The Mitzvah Snatcher

CHAPTER 1

A QUICK DAVENING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invoice:

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

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

Total                                                                            210 gold dinar coins.

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

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

Yours sincerely, I. Friedman

CHAPTER 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe discuss the issue with the Rav.”

CHAPTER 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What does the Rav paskin in this situation?”

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

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

 

The Spurned Shadchan

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

The Spurned Shadchan

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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

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

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

SHADCHANUS GELT

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

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

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

BROKERAGE FEES

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

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

BUT WHAT IF I DIDN’T ASK HIM?

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

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

HOW MUCH DO YOU OWE THE YORED?

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

WHY MUST ONE PAY THE SHADCHAN?

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

WHAT IF YOU DID NOT ASK THE SHADCHAN?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHO WENT TO WHOM?

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

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

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

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

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

BAL TALIN – PAYING WORKERS ON TIME

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

WHAT IS ON TIME?

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

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

HOW MUCH MUST I PAY THE SHADCHAN?

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

DIVIDING THE FEE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOME INTERESTING SHADCHANUS STORIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Raiding the Pushka and Related Questions

In honor of Shabbos Shekalim, I present:

Raiding the Pushka and Related Questions

clip_image002Question #1: TREMENDOUSLY APPEALING!

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

Question #2: BORROWERS ANONYMOUS

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

Question #3: DIVERTING ACTIVITIES

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

Answer:

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

  1. NEDER – A VOW

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

TZEDAKAH PLEDGES

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

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

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

  1. BAL TE’ACHEIR Do not delay paying

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

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

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

THE APPEAL WAS SUCCESSFUL, BUT THE INSTITUTION DIED!

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

BORROWING FROM TZEDAKAH FUNDS

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

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

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

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

LIMITED LIABILITY

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

WHO OWNS THE MONEY IN THE PUSHKA?

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

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

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

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

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

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

Let us follow his analysis.

DIVERTING OR A DIVERSION

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

13TH CENTURY CHUTZPAH

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

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

LOCAL OR ISRAEL?

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

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

PUSHKA BORROWERS ANONYMOUS

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

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

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

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

HABITUAL BORROWERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Bankrupt Borrower

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

The Bankrupt Borrower

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

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

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

Responsibilities of a Borrower

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

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

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

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

Systematic Collection

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

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

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

Who Collects First?

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

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

Why did the halachah change?

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

Bad Talmudic Debts

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

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

Dina Demalchusa Dina

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

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

Din Melech

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

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

Democratic Taxes

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

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

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

Traffic and Safety Regulations

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

No Government Influence

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

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

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

Government Influence

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

What about Bankruptcy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

The Saga of the Expired Ticket

PART I: The Saga of the Expired Ticket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PART II: Who Appears Before the “Judge”?

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

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

WHAT IS A KABBALAS KINYAN?

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

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

HARSHA’AH – POWER OF ATTORNEY

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

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

I returned to the case at hand.

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

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

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

PART III: Are They Parties or Participants?

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

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

PART IV: Opening Arguments

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

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

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

PART V: In the Judge’s “Chambers”

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

WHO OWNED THE TICKET?

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

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

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

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

KINYAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUTIMTA

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Unfair Fare

It had already been a really tough day. Now, on top of that, Mrs. Gartenhaus (all names in this story have been changed) was very unhappy with the cab driver she had hailed. Aside from his discourteous behavior, she sensed a certain shadiness to his personality. She just couldn’t wait to get home and get out of his vehicle.

To complicate everything, on her way home Mrs. Gartenhaus realized that she had no more money in her wallet — and she also realized that Mr. Gartenhaus would not be home from his chavrusa for a while. She really did not want to disturb his learning just because she had forgotten to bring enough money for the cab home. But what was she to do?

She wondered whether one of the neighbors might be home, and whether she could remember their phone numbers. Sure enough, Mrs. Horowitz’s phone number popped into her head — if only she were home. Mrs. G. dialed the number on her cell phone, and Baruch Hashem, Mrs. Horowitz answered! Mrs. G. quickly explained her predicament, and Mrs. Horowitz answered, “No problem. I have a 100 shekel bill in my wallet. That will be more than enough for your fare.”

Mrs. G. breathed an audible sigh of relief. “The fare should actually not be more than 40 shekalim, so I don’t need to borrow that much,” she told Mrs. Horowitz.

“I happened to check my wallet this morning and noticed that I have only one single 100 shekel bill,” Mrs. H. replied. “But feel free to borrow it. I have to go to the bank later today, anyway, to withdraw some money. I’ll send my daughter Channie outside to meet your cab.”

Mrs. Horowitz asked 13-year-old Channie to fetch the bill from her wallet and meet Mrs. Gartenhaus’s cab. Mrs. G., who was very relieved to escape the sleazy driver’s vehicle, paid little attention to the bill that she transferred from Channie’s hand to the cabby’s outstretched paw. Before receiving her change, she gratefully began to exit the cab.

“One minute,” the driver shouted gruffly, brandishing a 20 shekel bill in his hand, “You owe me another 20 shekalim!”

Mrs. Gartenhaus was at a loss. She assumed that Channie had given her the 100 shekel note her mother promised, but maybe there was some mistake. In the meantime, Channie had returned home, the driver was hissing, and Mrs. G. just wanted to get home and climb into bed.

Noticing one of her neighbors on the curb, she embarrassingly called out the window, “Do you, perhaps, have 20 shekels I can borrow?” Having successfully borrowed the additional 20 shekels, she paid the cabbie, and struggled into her house. Meanwhile, she was trying to figure out what went wrong in her communication with her wonderful neighbor, Mrs. Horowitz. And, only later, did she realize that she should have taken down the cabby’s license number and the name of his company.

