, a lawyer can represent a Jew in his suit against a non-Jew.

MAY LITIGATION BE SUBMITTED TO A NON-JEWISH ARBITRATION BOARD?

There is a dispute among poskim whether one is permitted to submit a case to a non-Jewish arbitration board without authorization from beis din. It seems that Shach (Choshen Mishpat 22:15) and Aruch HaShulchan (22:8) permit this, if the arbitrator bases his decision on common sense and fairness, rather than on a non-Jewish system of law. The Nesivos HaMishpat prohibits using a non-Jewish arbitrator, even in such a circumstance.

Although suing in arka’os is strictly prohibited unless authorized by beis din, Shach and Aruch HaShulchan contend that there is a halachic difference between arbitration that bases its decisions on common sense and a sense of fairness rather than a system of law. In their opinion, arka’os is prohibited because one is substituting a different legal system and procedure for the Torah’s system. However, common sense arbitration is not viewed by anyone as a legal system, but simply as a practical, fair way of resolving conflicts. The Nesivos HaMishpat disagrees, contending that using any system not set up by the Torah constitutes the violation of using arka’os.

In practice, to circumvent this machlokes haposkim, one should summon the defendant to beis din. If he refuses to accept beis din’s authority, the beis din’s permission allows one to submit the matter to an arbitration board as well as a civil court.

WHAT SHOULD A PLAINTIFF DO IF HE LIVES FAR FROM A BEIS DIN?

The mazkir beis din can telephone the defendant explaining that the case must be adjudicated by a beis din. If the defendant accepts this, then the beis din will attempt to facilitate the creation of an ad hoc beis din, similar to a zabla, formed from the most qualified individuals available locally. Under these circumstances, a shaylah should be asked whether one should submit the case to an arbitration board. If the defendant refuses to accept beis din’s authority, beis din will authorize that the case be brought to civil court.

Every profession requires its special halachic expertise. The mortgage broker must be familiar with the laws of ribbis, the psychologist with the laws of loshon hora and the businessman with the laws of ona’ah.. And all of them must remember the rules of avoiding arka’os and taking their litigation to batei din.

The pasuk states, “VaYehi David oseh mishpat utzedakah lichol amo,” “And David performed justice and kindness for all his people” (Shmuel II 8:15). The Gemara (Sanhedrin 6b) comments that this pasuk says something unusual. Justice and kindness are opposites.. If David performed justice, then seemingly he was not performing kindness.

The Gemara answers that a just decree resolving a din Torah performs both justice and kindness; justice for the plaintiff who receives his award, and kindness for the defendant by protecting him against the violation of holding onto stolen property. Thus, by ruling against the defendant, beis din is performing an act of compassion by protecting him from transgression. Careful attention to the rules regarding batei din will stand a person in good stead by guaranteeing that his life is always surrounded by kindness.




Have I Caused Someone to Stumble? The Laws of Lifnei Iveir

clip_image002Recently, the main office of Yated Neeman received the following inquiry:

“To the Editor:

“I am an avid reader of Yated and I was wondering if you could forward a query to Rabbi Kaganoff. I especially enjoy his Halacha Talk column and was hoping he could discuss the following issue:

“Our extended family is not observant. Often as major holidays approach, they ‘threaten’ to drive to our home to join us for meals. We know they have no intention of staying over for the entire Yom Tov (although we do extend the invitation). Also, we really do not feel we are doing kiruv since they are coming just to eat and are not interested in anything religious. We advise them that it is not permissible to drive on Shabbos or Yom Tov, but they sometimes show up anyway. They feel that they are taking responsibility for their own actions and they assure us they would be driving anyway, albeit somewhere else.

“Would Rabbi Kaganoff mind discussing the halachic issues in this situation? I would really be interested in seeing how he tackles this problem.” Alan. *(all names have been changed)

Within a few days of receiving Alan’s inquiry, I received a similar shaylah, this one from Shifrah:

2. “My boss asked me to call businesses to offer their employees a chance to go on a healthy cruise complete with Jacuzzi, sauna etc. There was no mention of separate amenities, nor can I imagine that the prospective clientele would want such a thing. In essence, I am being asked to solicit people to purchase a cruise that violates halacha. May I make these phone calls, or is it considered that I am causing people to do something prohibited?”

The following e-mail came the next day from Rachel, an attorney:

3. “A client wants a will or contract drawn up that runs counter to halacha. May I draw up the will or contract the way he wants it?”

In order to answer these common shaylos, we need to understand the rules of lifnei iveir, being an accomplice to someone violating halacha, a prohibition based on the verse, “lifnei iveir lo sitein michshol,” “Do not place a stumbling block before a blind person (Vayikra 19:14).” Chazal interpret this pasuk to mean that one may not give someone bad advice, nor cause him to violate a prohibition.

Actually, causing someone to sin may involve three different Torah prohibitions and one rabbinic prohibition, each one with its own definitions. They are:

I. Inciting – maiseis

This occurs when a person was not even considering doing an aveirah until someone encouraged him. Thus, the instigator incited the performing of the aveirah and is therefore a maiseis.

II. Encouraging — chanufah

One violates this prohibition by complimenting someone for doing a sin, thus implying that sinning is acceptable.

III. Enabling – lifnei iveir

One violates this prohibition if the sinner wanted to do the aveirah, but was unable to do so without assistance. The person who enables the performing of the aveirah violates lifnei iveir.

IV. Even when none of these Torah prohibitions are involved, helping the sinner do the aveirah sometimes violates the rabbinic prohibition of mesaya’a y’dei ovrei aveirah, assisting someone who is sinning.

Our job is to define each of these prohibitions and see whether the activities mentioned above violate any of them. What makes the entire mitzvah and its interpretation more complicated is the contemporary situation in which most Jews are unfortunately not educated in the basic halachos of Judaism. Thus, although they are not observant, they transgress halacha only because they do not perceive the beauty and wonder of Torah. Thus, we must strive our utmost to bring them closer to Torah without compromising any halachic tenets.

I. Inciting Someone to Sin – maiseis

The classic case of maiseis is when the nachash encouraged Chavah to eat the forbidden fruit. Even though the nachash itself did not eat, Hashem punished it for inciting Chavah to sin (Gemara Sanhedrin 29a). Similarly, if Reuven incites Shimon to sin in a way that Shimon had not considered, Reuven is a maiseis. Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that scheduling a shul program for children on Shabbos knowing that their parents will have to drive them to attend violates a Torah prohibition of maiseis, even though the intention is to encourage people to keep mitzvos (Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:99).

Many people, and even some poskim, have difficulty understanding this ruling of Rav Moshe. After all, the parents of these children would be driving on Shabbos anyway, and isn’t it better that these children and their parents be exposed to Yiddishkeit so that they might eventually become frum?

Allow me to explain the rationale behind Rav Moshe’s position:

If a person is an idol-worshipper, may I introduce him to an idol he has never worshipped before? Of course not!

And if I did so, would I be guilty as a maiseis?

“Of course!” Even though he has worshipped idols anyway, I have incited him to this different act of idol worship.

Similarly, even if someone desecrates Shabbos anyway, I may not cause him to violate Shabbos an extra time. Some who causes him to violate Shabbos is guilty of lifnei iveir, and someone who incites him to violate Shabbos in a way that he would not have considered on his own is a maiseis!

Thus even if the parents of these children would drive on Shabbos anyway, since they would not have performed this particular act of Shabbos desecration, arranging this chillul Shabbos is an act of maiseis.

However, some other poskim disagree with Rav Moshe. They contend that if my intention is to bring the person closer to observing mitzvos, we do not consider him a maiseis, but on the contrary fulfill a big mitzvah (see Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:358, 483). Others rule that the prohibition of maiseis is restricted to inciting idolatry and related violations. According to this opinion, the nachash was a maiseis because he was inciting Chava to attempt to become like Hashem, which is similar to idolatry (Margaliyos Hayam to Sanhedrin 29a #25).

Shifrah’s shaylah, quoted above, might be dependent to this dispute. “My boss asked me to call businesses to offer their employees a chance to go on a healthy cruise that violates halacha. May I make these phone calls?”

According to Rav Moshe, placing these phone calls presumably violates maiseis since the called is inciting someone to violate halacha that he/she would not have considered before. There may be grounds for lenience in this case, since if Shifrah refuses to make the phone calls, the boss will certainly have someone else call. Shifrah must ask her Rav a shaylah whether she must refuse this task even at the cost of her job or does the situation provide sufficient mitigating circumstances to allow her to keep her job.

II. Encouraging Someone to Sin — chanufah

Complimenting someone, either directly or indirectly, for violating the Torah commits the Torah prohibition of chanufah, sometimes called flattery. One violates this prohibition by approving or implying approval when someone sins, and also by giving honor to a known sinner. (For a full discussion of this prohibition, see Shaarei Teshuvah of Rabbeinu Yonah 3:187-199.) Thus, if someone who sued in civil court without proper rabbinic approval asks Yehudah if this was acceptable, and Yehudah nods or smiles approvingly, Yehudah has violated the prohibition of chanufah. Instead, Yehudah should inform the litigant of his error, teaching him that a huge share in olam haba awaits those who acknowledge that they have sinned and do teshuvah.

III. Enabling Someone to Sin – lifnei iveir

A person violates the prohibition of lifnei iveir if he enables a sinner to do an aveirah that he wanted to commit, but was unable to without assistance. . For example, if a nazir, who is prohibited from drinking wine, wanted to drink some inaccessible wine, the person who hands him the wine violates lifnei iveir, even if he does not incite or encourage the nazir to sin. Merely enabling the nazir to drink wine is considered “placing a stumbling block (the aveirah) before a blind person,” since the nazir is “blinded” to the harm the aveirah brings upon him. Similarly, one may not give someone bread to eat if he will not wash netilas yadayim before eating (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 169:1; Rama, Orach Chayim 163:2), one may not hand food to someone who will eat without reciting a bracha (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 169:2) and a Jew who borrows from or lends to a Jew with interest violates lifnei iveir by causing a Jew to violate this prohibition (Rambam, Hil. Malveh 4:2).

A QUESTION OF INTEREST

The poskim raise the following question: If the person committing the aveirah could not have done so without someone assisting him, but could easily have found a different accomplice, does the facilitator violate lifnei iveir? For example: A Jew who lends to another Jew with interest who would certainly have found another Jew willing to borrow under similar terms. Does the borrower violate lifnei iveir for enabling the lender to charge interest or do we argue that the lender could in any case have violated the prohibition without this borrower’s participation. (The reverse is also true, that the lender causes the borrower to violate.)

Many poskim contend that although the lender would indeed have violated anyway, this is only because he would find someone else who also was willing to violate halacha. But if every borrower observed the halacha correctly, the lender would be unable to violate the prohibition. Therefore, whoever actually borrows the money violates livnei iveir (Mishneh L’Melech 4:2; Chavos Daas, Yoreh Deah 160:1; See also Sdei Chemed; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 160:1). Others disagree, contending that because the sinner can find a willing accomplice, the individual who actually facilitated the prohibition does not violate lifnei iveir (Shu’t Pnei Moshe 2:105; Shu’t Ksav Sofer, Yoreh Deah 83).

One of our original shaylos, asked by Rachel the attorney, was whether she may draw up an interest-bearing loan document between two Jews who are not interested in employing a heter iska which would structure their transaction in a permitted way. Does she violate lifnei iveir by drawing up this document?

It would seem that if there is a non-Jewish attorney who would draw up the document if Rachel refuses then she may draw it up. However, if only Jewish attorneys are available, then whether or not she may draw it up is dependent on the above-quoted dispute between the Mishneh L’Melech and the Pnei Moshe. (Of course, every individual should ask his/her own Rav what to do.)

IV. Assisting – mesaya’a y’dei ovrei aveirah.

As I mentioned above, if the sinner could violate the prohibition without any assistance, someone who helps him does not violate the Torah prohibition of lifnei iveir. This is because the facilitator did not trip him; he tripped himself. Thus, if the wine is within the nazir’s reach, albeit with difficulty, the facilitator passing him the wine does not violate lifnei iveir. However depending on the circumstances, he might still violate the Rabbinic prohibition of mesaya’a, because under certain circumstances, Chazal prohibited helping someone violate the Torah even though he could have sinned anyway. For example, you may not prepare food in the kitchen of a restaurant or hotel that does not observe shmittah, since you are assisting them while they violate shmittah (Mishnah Shvi’is 5:9). This is prohibited even though you are not causing them to violate shmittah.