After resting a while, she called Mrs. Horowitz to ask her if she could send one of her children over in order to repay her loan. “By the way, how much money did you send with Channie?” She inquired.

“I sent 100 shekel,” came the swift reply. “Why? Was there some problem?”

Mrs. G. told Mrs. Horowitz what had happened. “I’ll check with Channie, but I am pretty certain that I had only one 100 shekel bill in my wallet.”

Channie confirmed that she had found only one 100 shekel bill in the wallet.

How much must Mrs. Gartenhaus pay back to Mrs. Horowitz?

Does Channie have any legal responsibilities in this case?

Mrs. Horowitz called Rav Cohen to ask how much Mrs. Gartenhaus owes her. Although it might seem like an open-and-shut case, the halacha is anything but obvious, as we will see.

Rav Cohen mulled over the case, thinking over the complicated halachic topics this event encompasses. Clearly, both women want to do what is correct. Is it clear that Mrs. Gartenhaus owes 100 shekalim?

Legally, in this case, the claimant, usually called the plaintiff, is Mrs. Horowitz. She is placing a claim that Mrs. Gartenhaus borrowed 100 shekalim that Channie delivered. Mrs. Gartenhaus’ response is that she does not know how much money she borrowed. It might seem that Mrs. G. has a very weak defense: After all, Mrs. Horowitz is making a definite claim that Mrs. Gartenhaus owes her 100 shekalim, while Mrs. Gartenhaus’ only response is that she did not pay attention.

Halachically, Mrs. Horowitz’s position is called a bari, a person with a definite claim. Mrs. Gartenhaus’ response that she is unaware how much she owes makes her a shema, a defendant stating that she is uncertain. This case is the subject of a Talmudic dispute. Here is one case where this question is discussed:

Reuven borrowed a cow from Shimon and also rented a different cow. One of the cows died in a way that would make Reuven liable if he had borrowed it, but he would not have to pay if it was rented. Unfortunately, Reuven does not remember which cow was borrowed and which was rented, but Shimon is certain that the dead cow is the one that was borrowed and that Reuven is obligated to pay. Must Reuven compensate Shimon for the dead cow?

The halacha is that bari ve’shema lav bari adif, the certain claim of the bari is insufficient on its own to win the case. This rule is true even in a case where the shema should have known for certain whether the claim against him is valid, as in the situation of the dead cow (Bava Metzia 97b). Therefore, Reuven does not have to pay for the dead cow.

Applying the principal to our case, it could be that Mrs. Horowitz would have to prove that she loaned 100 shekalim in order to require Mrs. Gartenhaus to pay the full amount. But this is true only when the claim is challenged.

Ah, but you’ll tell me, Mrs. Horowitz has a witness on her side which Shimon did not have. Channie can testify that the loan was indeed 100 shekalim!

By now, the yeshiva minds among us are racing with valid reasons why Channie’s testimony is insufficient to prove her mother’s case. Firstly, a single witness is not enough. Secondly, Channie is related to one of the interested parties. Furthermore, Channie herself is an interested party, nogei’ah be’eidus, in the litigation. If she denies that she received a 100 shekel bill from her mother, she exposes herself to a lawsuit from her mother claiming that she received money as an agent for which she cannot account. Although the likelihood of Mrs. Horowitz suing her own daughter for 100 shekalim is slim, it is still sufficient reason for Channie to be considered a nogei’ah be’eidus, making her testimony inadmissible.

Mrs. Horowitz has not yet exhausted her legal approaches. She may still stake a claim against Mrs. Gartenhaus, based on either of the following reasons:

1. Modeh bemiktzas. Mrs. Gartenhaus agrees that she borrowed money, but is challenging the amount of the loan. The Gemara calls this modeh bemiktzas, acknowledging part of a claim. The Torah requires someone who acknowledges part of a claim, and denies part, to swear an oath he does not owe the balance (Bava Metzia 3a et al.). If he does not want to swear, he must pay the balance of the claim.

2. Shevuas hesses. Based on Mrs. Horowitz’s definite claim that Mrs. Gartenhaus owes her 100 shekalim, Mrs. H. can insist that Mrs. G. swear an oath denying that she owes money. The Gemara calls this shevuas hesses, an oath to discourage defendants from denying claims that lack sufficient evidence (Shevuos 40b; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 87:1).

We will examine each of these legal arguments. In the first argument, modeh bemiktzas, Mrs. Horowitz is claiming 100 shekalim. Mrs. Gartenhaus acknowledges that she owes 20 shekalim, but is uncertain about the remaining 80 shekalim. Thus, to fulfill the Torah’s requirement to swear an oath, Mrs. Gartenhaus would have to swear that she definitely does not owe more than 20 shekalim, something she cannot do. What is the halacha in this situation?

The Gemara discusses this exact case: Reuven claimed that Shimon owed him 100 dinarim. Shimon responds, “I know that I owe you fifty, but I do not know about the other fifty.” Is Shimon obligated to swear on the remaining balance? And if so, what does he swear?

The Gemara rules that since Shimon cannot swear that he does not owe the balance, he is obligated to pay the full 100 dinarim (Bava Metzia 98a).

Thus, Mrs. Horowitz seems to have her case wrapped up. Mrs. Gartenhaus cannot swear that she definitely does not owe 80 shekalim. Consequently, she should be required to pay the full 100 shekalim.

Except for one detail: Has Mrs. Gartenhaus paid back the 20 shekalim? If she already paid back 20 shekalim, the case is halachically different. Now, Mrs. Horowitz is claiming 80 shekalim and Mrs. Gartenhaus is denying the entire claim. Thus, Mrs. G. is no longer modeh bemiktzas, someone who acknowledges part of the claim, but kofeir hakol, someone denying the entire claim. Although it may seem that there is not much difference between the two scenarios, halachically someone who acknowledges part of a claim must swear an oath min haTorah, whereas someone who denies the entire claim does not. The rationale for this distinction is beyond the scope of this article (Bava Metzia 3a).

This is where the other type of oath, shevuas hesses, comes into play. Since Mrs. Horowitz claims that Mrs. Gartenhaus definitely owes her 80 shekalim, she can insist that Mrs. G. swear an oath about the claim.

But one minute! Either way, there would be a technical responsibility to swear an oath. What is the difference whether Mrs. Gartenhaus is being asked to swear a oath because of modeh bemiktzas or as a shevuas hesses? Either way, there is an oath that she cannot swear!

However, there is a significant difference in halacha between the two oaths, which makes a big practical halachic difference in our case. If the oath is min hatorah, the fact that Mrs. G. cannot swear for certain to deny the claim works against her, as we explained above. However, if the oath is of the hesses variety, it is sufficient for Mrs. Gartenhaus to swear that she is unaware how much she owes (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 87:1). Thus, Mrs. Horowitz cannot insist that Mrs. Gartenhaus pay her the full sum. She must be satisfied with 20 shekalim and an oath from Mrs. Gartenhaus that she truthfully does not know how much she borrowed.

Rav Cohen reflected over the fact that batei din do not usually insist on oaths, but instead will suggest some form of compromise. Not that these two well-meaning ladies were about to pursue this matter in a beis din setting — they are two fine ladies who want to do what is halachically correct.

Then he realized that since Mrs. Gartenhaus should have checked how much money Channie gave her and she did not, that this factor is probably sufficient to make her obligated to pay.

The Rav asked Mrs. Horowitz to have Mrs. Gartenhaus give him a phone call.

The phone rings. Mrs. G. is on the phone. Rav Cohen asks her what happened, to see if the versions substantiate one another. They do. And it is also clear that Mrs. Gartenhaus wants to do what is correct.

Mrs. Gartenhaus paid the money in full, and as you can imagine, she never heard from the cabby again. Besides the halacha principles gleaned from her story, an added lesson is to check before handing over a bill, especially to an unscrupulous cab driver!

Is a Will the Halachic Way?

Would Yitzchak (and ultimately klal Yisroel) have been better off had he written up, in advance, a will, clearly determining how he wanted his spiritual and temporal properties to be divided?

Should one write a will?

May one distribute one’s estate differently from the way the Torah instructs?

SHOULD A JEW WRITE A WILL?

Before answering this question, we should clarify what would happen if one left no legally binding will. For example, who becomes the legal guardian of one’s minor children? The law may prescribe a very different solution than what one would want to happen, with potentially catastrophic results. After discovering this possibility, the need to have a will usually becomes obvious.

Another question to resolve is what happens to one’s property if one leaves no will. Each state and country has different laws determining who takes possession of the property of a person who dies without having left a will. One thing is virtually certain: The division followed by a court will not follow halacha. Probate court will almost certainly award part of or the entire estate to someone who is not halachically entitled to it. Since there is no reason to assume that the halachic heirs should want to forgo their rightful ownership, someone will receive property that is not rightfully his or hers.

SOME YERUSHA BASICS

In order to understand why the wrong person ends up with the property, we must first understand who should be the halachic heir. Many people are surprised to discover that halacha distributes inheritance very differently from modern legal procedure.

According to Torah Law, property is bequeathed as follows: Sons or heirs of sons inherit everything, even if there are daughters (Bava Basra 115a). (Yes, this means that a granddaughter who is the daughter of an already deceased son inherits Grandpa’s estate ahead of Grandpa’s own daughter, an anomaly that the Gemara itself notes [Bava Basra 115b].)

If there is more than one son, the father’s bechor, firstborn son, receives a double portion in much of his father’s properties, but not his mother’s. This means that if there are three sons, including the firstborn, the property is divided into four portions, and the firstborn receives two. (Who qualifies as a bechor for these laws, and in which properties he does or does not receive an extra portion, are topics to be dealt with a different time.) If there are no sons or heirs of sons, then the daughters inherit, and if there are no surviving daughters, then their heirs do (Bava Basra 115a). If the deceased left no surviving descendants, the father of the deceased is the beneficiary of the entire estate (Bava Basra 108b). If the father has already passed on, then the paternal brothers inherit; if there are no brothers, their progeny are next in line. If no brothers or offspring survive, then paternal sisters and their children are the heirs. If the deceased’s father has no surviving progeny, then the deceased’s paternal grandfather and his descendants become the beneficiaries, again following the same pattern.

HUSBAND INHERITING

There is one major exception to these rules of yerusha – a husband inherits most assets left by his deceased wife. (Again, I will leave the exceptions for a different time.) This is true even if she has children, and even if her children are from a previous marriage. There are many ramifications of this rule, which can be the subject of a full-length halachic/legal treatise, and certainly reflect a very different hashkafah, perspective, on fiscal decision making than what is politically correct in today’s world.

DAUGHTERS

Although daughters are not heirs when there are sons, minor daughters receive support from their father’s estate. In addition, the estate provides for the wedding and related expenses of all unmarried daughters. Beis Din estimates the amount of these gifts based on the father’s means and how much he provided, while still alive, for the older sisters’ weddings (Kesubos 68a; cf., however, Tosafos, Kesubos 50b).