In conclusion, someone who incites another person to sin when he was not interested in doing so, violates the Torah prohibitions of maiseis and lifnei iveir. If the sinner wanted to violate the prohibition anyway, there is no violation of maiseis, but there is still a violation of lifnei iveir unless the person could have sinned without the facilitator’s assistance. Even when the sinner was motivated on his own to violate the Torah — so that there is no prohibition of maiseis — and he could have sinned without help – so that there is no violation of lifnei iveir — the facilitator may still violate the Rabbinic prohibition of mesaya’a.

The Gemara mentions various cases, some prohibited because of mesaya’a y’dei ovrei aveirah, and others apparently not, and the poskim devote much literature attempting to resolve these seeming inconsistencies. I am aware of several different approaches to resolve these questions. Here are two:

(1) Some contend that the prohibition of mesaya’a does not apply when one facilitates a Jew who does not observe mitzvos to violate the Torah (Shach, Yoreh Deah 151:6).

(2) Others understand that mesaya’a applies only to someone who violates the halacha by mistake, but that it does not apply to someone who sinned intentionally (Dagul Mei’revavah ibid.). (Although these two approaches seem similar, they are not identical. For example, according to the second approach one may not assist a sinner if he is presently unaware that he is violating halacha. According to the first approach, one may assist him. Later in the article I will mentioned another two explanations.)

The rationale behind both of these approaches is that the prohibition of mesaya’a is an extension of lifnei iveir that applies only to someone who is “blind” and violates the law in error. However, it does not apply to someone who ignores the law on a regular basis or to someone who was intentionally violating the law.

Here are another two approaches that define the prohibition of mesaya’a very differently.

(3) Some explain that one violates mesaya’a only when one is an accessory at the time the sinner is doing the aveirah, but not if one assists him before or after he sins. Here is a halachic ruling that clarifies this issue:

Reuven wants to bring a job to a non-Jewish printer, but he is aware that there are Jewish employees who work in this print shop on Shabbos. May he use this printer knowing that Jews might work on the project on Shabbos? Thus, is he an accomplice to their desecrating Shabbos?

Some poskim rule that Reuven may use this printer since he is not involved at the time the workers are desecrating Shabbos. This is opposed to working in a kitchen that does not observe the laws of shmittah since one is working with the kitchen staff at the time they are desecrating shmittah (Shu’t Binyan Tziyon #15).

(4) A fourth reason explains that mesaya’a applies only when someone will definitely be violating the prohibition. This reasoning would also permit supplying work to the print shop since the shop may not do Reuven’s work on Shabbos. For these reasons, , the Binyan Tziyon permits bringing a project to a non-Jewish shop that employs Jewish workers, even if the work might be performed on Shabbos.

We must address one more important issue before we discuss the remaining shaylos that introduced this article. Is halacha concerned whether the facilitator is influencing the sinner towards or away from observing Torah? According to several prominent poskim, one does not violate lifnei iveir is one’s goal is to influence someone to greater Torah commitment. For this reason, Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach (Minchas Shlomoh #35) discusses whether one may serve bread to a non-observant guest who financially supports Torah study and is respectful of those who observe Torah and mitzvos. Rav Shlomoh Zalman rules that if asking him to wash before eating bread may offend him and result in distancing him from mitzvos, one looks at the long-term benefit, not the short term. He contends that in lifnei iveir one evaluates what will benefit the sinner’s observance level on a long term basis, rather than only considering the specific mitzvah at hand. Similarly, Rav Moshe Shternbuch, now Av Beis Din of the Eidah Hachareidis of Yerushalayim, ruled that a son may invite his parents for Shabbos meals even though they will drive on Shabbos if he feels that this will influence them towards greater mitzvah observance (Tshuvos V’Hanhagos 1:358). However, Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that one does not take long-term calculations into consideration; rather we consider whether one is causing an aveirah in this particular case.

We can now analyze our original shaylos. The first question we raised was:

“Our extended family often drives to our home uninvited to join us for Shabbos or Yom Tov meals and we feel that they are not interested in kiruv.”

Even if we assume that no kiruv will result from this interaction (a debatable point), many poskim permit Alan to host these relatives for Yom Tov meals since he never invited them, and specifically asked them to spend the rest of Shabbos with him to avoid desecrating Shabbos afterwards.

May Alan invite these relatives? According to Rav Moshe’s approach, one may not invite a guest who will certainly violate Shabbos to come; I may only invite them if there is a good chance that he/she will walk, or if I invite him to arrive before Shabbos starts. In the latter case, I must make arrangements that the guest could spend the rest of Shabbos without driving. According to Rav Shternbuch’s ruling, if this influences the guest to be more observant I may invite them notwithstanding that they may drive on Shabbos to arrive.

We see that in this exact same shaylah, one posek considers inviting the non-observant guest to be a violation of halacha, whereas another considers it to be a mitzvah, since one may influence him to observe mitzvos! Thus we see the importance of asking a shaylah and following the guidance provided by one’s Rav. This way one’s actions are always encouraging mitzvos and not, chas v’shalom, the opposite.




Do I Have to Tell the Truth?

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

A person must maintain total integrity in all his dealings – after all, we are commanded to act like Hashem in all our deeds, and His seal is truth (Gemara Shabbos 55a). Furthermore, someone who is meticulously honest and truthful will merit receiving the presence of the Shechinah.

Conversely, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 103a) teaches that habitual liars will not merit to receive the Shechinah’s presence. This is derived from the pasuk, “Dover shekarim lo yikon l’neged einai,” “He who speaks lies will not be established in My sight,” (Tehillim 101:7). A person who gains nothing from his lies and simply has no regard for telling the truth, is included in the “kat shakranim” (pack of liars) who will not merit to meet Hashem (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:181; 186). This category also includes people who fail to keep their word (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:183).

Truth is so important that the Gemara teaches, “Hafoch b’neveilasa v’lo seifoch b’milei,” “Turn over a carcass and do not turn over your words,” (Pesachim 113a). This means that it is preferable to do unpleasant, malodorous work rather than talk deceitfully.

Therefore the Torah warns, “Midvar sheker tirchak,” “Keep distant from a false matter,” (Shemos 23:7). Nowhere else does the Torah command that we must “keep distant” from an activity (Sefer HaChinuch #74), which emphasizes how far we must keep from falsehood (Mesilas Yesharim, Chapter 11).

Even taking credit for something that one did not do is considered a falsehood (Shaarei Teshuvah 3:184).

In addition to the halachic requirement of being meticulously honest, there is also a tangible benefit in being known as someone who always tells the truth. As the Gemara points out, “Someone who lies is not believed even when he tells the truth,” (Sanhedrin 89b).

Similarly, regarding chinuch, we are taught, “Do not promise something to a child without giving it to him because this teaches him to lie,” (Gemara Sukkah 46b).

Despite the importance of being straightforward, there are situations where the Torah allows being imprecise to circumvent damage. For example, it is more important to avoid machlokes, embarrassing someone, or hurting his feelings or reputation, than it is to tell the entire truth (Bava Metzia 23b with Rif and Tosafos). When placed in a situation in which full disclosure will cause one of these negative outcomes, avoid fabricating a story but omit the harmful information (see Chofetz Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 1:8). However, if machlokes may result if one answers truthfully, one must modify the truth, rather than create ill feeling.

WHY MAY I MODIFY THE TRUTH?

Why is it permitted to alter the facts in order to avoid hurting someone’s feelings?

In general, the Torah does not accept the theory that the end justifies the means. Thus, one is generally not permitted to do something halachically wrong in order to accomplish a positive result. However, altering the truth to avoid machlokes or to save someone from hurt is an exception to this rule.

Even in these situations, changing the truth should be a last resort. When the situation can be resolved without resorting to untruth, one must do so. Furthermore, it is preferable to give a truthful answer that omits the harmful information rather than modify the truth (see Chofetz Chayim, Hilchos Rechilus 1:8). However, if there is no choice other than modifying the truth, one is required to do so.

WHEN MAY ONE MODIFY THE TRUTH?

There are five situations when modifying the truth is permitted. They are:

1. SHALOM

One is required to avoid dispute or ill feeling even if it requires distorting the truth. This also includes situations where telling the truth will result in lashon hora. Therefore, if someone is asked, “What did so-and-so say about me?” and the true answer to this question will result in lashon hora or ill feeling, one may not give a complete answer. As mentioned above, it is preferable to answer in a way that is not an outright untruth, such as telling part of the story that has no negative ramifications. If there is no choice, one must say a fabrication rather than telling the truth that includes lashon hora or creates machlokes (Chofetz Chayim, Hilchos Issurei Rechilus 1:8).

It should be noted that when there is no way to avoid modifying the truth for the sake of shalom, it is not only permitted but obligatory (Rif, Bava Metzia 23b).

Here are some examples. Reuven refused to lend Shimon money because he felt that Shimon was a credit risk. (One is not required to lend money if there is valid reason to suspect that it will not be repaid.) Later, Shimon discovered that Reuven loaned money to someone else and asked Reuven why his (Shimon’s) request was turned down. To avoid hurting Shimon’s feelings or creating machlokes, Reuven may tell him that he had no money available to lend at the time. As mentioned above, this approach should be used only as a last resort. It is preferable for Reuven to change the subject or respond to the answer in a different inoffensive way that is not a fabrication.

For the same reason (to avoid hurting a person’s feelings), it is permitted to praise a person’s performance to make him/her feel good, even if the performance was actually mediocre (Kesuvos 17a). Similarly, if someone purchased a new garment, one should tell the purchaser that it looks great even if one thinks the opposite.

What happens if someone asks you how their new dress looks because they value your judgment? If the dress does not look nice, and the situation can be modified (such as, the dress can be tailored or exchanged) then one should give appropriate advice. However, if there is no option to do anything with it, you should remark that it looks nice. After all, there are certainly some people who will think it looks nice on her.

2. MODESTY

It is advisable to act humbly and to answer questions modestly. For example, if a Torah scholar is asked how much he knows of Shas (the entire Talmud), he is permitted to say that he is familiar with a few mesechtos (tractates) even though he actually knows the entire Shas thoroughly (Rashi, Bava Metzia 23b). This statement is permitted even though it implies that he does not know most of Shas and is an untruth according to halacha. It should be noted that modifying the truth in this situation is not required (Rif, Bava Metzia 23b; Sefer Hassidim #1061 states that it is preferable not to say a lie in order to be modest but instead to change the subject).

Likewise, one should be careful not to boast or advertise the chesed that one performs. Someone who is asked about one’s chesed activities should downplay one’s role and understate one’s involvement.

If a posek (halacha authority) is asked whether he is qualified to pasken a certain shaylah, he should answer truthfully but not boastfully. He can say something like, “There are people who ask me shaylos,” or “Rav so-and-so told me that I can pasken” which, if said in a humble tone of voice, is informative and not boastful. In this situation, underplaying his knowledge is counterproductive, since the person who has a shaylah will not feel comfortable that he can ask (Tosafos Bava Metzia 23b s.v. b’mesechta).

Similarly, a person who is heavily involved in chesed projects is permitted to describe one’s full role in order to encourage other people to be involved in chesed.

Someone who observes a halachic stringency (a chumrah) must try to keep this a secret. One is even permitted to give a false reason for one’s behavior rather than explain that he observes a chumrah (see Gemara Brachos 53b).

For example, while attending a simcha where one’s chumrah is not observed, one should try to hide the fact that one is not eating. If someone notices that one is not eating, one may explain that one attended another simcha earlier and ate already. One may say this even if one did not attend a simcha that night and one ate at home, since one’s statement is true (he has attended other simchos previously). This is better than saying that one’s stomach is upset (when it is not) which is an outright untruth. However, if one feels that the only excuse one can use is that one’s stomach is upset, one is permitted to do so.

It should be noted that modifying the truth to act modestly is not required, but merely permitted (Rif to Bava Metzia 23b; Sefer Hassidim #1061).

3. TO SAVE SOMEONE FROM EMBARRASSMENT

If necessary, one may modify the truth to save someone from an embarrassing situation or to protect one’s privacy. Therefore, if someone asks me a question that infringes on my privacy, I may give him an untrue answer if there is no other way to avoid the situation without being offensive (Gemara Bava Metzia 23b). It is usually better to give an untrue answer than to point out that the question was inappropriate, which might embarrass the person asking the question.

Similarly, if I am asked about someone’s personal habits, I may modify my answer, if the truth might reveal private information that the person might not want to divulge (Maharal, Bava Metzia 23b).

One may modify the truth to save oneself from embarrassment even if one caused the uncomfortable situation oneself. For the same reason, if I am asked a question on a Gemara to which I do not know the answer but should, I may reply that I have not learned that Gemara recently even if I have (Rambam, Hilchos Aveidah 4:13).

Although it is permitted to modify the truth to save oneself from embarrassment, it is not preferred behavior (Orach Meisharim). Of course, the best thing is to know the Gemara adequately enough to answer the question (Gemara Kidushin 30a).

It is forbidden to give an untrue answer if it deceives or causes someone financial harm. In financial matters, one must be absolutely truthful. Therefore, it is prohibited to deny having broken someone’s property to avoid paying for it. It is also prohibited to deny breaking it even if one’s goal is to avoid embarrassment, if this might exempt one from paying for the broken item.

It is forbidden to mislead someone. It is therefore prohibited to tell the boss that one is late to work because of a fictitious traffic tie-up.

There is no heter whatsoever to mislead in Beis Din, even if I am convinced that I am in the right and the other side is misrepresenting the facts. (It is permitted to say that the other side is fabricating information.) Receiving money through a din Torah because of a misrepresentation is stolen money (Urim V’Tumim 34:1). Furthermore, a lawyer or to’en rabbani (Rabbinic legal adviser) who suggests that someone withhold information in order to “win the case” violates several serious prohibitions.

4. PROTECTING SOMEONE

One may modify the truth to protect a person from harm or to prevent him from sinning. Again, the halachic principle is that the ends (avoiding sin) justifies the means (altering the facts).

A few examples will clarify what we mean. An unsavory or untrustworthy person asks you where you were a guest last Shabbos because he wants to invite himself to the same host. Since the results may be detrimental, you may tell him that you ate at home. Early poskim describe the following situation: “If someone is asked how he was received as a guest, he may lie so that the host does not become inundated with more guests than he can afford” (Rashi, Bava Metzia 24a). This does not mean that the guest says that he was ill-treated, which would be lashon hora, but that he should imply that he was treated in a nice, but not spectacular way (Maharal).

Similarly, if I am asked by someone who is a bad credit risk where he can borrow money, I may tell him that I don’t know, rather than putting potential lenders in an uncomfortable position.

It is permitted to modify the truth to prevent someone from sinning. In this context, there is a halacha that many people find surprising. You find yourself in a situation where a person thinks that what he doing is permitted, but you know that it is definitely forbidden. You know that the perpetrator will not accept your halachic opinion unless you quote it in the name of a well-known posek. It is permitted (but not required) to quote the psak in the name of a well-known posek (even if he said no such thing) so that the person accepts what you say and does not sin (Gemara Shabbos 115a).

The Gemara records several instances of this ruling. In Rav Yehudah’s house, they used to cut up vegetables on Yom Kippur afternoon so that they should be ready to serve immediately following the fast. (In pre-refrigeration days, vegetables cut up before Yom Kippur could spoil by the end of the fast.) Rav Yehudah noticed that the vegetables were being cut in a way that violated the halacha, but was uncertain whether he would be obeyed. In order to stop the practice, he told them that he had received a letter from Rabbi Yochanan prohibiting it. Several similar stories are told in the Gemara (Eiruvin 51a; Pesachim 27a; Beitzah 20a; see Magen Avraham Chapter 156).

Under the category of protecting people from undesirable situations, the Gemara tells us a very interesting story about the great tzaddik, Iyov. When he heard about a widow who wanted to remarry but was not receiving any shidduch suggestions, Iyov would advertise that she was his relative in order to improve her shidduch prospects (Gemara Bava Basra 16a).

If I am asked questions that will lead in an undesirable direction, it is permitted to modify the truth in order to politely cut off the questioning. The Gemara tells us the following story: Alexander the Great (whom the Gemara calls “Alexander the Macedonian”) once met the Talmudic scholars of the Negev and asked them several philosophic questions. When he asked them whether light was created first or darkness, they answered that this question has no answer. The Gemara points out that although a pasuk (Breishis 1:2-3) clearly states that darkness existed before light, the scholars refrained from answering Alexander to forestall him from discussing questions that might lead to blasphemy (Gemara Tamid 32a).

Therefore, if you know that someone may turn the conversation into a topic that you would not wish to discuss, you should change the subject or say that you do not know the answer to the question.

On the other hand, one may not be untruthful if it deceives or causes someone personal or financial harm. For example, one may not deny having broken someone’s property even if one’s intent is only to avoid embarrassment, if this might exempt one from compensating the owner. Similarly, one may not deceive someone about a shidduch by providing misinformation that might affect the other party.

5. EXAGGERATION

It is permitted to exaggerate even though the literal meaning of one’s words are inaccurate. So long as one’s intent is clear, this is not deceptive nor dishonest, but simply idiomatic. Therefore, it is permitted to say that something has happened “millions of times” since everyone understands that this is an exaggeration. Similarly, it is permitted to call a fellow Jew “my brother,” since all Jews are related and, furthermore, we are all brothers in mitzvos. It is also permitted to call a student “my son,” since the pasuk refers to our students as our children (Shabbos 31a).

With a similar line of reasoning, some contemporary poskim justify the widespread practice of printing wedding invitations with a schedule when everyone knows that the chupah will take place later that the what is printed on the invitation. Since it is known that the time on the invitation is earlier than the simcha will take place, and is intended to give people a sense of when the simcha will actually transpire, this is considered an exaggeration that does not violate the mitzvah of being truthful.

There are a few other instances where one is permitted to say something even though the literal meaning of one’s words is not exactly true. Following a halachic discussion with his disciples, Rabbi Akiva said that the halacha was like one of the students, although it was obvious to all of them that the halacha was otherwise. In the context of the discussion, stating that the halacha was like this student meant that the student’s reasoning was very solid, and the compliment would encourage the students to study with more enthusiasm (Gemara Eiruvin 13a).

An opposite pedagogic use is found in a different Gemara. Bar Kappara, one of Rebbe’s disciples, once said something disrespectful about Rebbe. The next time Bar Kappara came to visit Rebbe, Rebbe told him “Aini makircha mei’olam,” which can translate into English as “I do not know who you are.” Bar Kappara understood that Rebbe did not want to have anything to do with him, as if they had never met. Bar Kappara repented and Rebbe befriended him once again (Moed Katan 16a).

However, how could Rebbe make an untruthful statement? Because Bar Kappara understood Rebbe’s intent, this was not regarded as an untruth. Furthermore, Rebbe’s words, “I do not know who you are” were actually very truthful – Does one human being ever really know another? (Orach Meisharim). Incidentally, we see that even a statement like this, which was fully understood, should preferably be expressed in a way that it has a truthful meaning as well.

CONCLUSION

As we can see, the halachos of telling the truth are far more involved than most people realize. An excellent sefer on the subject is by Rabbi Daniel Travis, entitled “Priceless Integrity.”

Those who tell the truth will receive the presence of the Shechinah. Many special blessings are bestowed on someone who is meticulous about telling only the truth as required by halacha.

Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky was once asked why he lived so long. (We see in Gemara discussions that it is considered an area of halacha to answer this question accurately.) After contemplating the question for a while,  Rav Yaakov reluctantly answered, “Probably in the merit of the fact that I have never told a lie”.

The Gemara tells about the community of Kishuta where everyone was very careful to never lie. In reward for this, none of them ever died prematurely (Sanhedrin 97a).

Why is telling the truth a zechus for longevity?

As mentioned earlier, someone who is meticulously honest and truthful will merit to receive the Shechinah’s presence. The pasuk in Mishlei (16:15) teaches, “B’or pnei Melech chayim,” “Those who are in the light of the King will live.” Furthermore, Hashem’s brachos rest on those who imitate His ways, and His essence is truth (Sefer HaChinuch #74). Therefore, those who live with meticulous honesty are rewarded to live long productive lives (Orach Meisharim).

May we all merit this reward!




Did Dovid Accept Loshon Hora? A Narrative of Biblical and Halachic Intrigue

The Gemara quotes the great Amora Rav as saying: “Because Dovid HaMelech believed loshon hora, the Jewish kingdom was divided, the Jews worshipped idols, and we were exiled from our land” (Shabbos 56b). What does this enigmatic statement mean? Can Rav possibly be blaming Dovid, the author of Tehillim, the founder of the Jewish royal family and the ancestor of Moshiach, for causing the Churban? During the weeks that we mourn the loss of the Beis HaMikdash, we should try to understand the sequence of events that led to Rav’s comments.

THE STORY

After successfully vanquishing the enemies of the Jewish people and solidifying his monarchy, Dovid HaMelech wants to find out if there are any surviving descendants of his predecessor and father-in-law Shaul, who was slain in battle with the Pelishtim. Dovid calls Tziva, a slave who has been managing Shaul’s properties, and inquires whether Shaul has any surviving offspring. Tziva informs Dovid that Yonasan, Shaul’s crown prince and Dovid’s closest friend, is survived by a lame and unscholarly son named Mefiboshes (not to be confused with a different Mefiboshes who was Shaul’s son, an outstanding Torah scholar, and a rebbe of Dovid’s [Berachos 4a]). Dovid meets Mefiboshes ben Yonasan and discovers that he is indeed a talmid chacham (Shmuel II 9:1-5; Rashi, Shabbos 56a s.v. bilo davar). Thus, Dovid could already discern that Tziva has a tendency to libel Mefiboshes.

Dovid meets Mefiboshes ben Yonasan, and invites him to join his royal household and to take all his meals with them. In addition, he awards him with the formal ownership of all of Shaul’s properties, thus making Tziva and all his slaves into Mefiboshes’ property. In a few moments, Mefiboshes has been returned to the wealth and honor appropriate to the royalty into which he was born.

Shortly thereafter, Dovid’s own fortunes take a dismal turn when his own son Avshalom instigates a rebellion, forcing Dovid and his supporters to flee for their lives from Yerushalayim as Avshalom’s forces seize the capital.

IS MEFIBOSHES A TRAITOR?

As Dovid flees Yerushalayim, Tziva arrives with a team of donkeys laden with provisions for Dovid’s men. In answer to Dovid’s inquiries about Mefiboshes’ whereabouts, Tziva responds: “Behold, he remains in Yerushalayim, saying that now the Bnei Yisroel will coronate me, the scion of the true royal family, as their king.” In other words, Mefiboshes feels that the Jews would prefer to restore the house of Shaul to the throne and abandon the infighting of Dovid’s fratricidal family (Metzudos David, Shmuel II 16:3). In reaction to Tziva’s report of Mefiboshes’ treachery, Dovid awards Tziva the property of Shaul that he had previously given to Mefiboshes (Shmuel II 16:1- 4). If Mefiboshes has indeed rebelled, Dovid has the legal right to confiscate his property (see Rashi, Shabbos 56a s.v. dvarim).

Was it correct for Dovid to grant Shaul’s estate to Tziva?

Although Dovid has the right to be concerned that Tziva’s account might have some basis, the Gemara quotes a dispute (soon to be analyzed) whether he was permitted to assume the story to be true. Acting out of concern is permitted and is halachically termed being chosheish (suspecting) that a story may be true (Niddah 61a). One may react defensively to even an unsubstantiated story in order to protect one’s interests in the event that the story is true. However, accepting the story as definitely true and following up on that assumption violates the laws of loshon hora. One may not take definitive action, such as seizing property, as a result.

Thus, accepting Tziva’s account without sufficient proof seems to violate two serious prohibitions: (1) betzedek tishpot amisecha, judging people favorably, and (2) kabbalas loshon hora, believing loshon hora!

These issues become even tougher when we recall that Dovid had already experienced Tziva’s maligning of Mefiboshes in a previous conversation. This was when Tziva reported to Dovid that Mefiboshes was unscholarly, and Dovid consequently discovered that Mefiboshes was a talmid chacham of stature. Furthermore, we know that Tziva had ulterior motives to unseat Mefiboshes from his place of honor. So how could Dovid act as if Tziva’s story was certainly true?

Before trying to understand Dovid’s actions, we will return to the chronicle of Avshalom’s revolt.

AVSHALOM’S DEFEAT

For a while, it appears that Avshalom will indeed wrest power from his father and establish himself as king. However, Dovid’s forces decimate Avshalom’s troops in battle. Avshalom himself is ignominiously trapped. While riding a mule, his hair becomes tangled in the branches of a tree and he is left swaying above ground as his mule continues without him. Yoav, Dovid’s commanding general, and his entourage dispatch Avshalom while he is hanging in midair.

MEFIBOSHES APPEARS

Upon Dovid’s triumphant return to Yerushalayim, a very unkempt Mefiboshes welcomes him. He has not trimmed his mustache, washed his legs, nor laundered his clothes since Dovid fled Yerushalayim (Shmuel II 19:25, as explained by Targum).