A widow does not inherit from her husband; instead, her late husband’s assets provide for her, until she shows interest in remarriage. At that time, she may collect her kesubah.

PATRILINEAL RELATIVES

Note that all halachic heirs follow the father’s line and not the mother’s (Bava Basra 108a; Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 276:4). Thus, if an only child, whose father is also an only child, died, his heir will be a cousin on his paternal side, and not his closer relatives on his mother’s side.

Yankel (not his real name) once asked me the following shaylah: “My half-sister, who is my mother’s daughter, passed on, leaving all her property to her caretaker. The family members are contesting the will, and would like me to join their lawsuit. May I?”

I noted that there is no halachic point in his participating in this litigation, even if Beis Din authorized the suit. Even assuming that the will is indeed worthless, Yankel has no halachic claim to the money, since only relatives on the paternal side have halachic claim to the estate, and he is related on her mother’s side. Therefore, any properties he receives would actually belong to someone else. In this instance, bitachon must teach one that although civil law may consider the property to be yours, the ratzon Hashem is that to keep it is tantamount to stealing!

CHOOSING ONE’S HEIRS

According to civil law, a person may choose his heirs and thereby distribute his earthly wealth after he passes on. However, according to the Torah, a person cannot technically choose his heirs, nor distribute property after his demise. When a man dies, the Torah instructs who owns his assets according to the laws of yerusha presented previously.

If a person cannot create his own heir, does this mean that it is impossible to influence who eventually receives his assets? No, since there are several halachically acceptable methods of transferring property to someone who is not a halachic heir. Most of the methods take affect by creating some form of gift while the benefactor is still alive. Exactly how each method works, and the relative advantages and disadvantages of each approach, is a complex topic, beyond the range of this article. Certainly prior to finalizing a will drafted by an attorney, one should ask one’s rav whether there are any halachic concerns with the will’s goals, and what needs to be added (or changed) to validate it halachically. It is even better to speak to one’s rav before drafting the will for direction on some of the halachic issues involved.

Let us now examine the second question I raised above:

MAY ONE DISTRIBUTE ONE’S ESTATE DIFFERENTLY FROM WHAT THE TORAH INSTRUCTS?

Granted that one can change how one’s estate is to be divided, is it halachically correct to do so? Does the Torah require us to follow its yerusha laws, or are these merely default procedures if someone made no other provisions?

We can answer this question by analyzing the following incident:

Rav Papa was negotiating a shidduch for one of his sons (he had ten) with the daughter of Abba Soraah. When Rav Papa traveled to discuss the dowry Abba Soraah would provide, he was accompanied by Yehudah bar Mareimar, who declined to enter Abba Soraah’s house. Rav Papa invited Yehudah bar Mareimar to join him, but Yehudah bar Mareimar declined the invitation.

Rav Papa then asked Yehudah bar Mareimar, “Why do you not want to join me? Is it because you feel that my negotiating violates Shmuel’s ruling, ‘Do not be among those who transfer inheritance, even from a sinful son to a good one, since one never knows – perhaps the bad son will raise fine children?’” Following Shmuel’s ruling, one should certainly not transfer property to the daughter that rightfully belongs to the son. “However,” continued Rav Papa, “this is not a correct application of Shmuel’s rule, since there is another rabbinic ruling of Rabbi Yochanan quoting Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai that encourages people to provide substantial dowries for their daughters.”

Yehudah bar Mareimar responded, “Indeed Rabbi Yochanan ruled that we encourage men to provide their daughters with dowries — but we do not pressure them to do so” (Kesubos 52b- 53a).

We can derive several principles from this passage:

1. One should provide for one’s daughter in order to encourage her marriage, even when this reduces the amount available for inheritance.

2. One should not pressure someone to provide a substantive dowry for his daughter’s shidduch.

3. Although one can disinherit an heir, Chazal discourage this practice, even if the heir is an evil person, since he may have righteous children who should not be deprived of their just portion. One is certainly discouraged from transferring the inheritance to someone who is not a halachic heir at all.

The Shulchan Aruch codifies this last rule: “The Sages are displeased with someone who gives away his property to others and abandons his heirs, even if they do not treat him properly” (Choshen Mishpat 282:1; note comments of Sm’a, and Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #153).

The authorities dispute whether this prohibition applies only to the testator or includes even others who assist him in transferring the inheritance. According to the Chasam Sofer, a rav who teaches how to transfer inheritance violates this rabbinic prohibition! (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #153; cf. Shevet HaLevi 4:116, who quotes authorities who disagree.)

 

SHTAR CHATZI ZACHOR

An old custom, dating back hundreds of years, was to draft a shtar chatzi zachor, which provided daughters with half of what their brothers inherit. (The words shtar chatzi zachor mean a document providing half that of a male child.) Several early authorities approve this practice, even though it transfers property from the male heirs, because providing for one’s daughters enhances their chance of finding suitable shidduchin (Shu’t Maharam Mintz #47, quoted by Nachalas Shivah 21:4:2). Although Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, quoted in the above Gemara, encouraged providing only a dowry for one’s daughter and made no mention of inheritance, these poskim contend that knowing that she will eventually inherit also entices a potential groom. (However, note that Shu’t Maharam Rottenberg #998 disagrees with this approach, implying that he would object to the practice of shtar chatzi zachor.)

CONTEMPORARY PRACTICE

It is now common for wills to provide equally for all children, both sons and daughters, and to ignore the bechor’s double portion. Contemporary poskim suggest that one should follow whatever practice is necessary to avoid a machlokes caused by unrealized expectations, and advise asking a rav for direction (Gesher HaChayim, 1:8; MiDor LeDor pg. 36). Many authorities recommend that one set aside a small amount of property to be divided according to the laws of yerusha (based on Tashbeitz end of 3:147, quoted by Ketzos HaChoshen 282:2).