Dovid asks Mefiboshes why he failed to join Dovid’s men in their flight from Yerushalayim (Shmuel II 19:25- 26). After all, since Mefiboshes had been eating daily at Dovid’s table, remaining behind when Avshalom assumes control could be highly dangerous (Malbim ad loc.)!

Mefiboshes replies: “My lord the king, my slave tricked me by telling me that he would saddle the donkey so that I could join the king – for I am lame; while he (my slave) slandered me to my lord, the king. My lord, the king, is as an angel of G-d, and should do as he sees fit. For all the members of my father’s household were guilty of the death penalty (for crimes we performed in Shaul’s service) yet you honored me to dine at your table. What right do I have to ever complain to the king?” (Shmuel II 19:27- 29)

MEFIBOSHES’ LEGAL DEFENSE

Dovid is faced with a puzzling dilemma: If Tziva is correct; Mefiboshes is an ungrateful, scheming traitor. If Mefiboshes is correct, Tziva is the worst type of slanderer. One of them certainly deserves punishment; the question is which? Dovid is in the unenviable position of trying to determine which of them is guilty. Is there any way to resolve this dilemma?

Does circumstantial evidence imply who is guilty? Let us examine:

1. Although Mefiboshes’ alibi seems reasonable, certain aspects of it are weak. For one thing, it does not explain his untidy appearance when he came to greet Dovid. How could he appear before the king without first bathing, trimming his mustache and washing his clothes! Although he claimed to still be mourning Dovid’s flight from Yerushalayim, he should have tidied himself in Dovid’s honor. Not doing so implies that he is mourning Dovid’s successful return! (Rashi, Shabbos 56a s.v. dvarim)

2. When questioned by Dovid as to why he remained in Yerushalayim under Avshalom, Mefiboshes responds, “My slave tricked me by telling me that he would saddle the donkey so that I could join the king – for I am lame. And he (Tziva) slandered me to my lord.” Granted that Tziva tricked Mefiboshes and took the donkeys with him, how could Mefiboshes know that Tziva has been slandering him? If Mefiboshes was indeed abandoned in Yerushalayim when Tziva took the mounts, he would have no idea what transpired after that point (Binayahu). Unless, of course, he actually had done or said something scandalous in Tziva’s presence…

Although the evidence against Mefiboshes is not ironclad, it does leave a dissatisfying sense that he is not telling the whole story. Later in the article, I will present another piece of evidence against Mefiboshes.

DOVID’S RULING

Who should Dovid believe? Either Tziva is telling the truth, in which case Mefiboshes is a traitor and should certainly not be granted ownership over his late grandfather’s property, or Tziva is lying, in which case he is a lowlife, and should certainly not be granted any new properties as reward!

What does Dovid do? He announces that Mefiboshes and Tziva should divide Shaul’s estate!

It is difficult to comprehend why Dovid divided the property between them–

TALMUDIC INSIGHTS

At this point, we will study the Gemara’s comments on this enigmatic story. The Gemara cites a dispute between Rav and Shmuel concerning Dovid’s actions. Rav states that Dovid violated the Torah’s prohibition of believing loshon hora, whereas Shmuel protests that Dovid was innocent (Shabbos 56a).

Why does Shmuel consider Dovid innocent? Does not confiscating the property show that he assumed Mefiboshes guilty without proof, which constitutes believing loshon hora?

Shmuel explains that Dovid had adequate anecdotal verification (dvarim hanikarim) indicting Mefiboshes for treason. Although this is not evidence that a beis din could use for a ruling, since Dovid was judging as a king, and not as a beis din, he could base his decision on substantive circumstantial evidence (Be’er Mayim Chayim, Hilchos Loshon Hora 7:22).

There is a difficulty with this approach: If indeed Dovid was justified to consider Mefiboshes guilty, why did he divide the properties between Tziva and Mefiboshes. If Mefiboshes is guilty, Dovid should confiscate all the property, and if Mefiboshes is innocent, he (Mefiboshes) should keep it all. What does Dovid accomplish by depriving him of half and awarding it to Tziva?

The Maharsha offers an original approach to resolve this conundrum. Although Dovid felt his evidence against Mefiboshes was sufficient, he realized that he would never be able to prove absolutely whether Mefiboshes was a treacherous schemer or not. Therefore, Dovid treated the case as an unresolved issue — and divided the property between the two parties, knowing that one of them was receiving a highly undeserved reward.

The Maharsha then continues by explaining the next passage of this Gemara: When Dovid informed Mefiboshes that he was being deprived of half the estate, Mefiboshes reacted with tremendous fury, saying, “I just finished telling you that I was eagerly awaiting your return to the city in peace, and this is how you treat me? My complaints are not against you as much as they are against He who returned you in peace!”

The Maharsha concludes that Mefiboshes’ sacrilegious outburst sealed Dovid’s decision, demonstrating that Mefiboshes was not as faithful as he claimed. If indeed, he had been mourning Dovid’s flight, his happiness at seeing Dovid restored to his throne should have been great enough not to criticize Dovid for any wrongdoing. Indeed his outburst demonstrates that Tziva was indeed correct and that Mefiboshes was simply performing lip service.

(This last approach presents us with an unresolved problem. Dovid had already divided the estate between Mefiboshes and Tziva. If he now had further evidence of Mefiboshes’ treachery, why did he not therefore award the entire estate to Tziva? There are several possible ways one can attempt to resolve this difficulty.)

A DISPUTING OPINION

Until now, I have presented Shmuel’s approach that Dovid did not violate the laws of loshon hora. Rav disagrees, contending that Dovid violated halacha by accepting Tziva’s story; Dovid had no right to assume that Mefiboshes had done anything wrong and he therefore should not have confiscated any property.

HALACHIC QUESTION

There are two ways to explain Rav’s position, with a major halachic difference between them. Does Rav disagree with the entire principle of accepting loshon hora when one has adequate circumstantial evidence? Alternatively, does Rav accept this principle, but dispute its application in this case. He feels that Dovid “convicted” Mefiboshes without sufficient evidence – thus violating the prohibition against accepting loshon hora.

Which of these two approaches is correct? Can we accept circumstantial evidence in halacha, or does this violate the laws of loshon hora?

This question not only concerns a judge or king, but also often affects each one of us. May we assume that someone we see behaving wrongly indeed sinned when the evidence indicates this, or do the mitzvos of not accepting loshon hora and judging favorably require positive evaluation even under these circumstances?

Many authorities conclude that if one sees absolutely convincing, circumstantial evidence one may assume that it is true (Sefer Yerayim #192; Smag, Lo Saaseh #10; Hagahos Maimoniyos, Dei’os 7:4; Magen Avraham 156:2). Others contend that we may not judge someone unfavorably unless we know for certain that he sinned and one may never rely on circumstantial evidence to believe loshon hora (Menoras HaMaor, Loshon hora Chapter 18; Bris Moshe commentary to Smag, Lo Saaseh 10:5, explaining Rambam).

According to either interpretation of Rav’s opinion, Dovid should have rejected Mefiboshes’ guilt, and therefore confiscating his property was unjustified. Consequently, the dividing of his royal legacy, the Jewish monarchy, personally punished Dovid. As we know, ten of the twelve tribes seceded from Dovid’s grandson, King Rechavam. The king appointed by the break off tribes, Yeravam, later became concerned that his people might make pilgrimages to the Beis HaMikdash, and therefore established temples in his realm as alternative worship centers (Melachim I 12:28. Note that the commentaries there dispute whether these temples were initially avodah zarah or only became avodah zarah later.) Although this idolatry initially affected only the ten northern tribes, its nefarious influence eventually spread to the two southern tribes of Yehudah and Binyomin. Eventually, this idol worship caused the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, as Rav concludes in his statement:

“At the moment that Dovid said, ‘You and Tziva shall divide the property,’ a heavenly voice told him, ‘Rechavam and Yeravam will divide the monarchy.’… Had Dovid not accepted the loshon hora, Dovid’s royal monarchy would never have been divided, the Jews would never have worshipped idols, and we would never have been exiled from our land.”

This quotation reflects Rav’s opinion. As mentioned above, Shmuel contends that Dovid was correct and that Rav’s blaming Dovid’s contribution to the resulting tragedies is unfounded.

What lessons do we learn from this tragedy? On a halachic level, Shmuel derives from this discussion that when there are dvarim hanikarim, strong circumstantial evidence, there is no requirement to judge someone favorably. From Rav’s perspective, we derive an almost opposite lesson: that although Dovid certainly felt he has sufficient basis to “convict” Mefiboshes, he erred, and his error, albeit only a negligent mistake, caused terrible results.

We all know the enmity that believing loshon hora can cause. If we all emphasize judging favorably we will certainly assist the reconstruction of the house of Dovid in Yerushalayim!




What Happens When We Do Something Wrong on Shabbos?

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Question #1: Cholent Caper

Shimon looks rather sheepish when he asks this shaylah on Shabbos morning: After waking up, he tasted the cholent and decided it needed some extra spices. Without thinking, he added some pepper and garlic powder, which is clearly an act of desecrating Shabbos. Can his family eat the cholent, or is it prohibited to benefit from this melachah?

Question #2: Bad Advice

“My main mutual fund has performed wonderfully over time and I am very satisfied with it. However, I recently read a transcript in which the fund manager, who is probably Jewish, referred to investment discussions with his staff on Friday night. I am concerned that I may be benefiting from chillul Shabbos that he performs in the course of researching venture possibilities for the fund. Must I pull my money out and look for another investment vehicle?”

Question #3: The Unrepentant Knitter

Yehudis seeks guidance for a real predicament: “I have a non-observant relative who loves to knit and is presently knitting a baby blanket for my soon-to-be. I am certain that she is doing some of this on Shabbos. If we do not use her blanket she will be very upset — and she will notice if we fail to use it. What may we do to avoid antagonizing her?”

Each of these true-life shaylos that I have been asked involve the same halachic perimeter: May one benefit from work performed on Shabbos? Although we certainly discourage Shabbos desecration before the act, the question is whether something produced on Shabbos may be used afterwards. This very question is discussed in the Gemara in several places, which cites a three-way dispute concerning food cooked by a Jew on Shabbos. The three opinions ultimately focus on three different concerns and debate whether and to what extent we are concerned about these issues:

I. Intrinsic Prohibition

Some contend that a food cooked in violation of Shabbos becomes a substance that we are prohibited to eat. Those who rule this way maintain that this food becomes non-kosher.

II. Penalize the Sinner

Chazal penalized a person who intentionally desecrated Shabbos by banning that individual from benefiting from his misdeed. The food is still kosher, but there are restrictions as to who may eat it and when.

III. Deferring Use

One must defer benefiting from an item created through Shabbos desecration until after Shabbos so as not to profit from the sin.

I. Intrinsic Prohibition

Rabbi Yochanan Hasandlar contends that cooking in intentional violation of Shabbos creates an intrinsically “tereifah” forbidden food. In his opinion, not only does the Torah forbid desecrating Shabbos, but also, food prepared in defiance of Shabbos may not be eaten and will never become permitted. However, this only applies to an item produced in intentional violation of Shabbos. An item created in unintentional, but negligent, violation of Shabbos (shogeig) is treated more leniently.

II. Penalize the Sinner

Rabbi Yehudah follows a somewhat more lenient approach, prohibiting the sinner from using items made on Shabbos as a penalty, but not because the food is intrinsically non-kosher. Chazal created this penalty so that the perpetrator should not benefit from his misdeed. For this reason, Rabbi Yehudah prohibits the item permanently only to the person who desecrated Shabbos. Others may use the item after Shabbos is over.

III. Deferring Use

Rabbi Yehudah, and third opinion, Rabbi Meir, agree that other people may not use the item on Shabbos itself. This benefit must be deferred because one should defer use of items created via Shabbos desecration until after Shabbos. However, once Shabbos is over, people not involved in the Shabbos desecration may use the item.

Negligent Desecration

Thus far, we have discussed what happens when something was prepared in intentional defilement of Shabbos. However, if someone cooked the item in unintentional, but negligent, violation of Shabbos (shogeig), even the one who cooked may eat the food once Shabbos is over. In this case, no distinction is made between the person who violated Shabbos and anyone else. Since the sin was unintentional, we do not penalize the perpetrator. But Rabbi Yehudah requires that we defer the benefit until after Shabbos.

What is the Legal Definition of “Negligent”?

Negligent violation (shogeig) includes someone who forgot or did not know that it is Shabbos, or forgot or did not know that the activity being performed is forbidden on Shabbos. It also includes someone who was provided mistaken information that something prohibited is permitted. This applies even if one asked a competent scholar who erred and permitted something forbidden (Magen Avraham 318:3). As mentioned above, in any of these situations, one may use the item after Shabbos ends.

Example:

Devorah discovered that she prepared food on Shabbos in a way that the Torah prohibits. Since she was unaware of the halachah, this is an act of shogeig, and the food may be eaten after Shabbos.

An Intended Beneficiary

As I explained above, Rabbi Yehudah maintains that a person who desecrated Shabbos intentionally may never benefit from the result, while others may benefit after Shabbos. What about a person for whom the item was made in intentional desecration of Shabbos? May he/she use the item? For example, if a Jew cooked for a guest on Shabbos, may the guest eat the food after Shabbos is over?

Why should the intended beneficiary be treated more stringently than anyone else?

Not Only Shabbos

To understand the background behind this question we need to clarify some related issues. I mentioned above that Rabbi Yehudah prohibits the sinner from ever using an item that resulted from his desecration. This rule is not limited to Shabbos, but also applies to other areas of halachah. Here is an example:

Ein Mevatelin Issur Lechatchilah

Although prohibited substances that spill into food are sometimes nullified, this applies only when the mixture occurred unintentionally. One may not deliberately add prohibited food to permitted food in order to nullify the banned substance. This prohibition is called ein mevatelin issur lechatchilah. Bitul is something that happens after the fact and cannot serve as a premeditated solution .

What happens if someone intentionally added a proscribed ingredient? Is the food now prohibited?

Indeed, the person who added the forbidden component may not consume it. This law is derived from the rules of Shabbos. Just as the intentional Shabbos desecrator may not benefit from his misdeed, so too, the deliberate contaminator of kosher food may not consume the mixture (Gittin 54b). Therefore, if the CIA (Cashrus Intelligence Agency) detects the misdeed, the perpetrator will be banned from benefit.

Already Added

Because of the above rule, if non-kosher food accidently fell into food at a rate too great to be nullified, one may not add extra kosher food or liquid in order to nullify the prohibited substance. This act is also prohibited under the heading of ein mevatelin issur lechatchilah. Here too, someone who knows that this act is prohibited and intentionally added permitted food to nullify the forbidden component, may not consume it because he violated ein mevatelin issur lichatchilah (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 99:5). However, if he did this negligently he may use the finished product.

All these rulings derive from the laws of Shabbos that we discussed before. The person who added the product intentionally, knowing that this is prohibited, is comparable to someone who knowingly desecrates Shabbos and may not benefit from his misdeed. However, the person who was unaware that his act is prohibited qualifies as a shogeig and may use the product. (Note that although on Shabbos we sometimes make a distinction between using the food on Shabbos and using it after Shabbos, no such distinction applies in the case of ein mevatelin issur lechatchilah.)

Don’t Add Water!

The following case explains this last situation more clearly. Mrs. Smallminded discovers that she inadvertently added a non-kosher ingredient to the huge pot of soup she is preparing for a family simcha. Realizing her error, she calls her rav, who concludes that the ratio of kosher to non-kosher in her soup is insufficient and that therefore the soup is not kosher. Unwilling to discard all her efforts and ingredients, Mrs. Smallminded adds water to the soup until there is sufficient kosher product to nullify the non-kosher ingredients. As mentioned above, this act is prohibited as a violation of the rule ein mevatelin issur lichatchilah. If Mrs. Smallminded was unaware that she was forbidden to add water, she qualifies as shogeig and may eat the soup. However, if she was aware that this was prohibited and she intentionally ignored the halachah, she may not eat the food, for this would allow her to benefit from her deliberate misdeed.

What about her Guests?

Let us assume that Mrs. Smallminded realized that she was not allowed to add water, but did so anyway. Later, she has pangs of conscience about her misdeed. As I mentioned above, Mrs. Smallminded may not eat the soup. What about her guests and family members? May they eat the soup because the non-kosher ingredient is indeed bateil, or are they also prohibited from eating it?

The halachah is that the intended beneficiaries may not eat the soup. Since all of Mrs. Smallminded’s family members and guests are intended beneficiaries, none of them may eat the soup (Rashba, Toras HaBayis 4:3, page 32; Tur Yoreh Deah 99). However, some authorities contend that this applies only if those people knew that the water was being mixed in for their benefit, as I will explain.

Not Aware of the Bitul

This leads us to a new question: What if the intended beneficiaries did not know that the item was being mixed in for their benefit?

Some authorities rule that in this last situation the intended beneficiary may use the product (Maharshal; Taz 99:10). However, many authorities conclude that the item is prohibited. Furthermore, most rule that if a store added prohibited substances to kosher food in order to sell it to Jewish customers, no Jewish customers may consume the finished product since they are all considered intended beneficiaries (Shu”t Rivash #498; Rabbi Akiva Eiger). According to this, Mrs. Smallminded’s guests and relatives would be forbidden from eating her soup even though they were unaware of what she did.

You might ask, why are they being penalized from eating the luscious soup when they were completely unaware of her intent to violate the law? After all, not only did they not intentionally violate any laws, they did not even know what Mrs. Smallminded was doing in the kitchen!

The Overambitious Butcher

It is easiest to explain this ruling by examining a case discussed by earlier halachah authorities. A town butcher had mastered the proper skills to be a qualified shocheit, but had never passed the lext step – being licensed to be a bodeik, the person who checks after the shechitah to ascertain that the animal contains no imperfections that render it tereifah. Nevertheless, this butcher-shocheit performed the shechitah and the bedikah himself, thereby overextending his “license.” The shaylah was whether the meat could be eaten anyway, based on the halachah that if one cannot perform bedikah the animal is ruled kosher, since most animals are kosher.

The posek of the generation, the Rivash, ruled that no one could eat the meat. Although it is indeed true that if a bedikah cannot be performed the meat is kosher, one may not intentionally forgo the bedikah. The Rivash forbids the meat of the above-mentioned butcher-shocheit because of the principle of ein mevatelin issur lichatchilah, and rules that no one may use the meat, since all of the butcher’s customers are intended beneficiaries of his violation. This is true even though the customers certainly did not want the butcher to forgo a proper bedikah. We see that when the prohibited food is prepared for someone else, the authorities forbade that person from eating the food, even when he did not want the bitul to transpire.

An Intended Shabbos Beneficiary

Having established that mixing food in violation of halachah prohibits the resultant product, we now need to determine the law on Shabbos. Does halachah ban the intended beneficiary from benefiting from the item produced on Shabbos, even if he/she did not want the item prepared on Shabbos?

The late halachic authorities dispute this question, some contending that since one cannot use the item until Shabbos is over, there is less reason to prohibit the intended beneficiary (Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 318:2, based on Beis Yosef, Yoreh Deah 99). Others conclude that food cooked on Shabbos for customers remains prohibited forever since they are all intended beneficiaries (Shu”t Ksav Sofer, Orach Chayim #50).

III: Rabbi Meir’s Approach

At the beginning of the article, I mentioned that the Gemara records three positions concerning this issue. And yet, so far I devoted most of the article to explaining Rabbi Yehudah, briefly mentioned Rabbi Yochanan Hasandler, and mentioned the third opinion, Rabbi Meir, only in passing. This is because most halachic authorities rule like Rabbi Yehudah, although there are several who follow the more lenient opinion of Rabbi Meir (Gr”a, Orach Chayim 318). (One can note that the Rosh, in Bava Kamma 7:6, rules like Rabbi Yochanan HaSandler; however, in Chullin 1:18 he seems to conclude otherwise.) Rabbi Meir contends that anything cooked in negligent violation of Shabbos may be eaten even on the day it was made and even by the person who desecrated Shabbos. Only something produced in intentional defiance of Shabbos may not be used, and this becomes permitted as soon as Shabbos ends even to the violater himself. Thus, he disputes Rabbi Yehudah in two key points, both about the status on Shabbos of food cooked negligently, and whether it is permitted after Shabbos for the person who intentionally desecrated Shabbos.

According to Rabbi Meir, although violating Shabbos is a most severe desecration, the Sages did not prohibit use of the product, but merely postponed using it until after Shabbos so as not to benefit from the sin. He makes no distinction between the violater himself and others. He also contends that there is no prohibition at all against using an item negligently prepared on Shabbos.

Answering our Shaylos

At this point, let us try to resolve the different shaylos that I mentioned before.

Question #1: Shimon negligently added spices to the cholent on Shabbos. Can his family still eat the cholent, or is it prohibited due to the prohibition of benefiting from melachah performed on Shabbos?

According to most authorities, the halachah follows Rabbi Yehudah and therefore this cholent would be prohibited, but only until Shabbos is over. However, some late authorities rule that under extenuating circumstances one may rely on those who accept Rabbi Meir’s more lenient approach (Mishnah Berurah 318:7). According to this approach, one could permit Shimon to enjoy his cholent on Shabbos if he does not have enough ready food for everyone.

Mutual Funds and Shabbos

Our second question was: “My main mutual fund has performed wonderfully over time, and I am very satisfied with it. However, in a transcript I read recently, the fund manager, who is probably Jewish, referred to Friday night discussions with his staff about investments and the economy. I am concerned that I might be benefiting economically from chillul Shabbos that he performs in the course of researching investment possibilities for the fund. Must I pull my money out and look for another vehicle?”

Although we do not want to encourage anyone to desecrate Shabbos, there is, strictly speaking, no violation incurred in benefiting from this investment. The adviser’s desecrating Shabbos does not create any object, so that even the strictest opinion of Rabbi Yochanan Hasandler would not prohibit the money earned by the fund.

The question here is really a different one: Am I hiring a fund adviser to work on Shabbos? Also, there is what I would call a hashkafah/hadrachah question: Do I want to make profit based on a Jew being mechaleil Shabbos? After all, Hashem provides livelihood and perhaps I should steer away from building my personal nestegg on the backs of someone’s chillul Shabbos. I refer our readers with such a question to their own rav.

The Unrepentant Knitter

Now let us now examine our third case above: Yehudis has a non-observant family member who is knitting on Shabbos a baby blanket. May Yehudis use the blanket?

Assuming we follow Rabbi Yehudah’s approach, the main question here is whether an intended beneficiary is prohibited forever from use of an item made in violation of Shabbos. Since most later authorities permit this, I ruled that she could use the blanket.

Conclusion

Resting on Shabbos is our acknowledgement that Hashem created everything and brought the Creation of the world to conclusion on the seventh day. Shabbos is His statement that His creating the world was complete, and our observing it recognizes this. When we bring our workweek to a close, we thereby note Hashem’s supremacy and the message of Shabbos. Unfortunately, not all our brethren understand this message, thus leading to many of the shaylos that we discussed in this article. We hope and pray that all Jews soon understand the full beauty of Shabbos.




Being a Good Guest, or The Halachic Etiquette When Visiting Someone’s House

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Parshas Va’Yera describes how Avraham Avinu treated his guests, and how his angelic guests behaved. From these interactions, Chazal derive many halachos pertaining to the behavior of a guest in someone’s house.

Some of these rules are fairly self-explanatory. For example, a guest should not bring with him another guest (Bava Basra 98b).

A guest should feel that whatever the host serves and prepares is in his honor. The Gemara explains, “What does a good guest say? How hard the host worked for me! How much meat he brought! How much wine he served! How many dainty dishes he prepared! And all this he prepared for me!”

On the other hand, what does a bad guest say? “Did the host work for me? I ate only one roll and one piece of meat and drank only one cup of wine. All the work he did was done for his wife and children!”

A STRANGE CONVERSATION

In the context of learning proper etiquette, the Gemara (Pesachim 86b) records the following anomalous story. Rav Huna the son of Rav Nosson visited the house of Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak, where apparently Rav Huna was not known. His hosts asked Rav Huna, “What is your name,” to which he replied “Rav Huna.” They then offered him to sit on the couch, although everyone else was sitting either on the floor or on benches, and the couch was reserved for special guests. Rav Huna sat on the couch and did not decline the honor. Subsequently, they brought him a kiddush-sized cup full of wine, which he immediately accepted and drank in front of them, but he paused once in the middle of drinking.

Rav Nachman’s household, which included talmidei chachamim, felt that Rav Huna’s responses to their invitations were inappropriate and peppered him with questions about his behavior. (Since he had identified himself as a talmid chacham, all of his acts could teach someone a halachic lesson. However, they disagreed and felt that he had not acted correctly; it was therefore appropriate to ask him to explain his behavior.) The conversation that ensued is the source of many halachos.

“Why did you introduce yourself as ‘Rav Huna?’” they first asked. Is this an appropriate way to identify oneself?