The Gesher HaChayim records a story of a talmid chacham who wanted his estate divided exactly as the Torah instructs, legally arranging that his bechor should receive a double portion and that only his sons, and not his daughters, receive inheritance. Unfortunately, the result of this distribution was a legacy of machlokes that created a tremendous chillul Hashem. For this reason, the Gesher HaChayim recommends that a person divide his estate among his children in a way that maintains shalom.

ABANDONING HEIRS

Other than the two reasons mentioned above, (1) encouraging daughters’ shidduchin (2) maintaining harmonious relationship among family members, halacha frowns strongly on disinheriting the rightful heirs in favor of those who are not, and disapproves of providing more for one heir at the expense of another (Rashbam, Bava Basra 133b). In order to explain this better, let us examine the following case:

Mr. Rubinstein, who has no children, would like to divide his estate equally among all his nephews and nieces. However, only some of his nephews are his halachic heirs, those who are sons of his brothers. The nephews who are sons of his sisters are not halachic heirs, nor are any of his nieces. If Mr. Rubinstein divides all his property among all his nephews and nieces evenly, he has violated Chazal’s concept of not transferring inheritance, since he has given away his halachic heirs’ portion to those who are not his heirs.

Note that in this case, the two reasons that permit transferring inheritance do not apply. Mr. Rubinstein is not obligated to provide for his nieces’ marriages nor is it likely that limiting his will to his halachic heirs will create a family dispute.

May Mr. Rubinstein give most of his estate to his nieces and sisters’ sons, as long as he bequeaths some according to the laws of yerusha? The halachic authorities debate this question, some maintaining that one may give a large part of one’s estate to those who are not halachic heirs, provided that each heir receives some inheritance. According to this opinion, Mr. Rubinstein may dispose of his property any way he chooses, provided he leaves part of the estate according to the laws of yerusha.

Other authorities prohibit any action that deprives the halachic heirs of their rightful portion (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #151). Furthermore, it should be noted that the prohibition against transferring inheritance applies even when the heirs are not his sons (see Shu’t Chasam Sofer Choshen Mishpat #151; Aruch HaShulchan, Choshen Mishpat 282:3; Shu’t Shevet HaLevi 4:116).

TZEDAKAH

Is it considered abandoning one’s heirs if one bequeaths sizable amounts of one’s estate to tzedakah?

Some authorities contend that it is not, and one may leave even one’s entire fortune to tzedakah. The reason for this approach is very interesting.

A person has no obligation to acquire assets in order to fulfill the mitzvah of yerusha. Furthermore, one has the right to use up all one’s financial resources, while alive, in any way one chooses and leave nothing to his heirs. After all, as owner of the property he is free to do with it as he sees fit.

Donating tzedakah, reasons the Chasam Sofer, is using money for oneself, since all the merits accrue to the donor. Just as one may use his resources for himself however one chooses, so may one donate all the resources that he will no longer need to tzedakah, without violating the prohibition of transferring inheritance. The Chasam Sofer reasons that this is equivalent to the testator keeping the property for himself, since he receives all the reward for the tzedakah he gives (Shu’t Chasam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat #151). (From this perspective, you can take it with you!!)

However, although some earlier authorities (Rama, Yoreh Deah 249:1) concur with the Chasam Sofer’s conclusions, others contend that one should limit his tzedakah bequests to one third or one half of one’s assets (Rabbi Akiva Eiger ad loc., quoting Sheiltos; Chachmas Odom 144:12). Still others feel that one should not give substantial amounts of tzedakah at the expense of the heirs, unless the heirs are acting inappropriately (Shu’t Maharam Rottenberg #998).

CONCLUSION

It is important to realize that one’s legal rights and responsibilities are not governed by secular law. A Torah Jew understands that Hashem’s Torah is all-encompassing, and that it directs every aspect of one’s life. Thus, one should discuss with one’s rav all aspects of the important shaylah — how to draw one’s will.

Get Rid of the Stuff!

or

The Vanishing Importer and Other Tales

Dovid calls me with following shaylah:
”Several years ago, Yonasan asked permission to store some items in my basement for a few months. The items are still in my basement, and I have no idea where Yonasan now lives. I have tried to contact him without any success. How do I get rid of his stuff? I need the space for other things.”

People have often asked me this or similar questions, where someone ends up with someone else’s unwanted property on their premises. The issue is that two people’s rights are in conflict with one another. On the one hand, Dovid has a right to regain the use of his basement; yet, on the other hand, we cannot ignore Yonasan’s ownership rights.

We will see that although the halachos in these cases are complicated, we will be able to understand some of the rules involved.

In order to answer Dovid’s shaylah, we need to determine several halachic factors:

1. Was Dovid originally responsible for taking care of Yonasan’s items?

2. Assuming he was once responsible, is he still responsible?

3. If we assume that he is no longer responsible, or was never responsible, may he remove the items from his premises? What may he do with them if he removes them?

The Tanna’im (Bava Kamma 47) dispute whether or not granting someone permission to place belongings on my premises makes me automatically a shomer chinam, an unpaid watchman. The Sages contend that when I tell someone that he can place his items in my yard, the unstated assumption is that I am accepting responsibility for the items. If the item is subsequently lost or stolen through the homeowner’s negligence, he must pay for it, even though he was not paid to guard the item. Rebbe disagrees, contending that permitting someone to place items on my property is not equivalent to accepting responsibility for them.