Rav Huna responded: “That is my name.”

“Why did you sit on the couch when we offered?” They felt that it would have been proper for him to politely refuse the honor and to sit on the floor with everyone else (Tosafos).

Rav Huna retorted by quoting the now famous halachic adage, “Whatever the host asks you to do, you should do (see Mesechta Derech Eretz Rabbah 6:1).”

The hosts continued, “When we offered you the cup, why did you accept it the first time we offered it?”

To which Rav Huna replied, “One may refuse a small person, but one should not refuse the request of a great person.” As we will see shortly, the source for this halacha is in this week’s parsha.

The hosts then inquired, “Why did you drink the small cup of wine we gave you in two gulps, rather than drink it all at once?”

Rav Huna countered, “The earlier authorities taught us that only a guzzler drinks a whole cup of wine at once and arrogant people drink a cup with three sips. The proper way to drink a cup of wine is in two swallows (Mesechta Derech Eretz Rabbah 8).”

Finally, his hosts asked, “Why did you not turn your face when drinking?” A talmid chacham should not eat or drink in the presence of many people (Gemara and Rashi, Bechoros 44b). To this Rav Huna replied that only a bride should be so modest; for anyone else this is not considered modesty (Rashi, Pesachim 86b).

WHAT DID THEY MEAN?

In the course of this puzzling conversation, Rav Huna taught his hosts (and us) several halachos germane to proper etiquette that need to be understood properly. We will now dissect the conversation between these scholars to understand its underlying lessons.

1. He identified himself as “Rav Huna.” Isn’t this a conceited way of introducing oneself? Why would Rav Huna, a great Torah scholar and tzadik, have done this?

The source of this halacha (Nedarim 62a) reads as follows:

Rava pointed out that two verses seem to contradict one another. In one verse, Ovadiah says to Eliyahu, your servant has feared Hashem from his youth (Melachim I 18:12), implying that it is appropriate to make a true statement about one’s spiritual accomplishments. On the other hand, Mishlei (27:2) declares, someone else should praise you, but not your mouth. Rava explains that the pasuk in Mishlei applies only when there are people present who can notify others that this person is a talmid chacham. However, if no one here knows that he is a talmid chacham, he may notify people of his special status in order to receive his deserved rights and so that people are not punished for treating him disrespectfully (Rosh, Nedarim 62a).

Since the members of Rav Nachman’s household were unaware that Rav Huna was a talmid chacham, it was appropriate for him to bring this to their attention (Meiri; Maharsha).

It is noteworthy that when Rav Huna explained why he had identified himself as Rav Huna, the Gemara quotes him as saying baal hashem ani, which Rashi seems to explain as meaning, this was always my name. However, this is not the usual way in either Hebrew or Aramaic of telling someone one’s name or appellation. Alternatively, the words baal hashem ani can be interpreted as meaning, I am well known by that name, which implies that he was a well-known personage, although he was apparently unknown by the members of Rav Nachman’s household (see Meiri). Thus, he was responsible to inform them who he was so that they should not treat him disrespectfully.

WHY NOT SIT ON THE COUCH?

2. The hosts proceeded to inquire about his next act:

“Why did you sit upon the couch when we invited you?” Apparently, they felt that it was inappropriate for him to sit on the couch and he should have politely refused the honor. To this inquiry Rav Huna replied, “Whatever the host asks you to do, you should do.”

Did the hosts indeed want him to sit in the finest seat in the house, or were they simply being polite? Is the host’s offer genuine, or does he really prefer that I refuse the offer? It is not unusual to face this type of predicament.

Rav Huna answers that when the host’s intent is unclear, one should assume that his offer is sincere and do as he suggests.

There is a clear exception to this rule. When one suspects that the host cannot afford his offer and is only making it out of embarrassment, one should not accept his offer. This is referred to as a seudah she’ainah maspekes libaala, lit., a meal insufficient for its owner (Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 4:4; also see Gemara Chullin 7b and Rashi).

DO WHAT THE HOST ASKS

Why should one do whatever the host requests?

Here are two interpretations of this statement of Chazal:

A. A visiting (nonpaying) guest should do whatever the host asks him to, since this is a form of payment for services rendered. In return for free accommodations, the guest should reciprocate by performing the tasks and errands the host requests of him (Bach, Orach Chayim 170).

In a sense, this parallels the modern practice of presenting the host with a gift. (One can find halachic sources for this practice in the Sefer Orach Meisharim 18:2.) The gift reciprocates the host’s kindness. However, the host often prefers different favors, such as babysitting, rather than a box of chocolates that his waistline can do without, or an additional bouquet of flowers that will soon wilt. Therefore, one’s reciprocation can consist of doing any appropriate favors for the host.

In a similar vein, if one has the opportunity to reciprocate hospitality, one should do so (Orach Meisharim 18:2). However, neither host nor guest may specify in advance that the hosting will be reciprocal because of concerns of ribbis, prohibited paying and receiving interest on a loan (Rama, Orach Chayim 170:13), since the one who hosts first has in essence extended his hospitality as a loan to the other!

A DIFFERENT APPROACH

B. Courtesy dictates that a guest in someone’s house should respect his host and fulfill his requests as Master of the house (L’vush). Rav Huna ruled that denying the host’s request to honor his guest contradicts the host’s authority as Master of the house. By sitting on the couch and accepting the honor, the guest affirms his host’s authority to honor whomever he wishes in his home.

In many societies, turning down a host’s offer of a cup of tea or coffee is considered insulting. If one is unaware of local custom, one should follow Chazal’s instructions as Rav Huna did.

IF THE HOST HAS DIFFERENT KASHRUS STANDARDS

What happens if the host and the guest interpret the laws of kashrus in different ways? Must the guest follow the host’s request to join him for a meal?

If the guest follows a stricter halachic opinion that the host, the guest should apprise the host. The host may not serve the guest food that does not meet the guest’s standard unless the food is obviously something he may not eat (Shach, Yoreh Deah 119:20). For example, if the guest observes cholov yisroel fully and the host follows the poskim who permit unsupervised milk in modern Western society, the host may not cook anything that does not meet the guest’s standards without telling him. However, he may place food on the table that is obviously not cholov yisroel. Similarly, if the guest notifies the host that he uses only food with a specific hechsher, the host may not serve him food that violates this standard.

Once a halacha-abiding host knows his guest’s standards, the guest may assume that the host is accommodating his standards and eat whatever is served without further questions (Shach, Yoreh Deah 119:20). This is included in Chazal’s adage, whatever the host asks you to do, you should do, since questioning the host’s standards unnecessarily is offensive. Offending someone is always halachically reprehensible, and certainly when he has done one a favor.

PERSONAL CHUMROS

On the other hand, if the guest has a personal halachic stringency that he would rather not divulge, he should not violate his chumrah and he is not required to divulge it (Shaarei Teshuvah 170:6; Ben Yehoyada).

Generally, one should be modest when it comes to any chumrah (Birkei Yosef 170:6). Of course, one should always be aware that taking on personal chumros comes at a price, and one would discuss the matter with a gadol prior to observing a chumrah. (See the important discussion on this point in Michtav Mei’Eliyahu Volume 3 pg. 294.)

EXCEPT LEAVE

Our editions of the Gemara Pesachim 86b have two Hebrew words appended to the end of the statement whatever the host asks you to do, you should do. The additional words are, chutz mi’tzei, except leave, and therefore the passage reads, Whatever the host asks you to do you should do, except leave. It is unclear if these words are an authentic part of the text as they are not mentioned in Mesechta Derech Eretz, the source of the original statement. Some very authoritative commentators (Meiri) take exception to it, and Tur and Shulchan Aruch both omit it. The Meiri reports that these words are an incorrect textual emendation added by clowns and should be disregarded.

Nevertheless, other authorities (Bach, Magen Avraham, Ben Yehoyada) accept these words as part of the text and grapple with different possible interpretations.

What does this text mean? I found numerous interpretations of this text, including six different interpretations in one sefer (Ben Yehoyada) alone! Several of these approaches assume that performing whatever the host requests means reciprocating his favors, the first approach I mentioned above. According to these approaches, the words chutz mitzei mean that the guest is not expected to perform any inappropriate activity for the host. This would include the host asking the guest to run an errand for him outside the house, which the guest may refrain from since it is unacceptable to ask someone to run an errand in a city with which he or she is unfamiliar (Bach, Orach Chayim 170).

Nevertheless, if the host requests the guest to do something that he would ordinarily not do because it is beneath his dignity he should perform it anyway (Birkei Yosef 170:5).

THE STRANGE CONVERSATION

We now revert to explaining the original conversation that transpired between Rav Huna and his hosts.

3. The hosts continued, “When we offered you the cup, why did you accept it the first time we offered it?”

To which Rav Huna replied, “One may refuse a small person, but one should not refuse the request of a great person.”

THE INCONSISTENT ANGELS

It is interesting to note that this particular rule of etiquette is based on a passage in this week’s parsha. When Avraham Avinu invited the angels to dinner they immediately accepted, whereas when his nephew Lot invited them they initially turned him down. Only after he begged them repeatedly did they accept his invitation (Breishis 15:1-5, 16:1-3). Why did they accept Avraham’s invitation immediately and initially turn down Lot’s offer? The Gemara (Bava Metzia 86b) answers because of this rule – one may refuse a small person, but one should not refuse a great person.

This halacha has ramifications for other non-guest situations. When someone is asked to lead the services in shul (usually called to daven before the amud), he should initially decline the offer as a sign of humility. However, if a great person, such as the Rav of the shul, asks one to lead the services, one should immediately agree.

TWO GULPS?

4. The hosts now inquired, “Why did you drink the small cup of wine we gave you in two gulps, rather than drink it all at once?”

Rav Huna countered, “The earlier authorities taught us that only a guzzler drinks a whole cup of wine at once, and arrogant people drink a cup with three sips. The proper way to drink a cup of wine is in two swallows” (Mesechta Derech Eretz Rabbah 8).

A reviis-size cup of wine, which is about three ounces, should be drunk in two sips; not all at once, and not in more than two sips. It is preferable to drink about half the cup each time rather than to drink most of it and leave just a small sip for afterwards (Magen Avraham 170:12). If the cup is smaller, the wine is very sweet, or the person drinking is very obese, one may drink the entire cup at one time (Gemara Pesachim 86b, as understood by Magen Avraham 170:13). When drinking beer, one may drink a greater amount in each gulp since beer is less intoxicating than wine; and certainly when drinking non-alcoholic beverages (Magen Avraham 170:13). On the other hand, if the drink is very strong, one may drink it much slower (Aruch HaShulchan 170:9). Thus it is appropriate to sip whiskey or other strongly intoxicating beverage slowly.

TURNING YOUR FACE?

5. Finally, his hosts asked, “Why did you not turn your face when drinking?” To this Rav Huna replied that only a bride should be so modest. What is this conversation about?

A talmid chacham should not eat or drink in the presence of many people (Gemara and Rashi, Bechoros 44b). The hosts felt that Rav Huna should not have eaten in their presence without turning to the side so that they could not see him eat. Rav Huna held that the halacha that a talmid chacham should not eat or drink in the presence of many people does not apply when one is eating a meal together with other people. However, a bride should not eat in a way that other people see her eating, even if they are all participating together in a festive meal (Tosafos, Bechoros 44b s.v. vi’ayn). Therefore, Rav Huna replied that only a bride should be so modest; for anyone else this is not considered modesty (Rashi, Pesachim 86b).

The halacha is that one should not eat in the street or marketplace (Kiddushin 40b), and on the other hand, one should not stare at someone who is eating or at the food that he is eating because it embarrasses him or her (Rambam, Hilchos Brachos 7:6; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 170:4).

As we see, Chazal had tremendous concern that a person act appropriately in all circumstances. We should apply this lesson to our daily lives.




The Kosher Way to Collect a Loan

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

Although it is a very big mitzvah to lend money, some people are reluctant to do so because they know of loans that were hard to collect. Must I lend someone money if I am not sure it will ever be repaid? What can I do if I loaned money to someone who seemed very honest and sincere, but now that it comes time to repay, he informs me that he is penniless? What may I do and what may I not do to collect my money? How can I guarantee that I get my money back?

Our goal in this article is to answer all these questions.

THE MITZVAH OF LENDING MONEY

The Torah requires us to lend money to a poor Jew who needs it (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:1). This is stated in the pasuk, Im kesef talveh es ami, es he’ani imach, “When you lend money to my people, to the poor person among you” (Shmos 22:24). Chazal explain that the word “im” in this pasuk should not be translated as “If,” which implies that it is optional, but as a commandment, “When you lend…” (Mechilta). The poskim even discuss whether we recite a bracha on this mitzvah just as we recite one on tefillin, mezuzah and other mitzvos (Shu’t HaRashba #18). Although the halacha is that we do not recite a bracha, the mere question shows us the importance of the mitzvah of loaning money.

It is a greater mitzvah to lend someone money, which maintains his self-dignity, than it is to give him tzedakah, which is demeaning (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:1). There is a special bracha from Hashem to people who lend money to the poor.

I should not become upset if a poor person wants to borrow money from me shortly after repaying a previous loan. My attitude should be similar to a storekeeper: “Do I become angry with a repeat customer? Do I feel that he is constantly bothering me?” Similarly, one should not turn people away without a loan, but rather view it as a new opportunity to perform a mitzvah and to receive extra brachos (Ahavas Chesed 1:7).

RICH VERSUS POOR

One should also lend money to wealthy people who need a loan, but this is not as great a mitzvah as lending to the poor.

FAMILY FIRST

Someone with limited available funds who has requests for loans from family members and non-family members, should lend to family members. Similarly, if he must choose whom to lend to, he should lend to a closer family member rather than to a more distant one.

WHAT IF I KNOW THE BORROWER IS A DEADBEAT?

I am not required to lend money if I know that the borrower squanders money and does not repay (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 97:4). It is better not to lend if I know that the borrower will probably not pay back.

THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE BORROWER

Someone who borrows money must make sure to pay it back. One may not borrow money that one does not think he will be able to repay. A person who squanders money and therefore does not repay his loans is called a rasha (Rambam Hilchos Malveh 1:3).

The borrower is required to pay his loans on time. If his loan is due and he cannot pay it, he is required to use his household items, if necessary, to pay his debt (Nesivos 86:2=?). Similarly, he may not make significant contributions to tzedakah (Sefer Chassidim #454). He may not purchase a lulav and esrog if he owes money that is due but should borrow one (see Pischei Teshuvah, Choshen Mishpat 97:8). He must use whatever money he has available to pay his debts.

It is strictly forbidden for the borrower to pretend that he does not have money to pay his debts or even to delay paying them if he does have the money, and it is similarly forbidden for him to hide money so that the lender cannot collect. All this is true even if the lender is very wealthy.

COLLECTING BAD DEBTS

Most people who borrow are meticulous to repay their debts and on time. However, it occasionally happens that someone who intended to pay back on time is faced with circumstances that make it difficult for him to repay.

THE PROHIBITION OF BEING A NOSHEH

There is a prohibition in the Torah, Lo sihyeh lo ki’nosheh, “Do not behave to him like a creditor.” Included in this prohibition is that it is forbidden to demand payment from a Jew when you know that he cannot pay (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:2). The lender may not even stand in front of the borrower in a way that might embarrass or intimidate him (Gemara Bava Metzia 75b; Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 1:3).

However, if the lender knows that the borrower has resources that he does not want to sell, such as his house, his car, or his furniture, he may hassle the borrower since the borrower is halachically required to dispose of these properties in order to pay his loan. (See Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 97:23 for a list of what items he must sell to pay his debt.) Furthermore, the lender may sue in beis din for the rights to collect these items as payment.

(Technically, it is not the borrower’s responsibility to sell the items and bring the cash to the lender; he may give them to the lender as payment. The lender must then get a beis din or a panel of three experts to evaluate the property he has received. If he needs to hire experts to make the evaluation, the expenses are added to the debt. Of course, the lender and borrower can agree to whatever terms are mutually acceptable without involving expert evaluation, provided that no ribbis [interest] prohibition is created. The vast subject of ribbis is beyond the scope of this article.)

The borrower is often in an unenviable position. He owes money that he would like to pay, but he is overwhelmed with expenses and he simply does not earn enough money to pay all his creditors. He knows he could sell his house or his furniture to pay up, but he really does not want to do that to his family. He should try to appease the lender in whatever way he can – asking him for better terms or for a delay, and he should certainly try to find other sources of income and figure out how to trim his expenses. But he should realize that he is obligated even to sell his household goods to pay off his creditors. Someone who uses his money to purchase items that are not absolutely essential and does not pay back money that is overdue demonstrates a lack of understanding of the Torah’s priorities.

The lender may not enter the borrower’s house to seize collateral or payment. Some poskim contend that the lender may seize property that is not in the borrower’s house or on his person (see Pischei Choshen Vol. 1 pg. 96). There are poskim who contend that if the borrower has the means to pay but isn’t paying, the lender may enter the borrower’s house and take whatever he can (Shu’t Imrei Binah, Dinei Geviyas Chov Chapter 2; Pischei Choshen Vol. 1 pg. 100). One should not rely on this approach without first asking a shaylah.

If the borrower claims that he has absolutely nothing to pay with, the beis din can require him to swear an oath to that effect (Rambam, Hilchos Malveh 2:2).

A lender who feels that the borrower is hiding money or property may not take the law into his own hands, but may file a claim in beis din. If the lender feels that the borrower will not submit to beis din’s authority, he should ask the beis din for authorization to sue in secular courts, but it is forbidden for him to sue in secular court without approval from a beis din.

HOW CAN I GUARANTEE THAT I GET MY MONEY BACK?

It is unpleasant to be owed overdue loans. The lender is entitled to be repaid.

Is there a way that I can lend money and guarantee that I get in back?

First of all, the lender must make sure that he can prove the loan took place. This is actually a halacha forbidding lending out money without witnesses or other proof because of concern that this may cause the borrower to sin by denying that the loan exists (Gemara Bava Metzia 75b).

All of this is only protection against a borrower denying that he borrowed, which is fortunately a rare occurrence. What we want to explore are ways that the lender can fulfill his mitzvah of lending to a needy person, while making sure that the loan does not become permanent.

By the way, one may lend money to a poor person with the understanding that if the borrower defaults, the lender will subtract the sum from his tzedakah-maaser calculation (Pischei Choshen, Volume 1, p. 4).

CO-SIGNERS

The most common method used to guarantee the repayment of a loan is by having someone with reliable finances and reputation co-sign for the loan. In halacha, this person is called an areiv. In common practice, if the borrower defaults, the lender notifies the co-signer that he intends to collect the debt. Usually what happens is that when the lender calls the co-signer, suddenly the borrower shows up at the door with the money.

There are several types of areiv recognized by halacha. The most common type, a standard co-signer, is obligated to pay back the debt, but only after one has attempted to collect from the borrower. If the borrower does not pay because he has no cash, but he has property, the areiv can legitimately claim that he is not responsible to pay. The lender would need to summon the borrower and the areiv to beis din, (probably in separate dinei Torah) in order to begin payment procedures. Most people who lend money prefer to avoid the tediousness this involves.

One can avoid some of this problem by having the co-signer sign as an areiv kablan. This is a stronger type of co-signing, whereby the lender has the right to make the claim against the co-signer without suing the borrower first.

The primary difficulty with this approach is that it might make it difficult for the borrower to receive his loan, since many potential co-signers do not want to commit themselves to be an areiv kablan.

ANOTHER APPROACH

Is there another possibility whereby one can still provide the chesed to the potential borrower and yet guarantee that the money is returned?

Indeed there is. The Chofetz Chayim (Ahavas Chesed 1:8) suggests that if you are concerned that the proposed borrower may default, you can insist on receiving a collateral, a mashkon, to guarantee payment.

Having a loan collateralized is a fairly secure way of guaranteeing that the loan is repaid, but it is not completely hassle-free. There are three drawbacks that might result from using a mashkon to guarantee the repayment of the loan. They are:

1. Responsibility for the mashkon.

2. Evaluation of the mashkon.

3. Converting the mashkon into cash.

1. Responsibility for the mashkon.

When the lender receives the mashkon, he becomes responsible to take care of it. If it is lost or stolen, the value of the collateral will be subtracted from the loan (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 72:2). If the collateral is worth more than the loan, the lender might be required to compensate the borrower for the difference. (See dispute between Shulchan Aruch and Rama ibid.) The creditor is not responsible for the mashkon if it is lost and damaged because of something that halacha considers beyond his responsibility.

2. Evaluation of the mashkon.

When keeping the collateral to collect the debt, the mashkon must be evaluated by a panel of three experts before it can be sold (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 73:15 and Ketzos), or alternatively, sold with the involvement of beis din (Shach), to protect the borrower’s rights. Some creditors find this step tedious.

However, there are methods whereby one can use a mashkon to guarantee a loan and avoid having the mashkon evaluated afterwards.

When arranging the loan, the lender tells the borrower of the following condition: If the loan is not paid when due, the buyer agrees to rely on the lender’s evaluation of its worth (Pischei Choshen, Vol. 1 pg. 145).

An alternative way is for the lender to tell the borrower at the time of the loan: If you do not pay by the day the loan is due, then retroactively this is not a loan but a sale. The collateral becomes mine now for the value of the loan money. This is permitted even if the mashkon is worth far more than the loan without any violation of ribbis (prohibited charging of interest), since retroactively no loan took place but a sale (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 73:17).=

3. Converting the mashkon into cash.

At times, lenders have asked me for a method whereby they can be certain to get their money back, and I have suggested the collateral method. Sometimes I receive the following response: I don’t want to be bothered with selling the mashkon to get my money back. If I think the borrower is a risk, than I would rather not lend to him.

Do we have the same attitude towards other mitzvos we perform? Do we say that we only want to perform mitzvos when they are without complications? Certainly not! However, the yetzer hora convinces us that lending money is a good deed that I need only perform when it is convenient and when I feel like being benevolent, not when it is going to result in a hassle.

SHLEMIEL THE BORROWER

Nachman once came to me with the following shaylah:

Shlemiel used to borrow money from Nachman regularly, and although Shlemiel always paid back, he often did so long after the due date. Nachman wanted to know what he could do about this situation. He wanted to perform the tremendous mitzvah of lending money, but he wanted his money back in a reasonable time.

I suggested to Nachman that he tell Shlemiel that the loan was available, but only if Shlemiel produced a mashkon and agreed to the above conditions. Since my suggestion, Nachman has been zocheh to fulfill the mitzvah of lending money to Shlemiel many times and not once has a loan been late! Think of how many brachos Nachman has received from Hashem because he is willing to subject himself to the “hassle” of transporting the mashkon to a secure place and being willing to sell it should the need arise!

Why do people view loaning money as an optional “good deed” rather than as a commandment? The Chofetz Chayim (Ahavas Chesed 2:8)= raises this question and mentions several excuses people make to avoid lending money. After listing these reasons, the Chofetz Chayim proceeds to refute each one of them. Simply put, the answer to this question is the old Yiddish expression, Ven Kumt to Gelt, iz an andara velt, “When people deal with their money, they tend to deal with things totally differently.” Truthfully, people find it difficult to part with their money, even temporarily. This is precisely why one receives such immense reward for lending. As Chazal teach us, lifum tzaara agra, “the reward is according to the suffering.”




The Fateful U-Turn

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

 

ACT I – The Fateful U-Turn

Location: THE HIGHWAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACT II – THE COURTROOM

Location: The offices of the beis din.

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

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

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

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

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

SHO’EIL

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

REUVEN’S DEFENSE

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

WHAT ARE THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF A SOCHEIR?

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

WAS REUVEN A SHO’EIL OR A SOCHEIR?

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

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

BUT WAS THIS A CASE OF NEGLIGENCE?

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

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

DID REUVEN ASSUME RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE CAR?

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

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

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

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

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

WHY IS A BORROWER DIFFERENT FROM A RENTER?

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

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

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

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

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

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

First we must clarify two shaylos:

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

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

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

ACT III – SOME HORSEPLAY

Location: Thirteenth Century Germany

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACT IV – A COLLISION

Location: Bavel, Seventeen Hundred Years Ago

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

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

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

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

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

How do we paskin?

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

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

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

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

ACT V – EPILOGUE

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




Planning in Advance – Advice for the Chesed Doer

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Sometimes performing chesed can end up causing unexpected financial distress. However, a little bit of prevention can go a long way in avoiding this unplanned mishap.

Question #1: The Automobile Delivery

Mrs. Rosenberg’s *(all names have been changed) son, Yanky, a very straight and serious yeshiva bachur, sometimes comes home from yeshiva driving cars that are not his own. He told her that he is doing a favor for a businessman who needs these cars transported from place to place. Mrs. Rosenberg wants to know if Yanky is running any risk should something happen to the cars while in transit.

Question #2: The Money Transporters

2A. Shifrah commutes to work along a route that includes two branches of a local business. The owner asked her if she could convey money back and forth between his two offices. Shifrah asks me if she bears any halachic liability while performing this favor.