Most halachic authorities conclude that if one offered to store items in his house, he has assumed some level of responsibility, but if he offered to store them in his yard, he has not assumed responsibility (Shach, Choshen Mishpat 291:8; cf., however Machanei Efrayim, Shomrim #4, who rules that he is not responsible in the house either). Thus, when Yonasan placed his items in Dovid’s basement, Dovid became a shomer chinam on those items, and is obligated to pay if he is negligent in taking care of them. As a result, if Dovid left the house unlocked one day and someone entered and stole Yonasan’s property, Dovid would be obligated to compensate Yonasan. By the way, Dovid could avoid this responsibility by simply telling Yonasan that although he may place items in Dovid’s house, Dovid is assuming no responsibility and is not a shomer.

HOW LONG DOES DOVID REMAIN RESPONSIBLE?

In our case, Yonasan asked permission to store his items in Dovid’s house “for a few months.” Assuming that Dovid really believed that Yonasan would remove his items at that time, he is no longer a shomer when the time is over and is no longer responsible for negligent damages (Machanei Efrayim, Shomrim #19). However, this does not mean that Dovid can now remove Yonasan’s items and place them on the street, because that would be considered as damaging Yonasan’s property, which is prohibited.

Let us compare this case to a fascinating anecdote of the Gemara:

THE CASE OF THE HAPLESS LADY

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 101b) relates the following episode. A businessman, whom we will call Mr. Wine, purchased a shipload of kosher wine and could not find a place to store it. When he asked a local woman, Ms. Storage, if he could rent warehouse space, she was initially unwilling to rent him the space, and only agreed after he consented to marry her. After this “marriage of convenience,” Mr. Wine promptly divorced Ms. Storage. She retaliated by selling some of the wine and using the proceeds to hire porters to move the wine into the street. When Mr. Wine summoned Ms. Storage to a din Torah for selling his wine to pay for the portage, Rav Huna, the son of Rav Yehoshua, ruled that since he tricked her into storing his goods, he had no monetary claim against her, and that she indeed had the legal right to remove the wine from her premises at his expense. As we will see, it is unclear whether she could remove the wine from her premises if this would cause the wine to be stolen or damaged.

In the above situation, because Mr. Wine discovered immediately what she had done, he suffered no further loss. Would Ms. Storage have been liable to pay if the wine was stolen before Mr. Wine discovered that it was in the street?

The Rosh rules that although Ms. Storage may remove the wine from her premises, she is liable for any loss that occurs until she notifies Mr. Wine that she has removed the wine. Therefore, the Rama rules that she must notify Mr. Wine before removing his wine from her premises.

Obviously, this ruling places Ms. Storage in an unenviable position if Mr. Wine leaves town and cannot be contacted. Although he tricked her into storing her goods, she cannot remove his items and place them where they may be damaged.

Not all authorities agree with the Rosh’s opinion. The Taz (Choshen Mishpat 319) contends that if someone stored property on your premises without your permission and it is in a place that you need, you may remove his property without being concerned about the loss he suffers as a result. (This is based on his understanding of the Rambam; note that some other poskim interpret the Rambam differently.) According to the Taz’s approach, Ms. Storage could have placed the wine in the street without notifying Mr. Wine, without any financial responsibility or risk. The line of reasoning behind the Taz’s approach is interesting.

The Gemara (Bava Kamma 27b) rules that “avid inish dina linafshei,” a person has the right to protect his own property. Thus if a person or his animal is damaging my property, I may use necessary force to remove him or his animal from my property.

Similarly, the Taz contends that one may remove items placed in my property if I do not want them there. However, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat 2:56) appears to disagree with the Taz, contending that one does not have the right to remove someone else’s property and place it in the street. Rav Moshe’s responsum is in the context of a different, interesting case.

THE CASE OF THE VANISHING IMPORTER

A distributor asked Rav Moshe the following shaylah: “An importer/supplier asked me to store some merchandise for a couple of months and I agreed; but I neglected to get his address and phone number. A year later, the importer returned, very apologetically explaining that he was delayed and thought he would return sooner. In the middle of the conversation, the importer said, ‘I must take care of something. I’ll be back in a few minutes.’ He disappeared once again and has not returned since. It is now months later and I need to make room for my own merchandise. What can I do with his property?”

Rav Moshe compares the distributor’s predicament to the Case of the Hapless Lady. He contends that even in that case, one may not remove the wine to a place where it could be stolen unless one first notifies the owner. He further concludes that if Ms. Storage cannot locate Mr. Wine, she may not move his wine to the street. However, Rav Moshe rules that she could move his wine to an alternative warehouse and sell some of the wine to pay the portage and rent. Similarly, Rav Moshe rules that in the Case of the Vanishing Importer, the distributor may sell some of the importer’s goods to pay the moving costs and rent a different warehouse.

The Pischei Choshen (Hilchos Pikadon:7:ftn6) disagrees with Rav Moshe, contending that instead of selling some of the merchandise to rent storage space, one should sell all of the merchandise and hold the money for the importer’s return. (Certain other details must be followed in carrying out this sale.) Both approaches assume that one may not sell the importer’s merchandise if the distributor has available storage space, but dispute which approach is better if the distributor has no available space. Even though the importer took unfair advantage, the distributor may not treat the importer’s possessions with disregard.

Rav Moshe’s dispute with the Pischei Choshen what to do with the importer’s goods hinges on which of the following two rulings applies in our case. In the Case of the Hapless Lady that we mentioned above, the Rambam rules that although Ms. Storage need not notify Mr. Wine, it is commendable (midas chasidus) for her to inform Beis Din that she will be removing his wine from her premises. The Beis Din then proceeds to sell some of the wine and thereby pay for the portage and storage. Rav Moshe explains that Ms. Storage may do this herself if she wants, but that if she does not want to bother, all she is required to do is to notify Beis Din that she will be removing the wine from her premises. If Mr. Wine cannot be located, either Beis Din or Ms. Storage may remove his wine to a secure warehouse, paying for the portage and storage from the merchandise.

The Pischei Choshen contends that one sells the merchandise to pay rent only when its owner knew he would be paying rent until he returns — therefore he has no major unexpected loss from using an alternative warehouse. However, this is qualitatively different from the Vanishing Importer who may not have realized that he would be paying rent. The Pischei Choshen therefore compares the Case of the Vanishing Importer to a different Talmudic discussion where a shomer is responsible for produce whose owner is unaware that it has begun to spoil. In this case, since the owner will suffer from an unexpected major loss, the shomer sells the items under the supervision of a Beis Din to try salvaging whatever he can, and then the shomer holds the money for the owner until his return (Bava Metzia 38a). (The halacha is that the shomer may borrow the money, obviously interest free, until the owner returns [Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 292:19].)

The Pischei Choshen contends that since the distributor is not obligated to store the importer’s items at a loss, and there is no place to store them for free, we are left with two possible courses of action, one of which we will eliminate:

1. Rent a storage facility paid for by gradually selling the merchandise. This will eventually erode the remaining value.

2. Sell the merchandise, thus recouping some value for the importer.

Since we cannot contact the importer, or know when he will return, the Pischei Choshen elects the second option as the correct halachic approach.

In Dovid’s original case, Yonasan had asked him to store his items for a few months, a timetable that passed several years ago. Thus, one can compare his predicament to the case of the Vanishing Importer, which would allow Dovid to follow one of the suggested procedures to save Yonasan from a loss: either to sell some of the property and thereby rent storage space (Rav Moshe’s approach), or to sell it all and hold the money (Pischei Choshen’s approach).

However, this is true only if the loss Yonasan would suffer is because Dovid must have the space available for some other purpose. If Dovid is simply annoyed by the cluttered basement, he has no halachic basis with which to remove Yonasan’s property.

Another complication usually occurs in these situations: If Dovid did not specify the length of time he is lending use of his premises, he is presumably still the shomer of Yonasan’s property and is still liable for any negligence, and certainly would be liable if he damaged the property. This is qualitatively different from the Case of Hapless Lady and the Case of the Vanishing Importer, where the homeowner is not a shomer.

The Pischei Choshen (Hilchos Pikadon:7:ftn5) asks whether in a case like this Dovid is required to be a shomer forever.

I attempted to find a source that would relieve Dovid of his responsibilities in this very common case. I have thus far been unsuccessful. The closest parallel I have found is the following case:

Yehudah agreed to be a shomer on someone’s property; now he wants to leave town and cannot take the item with him. What does he do? The Rambam (Hilchos She’eilah 7:12) rules that agreeing to watch an item does not make you a prisoner in your home; you have a right to leave. What does Yehudah do? He brings the item to Beis Din which then assigns it to the care of a reputable person.

However, this ruling is applicable only if the shomer wants to leave town and can no longer supervise the item. I have found no other halachic source that discusses how one can terminate one’s shmirah of an item when the shomer remains in town, and the owner is unaware that one wants to terminate responsibility.

THE CASE OF THE CARRY-ON LUGGAGE

This leads us to the following shaylah. What is the halacha in the following situation? At the airport gate, you agree to watch someone’s carry-on bag so he can use the comfort facilities. Forty-five minutes later, your plane is boarding, and the bag owner has not reappeared. Must I miss my flight because I agreed to watch his bag? What do I do with the bag?

In this carry-on case, I think one can assume that when someone asks me to watch an item at an airport gate, he knows that I can watch the item for only a brief period of time. If one needs to leave and the bag owner has not returned, I would recommend alerting airport personnel and letting them decide what to do, and at the same time leaving a note where you were sitting. Abandoning the bag will probably cause it to be stolen or impounded and destroyed by airport security, and I suspect that airport Lost and Found is also not a good alternative.

By now, I think we have become convinced of the necessity for clarifying our responsibilities in advance when someone asks us to watch their item or leave something at our house. Of course, realizing the complications that may result should not cause us to reconsider doing chesed for people; simply, we should be certain to do it in such a way that we do not create unnecessary entanglements.

Can You Be Paid for What You Did Not Do?

In honor of Yaakov Avinu’s contractual dealings with his father-in-law, I present:

Can you be paid for what you did not do?

From the halachic literature:

Case #I: The Scheming Seamstress

Rivka hired a seamstress, Mrs. Chait, to sew a custom-made gown for her daughter’s wedding. Then, Mrs. Chait realized that she had too many orders and asked a second seamstress, Mrs. Snyder, to make the gown. Although Mrs. Snyder requested a lower fee, Mrs. Chait charged Rivka her higher price, intending to pay Mrs. Snyder the lower wage and keep the difference. Rivka feels she should not pay Mrs. Chait anything, since Mrs. Chait did no work, and that she (Rivka) only needs to pay what Mrs. Snyder charged. Mrs. Snyder would like to receive the full wage Rivka was planning to pay Mrs. Chait. What is the halacha?

Case #II: The Congregations and the Cantors

Congregation Ohavei Kol engaged the renowned Chazzan Shatz to daven Musaf for Yomim Norayim. Subsequently, Congregation Shachein Tov hired him to daven Shacharis at their shul. The chazzan contended that davening Shacharis at Shachein Tov would not have a negative effect on his Musaf at Ohavei Kol. However, after Rosh HaShanah, Ohavei Kol contended that the Chazzan’s Musaf was less melodious than they were expecting, since he was tired from Shacharis, and that he must decline the Shacharis job for Yom Kippur. Chazzan Shatz agreed, in order to not jeopardize his wages from the better-paying Musaf job. However, Shachein Tov was dissatisfied with the last- minute substitute they arranged for Shacharis in their shul on Yom Kippur.