2B. Yosef is traveling to Eretz Yisroel, and Mrs. Goldstein asked him to bring some Chanukah gelt to her nephew. Rabbi Friedman asked Yosef to bring some money to his daughter there, and Mr. Gordon requested that he transport money to his son. Although Yosef initially put all the money together, he later decided to separate it during the trip for added security. Upon arrival in Israel, he discovered that some of the money was stolen. Must Yosef replace the stolen funds? If he does not, how do we determine whose money was stolen?

Question #3: The Wonderful Women of N’shei.

The local N’shei chapter conducted one of their wonderful activities to raise money for tzedakah. For table décor, they borrowed some expensive vases. Sarah picked up the vases, and transported them to the hall. Rivkah was in charge of placing them on the tables, and Rochel was responsible to return them. Leah, who was in charge of final clean-up, discovered that Rochel forgot to take the vases and now finds herself in a predicament. It is too late to call anyone to find out where to take the vases. If she leaves the vases behind, no one will return them, and they will certainly be lost or broken. There is no room in her small, cramped house to keep these vases safely from her frolicking children even until she can find someone to pick them up tomorrow. What should she do? With no choice, she transports them to her own house, hoping for the best. She calls me the next day, reporting that unfortunately some of the vases were broken before she could return them. Is she liable?

In all of these cases, someone doing a big chesed may have unwittingly stumbled into a major liability. Should one avoid performing chesed because of such fears? Of course not! But one should be aware of one’s liabilities and how to limit them.

THE BASICS:

In each of the above cases, the person doing the chesed became a shomer, because he or she assumed the responsibility to take care of someone else’s object. We must first review the basic rules of shomrim, and then see how these rules apply in each of our cases.

The Torah presents us with three basic categories of shomrim:

A. The Shomer Chinam: This shomer is someone who takes care of an item without receiving any financial benefit at all, even indirectly — and who is not permitted to use the item. Although he is unpaid, this shomer is still responsible to pay for the item if it was damaged due to his negligence or if he used it for himself (which he is not allowed to), but he is not responsible if he took appropriate care and yet the item was damaged or disappeared (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 291:1). However, even if the shomer chinam took care of the item responsibly, the owner can still request that the shomer swear an oath that he/she indeed was careful, that he/she did not use the item, and that he/she is not still holding it (Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 295:1-2).

B. The Shomer Sachar: This is anyone who takes care of an item in return for some financial benefit. This includes someone who rents something and also a craftsman who repairs an item, since in both of these cases the person is responsible to take care of the object and receives compensation for his work. A shomer sachar is responsible to pay if the item is lost or stolen, but he is not obligated to pay if the item became lost or damaged through an accident beyond his control (Bava Metzia 93a). Anyone who receives some benefit while assuming responsibility for an item is included in this category, including a repairman or a renter (Bava Metzia 80b).

C. The Sho’el: This is someone who borrows an item and receives benefit without paying. He is responsible to pay back for any damages that happen to the item, even if the damage is beyond his control. Since he is receiving benefit gratis, he is responsible to make sure that he replaces the item to its owner. There are two situations where the Sho’el is not obligated to pay, but we will not discuss them in this article.

Having discussed some of the basic halachos, let us see how these halachos affect the cases I mentioned at the beginning of this article:

Question #1: The Automobile Delivery

When Yanky Rosenberg needs to travel between cities, he often drives cars for a car dealer he knows. This arrangement seems to benefit both parties – it provides Yanky with free transportation and provides the dealer with an inexpensive driver. Mrs. Rosenberg, however, is concerned about Yanky’s potential liability . Her concerns are very valid because Yanky has the halachic status of a shomer sachar, since he receives transportation, which is definitely worth money, in exchange for transporting the vehicle. Therefore, if the car is stolen during the trip, Yanky is responsible in full for the automobile, and he is also responsible for any damage caused by his negligence. For example, if the car is involved in an accident while Yanky is driving, he is responsible for the damages if his negligence caused the accident.

After finding this out, Mrs. Rosenberg was very concerned as she does not want Yanky to be halachically responsible for the automobiles. I told her that there is a simple solution. Yanky can simply tell the car dealer that he is assuming no responsibility for the vehicles. Although the Torah rules that a shomer sachar is usually responsible for theft and similar losses, the two parties can negotiate a different arrangement if they both agree (Mishnah Bava Metzia 94a). Thus, every shomer has the right to negotiate his own deal to assume either less or more responsibility than the Torah usually assigns. If Yanky tells the automobile dealer that henceforth he is assuming no responsibility for the cars he drives and the dealer agrees, Yanky will no longer be responsible for any loss, theft, or damage caused by his negligence.

Of course, the owner may no longer want Yanky to transport the automobiles under such an arrangement. Alternatively, Yanky and the dealer may decide to negotiate an arrangement that limits Yanky’s responsibility. Whatever they decide, at least all parties will know what to expect in the event that there is an unfortunate incident.

Question #2: The Money Transporters

A neighborhood business owner asked Shifrah to transport money for him from one location to another. If Shifrah receives any compensation for this favor, such as the business owner pays for her gas, she becomes a shomer sachar who is obligated to pay for any theft, loss or negligence. If she receives nothing for her kindness, she is still a shomer chinam. Although her liability is far less, she is still responsible for the loss of the money if she is negligent. Furthermore, should the money be stolen, she may be obligated to swear an oath that she was not negligent. Since most religious people are hesitant to swear oaths, this could present a problem for Shifrah.

Should Shifrah avoid the entire issue and refrain from transporting the money?

I told Shifrah that she should tell the business owner that she assumes no responsibility for his money in any way, and that he absolves her of any need to swear if the money is lost or stolen even if she is negligent. Shifrah explained to the business owner what I had told her, and he agreed that she should carry absolutely no responsibility whatsoever for the money. Now Shifrah can transport the money as a chesed, knowing that she will incur no liability whatever happens.

Yosef, who is transporting money for people on his trip to Eretz Yisroel, did not tell Mrs. Goldstein, Rabbi Friedman or Mr. Gordon that he was not assuming responsibility for transporting funds. Thus, he was a shomer when the theft occurred. We need to determine whether he was a shomer chinam or he was a shomer sachar, who receives some benefit for being a shomer. If Mr. Gordon gave Yosef a ride home one day in the course of bringing Yosef the money, Yosef might become a shomer sachar for the entire sum of money entrusted him by Mr. Gordon if the ride was partially in exchange for transporting the money.

Even if Yosef qualifies as a shomer chinam, this does not mean that he has no liabilities. First, we must determine that he was not negligent according to halacha’s definitions. The halachic definition of negligence when taking care of money is very stringent. For example, the Gemara rules that one who is responsible for money must hide it in a place where a thief would almost certainly not find it, even if he does not hide his own money so securely. In the time of the Gemara, this meant that a shomer had to dig a deep hole in the floor of his house (remember that the floors were made of earth) and bury the money there, thus creating a hiding place that is almost impossible to locate. Storing the money anywhere else qualifies as being negligent and makes one liable. Later, when burglars began digging beneath houses in search of hidden valuables, Chazal ruled that burying valuables was considered negligent and the only responsible way to hide them was in certain specific hiding places in the wall of the house where one could not tell that the wall was hollow! (Gemara Bava Metzia 42a)

When transporting money for someone else, the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 291:20) rules that one must keep the money tied in a bundle in your hand or in a place that you can always have your eyes on it. However, placing someone else’s money for safekeeping in a seemingly secure place behind you, such as in a zipped-closed back pocket, is negligent. Presumably, today we would apply different definitions for what is considered a secure place. Thus, it is possible that transporting money for someone without keeping it in a money belt or some other very secure fashion may be negligent.

Even if Yosef is halachically not negligent, he still might be required to swear an oath that he secured the money appropriately and that it was stolen.

Assuming that Yosef is not responsible, we need to determine whose money was lost. This may depend on several scenarios. Where was the money put? Did he keep each person’s money in a different place? Did he keep his money together with their money?

At this point, I advised that all four parties (Yosef, Mrs. Goldstein, Rabbi Friedman and Mr. Gordon) agree to submit the shaylah to one rav who could then rule whether Yosef is obligated, and if he is not, how to divide the remaining money among the three claimants. Since they did not choose me to be their arbiter, I do not know what the final decision was.

By the way, this shaylah could have been resolved very simply if Yosef had told Mrs. Goldstein, Rabbi Friedman and Mr. Gordon that he was not assuming any responsibility for the money, as I advised Yanky Rosenberg and Shifrah to do. In this situation, one would only have to resolve how the recipients divide the remaining money.

THE WONDERFUL N’SHEI LADIES

We still need to determine which, if any, of the wonderful N’shei ladies is responsible to pay for the broken vases.

To review the case: Sarah borrowed vases for a N’shei function and transported them to the hall. Rivkah was responsible to place them on the tables, and Rochel was supposed to return them, but she forgot. Leah discovered the forgotten vases, took them home against her better judgment, and some of them were broken before she could return them. Who is liable for the vases?

Again, here too a bit of advance planning would have been very helpful. When Sarah went to borrow the vases, did she clarify that she was borrowing them on behalf of N’shei? Did N’shei authorize her to make the organization responsible? Who within N’shei can authorize making the organization responsible for borrowing an item?

If we can determine that Sarah was authorized to borrow the vases on behalf of N’shei, and the lender understood this and agreed to it, then Sarah would not be personally responsible for the vases. However, if no one clarified these issues, Sarah is the legal borrower of the vases.

Did Sarah have permission to give the vases to someone else? If she did not, then she is responsible regardless of who was subsequently negligent with the vases. However, if the lender understood that other people would be using the vases, then Sarah is not the only party responsible, and Rivkah would become responsible as soon as she began placing the vases on the tables (see Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 291:22).

But then, you’ll tell me, Rochel should be responsible for not returning the vases!

However, here we have an interesting problem. Although Rochel forgot to pick up the vases and return them, she technically never became responsible for the vases. This is because of the following halacha in the laws of shomrim. According to most opinions, a shomer only becomes responsible when he or she picks up the item or if someone places the item in his or her jurisdiction. This is called that the shomer made a kinyan on the object. Since Rochel never picked up the vases and never made a kinyan on them, she never became responsible for them (Shitah Mekubetzes, Bava Metzia 98b, quoting Raavad; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 303:1).

There is a dissenting opinion that contends that the responsibility of a shomer can occur without making a kinyan on the object, but only in the following way. The shomer assumes responsibility for the item and the person who owns it or was previously responsible for it stopped assuming responsibility for the item. According to this opinion, the fact that the shomer assumes responsibility for the item and the owner walks away makes the shomer responsible (Rosh, Bava Metzia 8:15; Rama, Choshen Mishpat 340:4; see Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 291:5 who cites both opinions).

However this did not happen here, since Rochel did not assume responsibility for the vases at the time that Rivkah relinquished responsibility.

Thus, at the time that Leah found the vases on the table, no one was assuming responsibility for them. The responsible party at this moment is either Sarah, who originally borrowed them, or Rivkah, who was the last person to take responsibility. This would depend on whether the lender of the vases assumed that several people would be in charge of them. If the lender understood this, then the responsibility transferred from Sarah to Rivkah, and if not, Sarah remains the responsible party.

Thus, when Leah found the vases, she was doing a favor either for the organization, the owner of the vases, for Sarah or for Rivkah. In any of these instances, she did not want to assume responsibility, but simply wanted to save them from certain loss or damage. Does this release Leah from legal responsibility?

I have been unable to find clear sources that discuss this particular shaylah. I discussed this shaylah with some prominent poskim, and received differing opinions. One contended that Leah is indeed responsible for the vases, notwithstanding her hesitation at taking them. Another assumed that Leah is not responsible since they would have been certainly lost had she not taken them and she took them only because she felt that maybe this way they would not be destroyed.

I suggested to these wonderful women that they establish a future policy that the organization assumes responsibility for any items borrowed on its behalf, and that they arrange that any losses of this type be subtracted from the profits that the benefit brought in.

As we can see, the laws regarding responsibility for items are very complex, and sometimes lead to surprising conclusions. Among our cases, each participant was performing a chesed that could easily have created a large financial responsibility. This helps us highlight the importance of taking care of the property of others. While we certainly shouldn’t hesitate in performing acts of chesed, recognizing and preparing for the halachic ramifications of our actions is undoubtedly worthwhile. Of course, if one’s act of kindness unfortunately results in an unexpected predicament, he or she should not regret the act of chesed performed but rather accept to better protect oneself in the future.