After the High Holidays, the two congregations and the two cantors began some unholy negotiations. Chazzan Shatz contended that both congregations should pay him the agreed amounts, less what the substitute bal Shacharis received. Congregation Ohavei Kol deducted substantially from the chazan’s pay, claiming that they received an inferior Rosh HaShanah Musaf than what they had originally negotiated. Shachein Tov claimed that they should not pay the chazzan anything since he did not fulfill his contract with them, and furthermore, his backing out caused them to have an unsatisfactory Yom Kippur davening. How would you rule if you were the dayan?

Case #III: Is the Gelt Glatt?

The Rav HaMachshir of Glatt Kosher Inc. contacted one of his regular mashgichim, Rabbi Gold, to oversee a special production. With Glatt’s knowledge, Rabbi Gold hired a substitute, Monish Key, to oversee the production. Rabbi Gold subsequently charged Glatt his standard fee, and then paid Mon Key peanuts. Glatt claims that this was not glatt and that Rabbi Gold is not entitled to any more than what Monish received.

ANSWER

All three of these actual cases entail the issue of whether one person can collect wages for work performed by another. As we will see, the exact rules governing these halachos are very subtle and sometimes disputed, and a small variation in circumstances can change the halacha. But first we need to analyze the Gemara involved.

THE CONTRACTOR

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 76a) discusses the following circumstance: A businessman instructed his supervisor to hire day laborers at the rate of three dinarim a day. The supervisor subsequently discovered that the market rate for laborers was more than three dinarim, but he was unable to contact the owner for approval to pay more. The supervisor therefore promised the laborers that he personally guaranteed that they would receive four dinarim. The Gemara concludes that since the supervisor guaranteed the laborers’ wages, he must pay them four dinarim; he then collects from the owner “as much as the owner benefited,” an ambiguous term which then becomes subject of a dispute among the Rishonim. Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 332:1) concludes that it means whatever the owner was willing to pay; in his opinion the owner compensates the supervisor only three dinarim per worker, and the supervisor absorbs the difference. However, most poskim rule that “as much as the owner benefited” means the market rate for laborers, since this is what the owner would have been forced to pay, had he hired the workers himself.

The question, now, is what happens if the market rate for laborers is five dinarim per day, and the supervisor convinced them to work for only four? Does the supervisor receive five dinarim per day per laborer, since this is what the owner benefited, or does he receive only four, which was his actual out-of-pocket cost? The Rama concludes that the supervisor receives only what he paid, and no more. Although the owner technically benefited five because of the supervisor’s adept negotiating, the supervisor cannot claim greater compensation than his actual cost (Tur ad loc. quoting Ramah). Thus we see that although the owner should be obligated to pay the supervisor according to the usual value of market labor, which is five, he is not required to pay more than the supervisor actually spent. Thus, the supervisor cannot make a profit by marking up labor for work he did not perform.

At this point, we can now follow the footsteps of the poskim and analyze our first case. Remember our seamstress? Mrs. Chait, the first seamstress, passed work on to Mrs. Snyder, who charged less than Mrs. Chait’s original quote. Mrs. Chait felt that she was entitled to the difference. The client wants to pay the lower fee. Mrs. Snyder, who now discovers that the client was prepared to pay more for the gown, would like to collect the higher fee. Would you like to be the dayan and tell us what to do?

Over hundred years ago, the great Hungarian gadol and posek Rav Meir Arik zt’l discussed this exact case. Rav Arik reasoned that just as the owner reimburses the supervisor only as much as the laborers received, similarly Rivka pays the second seamstress her price and the first seamstress receives no compensation for making the arrangements (Minchas Pitim, Choshen Mishpat Chapter 332, quoted by Pischei Choshen, Sechirus 8:29).

I later discovered that Rav Arik’s ruling is based on an earlier responsum authored by the Mabit (Shu’t Mabit 3:23), who was a Rav in Yerushalayim in the Sixteenth Century. However, there are some significant differences in the Mabit’s original case:

Reuven supplied Shimon with material to weave a garment. Unbeknown to Reuven, Shimon contracted Levi to weave the garment for a lower price and sent Levi the material. Reuven subsequently claims that more material was used than should have been, and he has concerns about Levi’s honesty. He also wants to pay Levi’s lower fee and not Shimon’s higher one. In this case, Shimon violated the trust agreement because Reuven never allowed Shimon to entrust the material to anyone else. This is a halachic violation of the laws of shomrim for which Shimon is liable — if I am entrusted with someone’s property, I may not give the item to someone else to watch in my place. Therefore, Shimon is liable for any losses and damages that might ensue, should the material be lost or stolen. The Mabit also rules that in addition to Shimon’s liability for breach of trust, Reuven is required to pay only the lower wage, since the higher wage is contingent on Shimon performing the work. Reuven is not required to pay the same price to someone else, nor to Shimon, if someone else performed the work. The first tailor is not entitled to any payment for someone else’s labor, as we see from the previously quoted Gemara.

CONTRACTING OUT WORK

In our original case, could Mrs. Chait have simply contracted out the work, and presented it to Rivka without telling her who made it, or how much it cost?

I believe that if Rivka had not supplied the material, then Mrs. Chait could have subcontracted the work, provided she assumes responsibility for the finished product. When I order a garment, my concern is to receive what I ordered and it makes no difference to me who actually produced the garment. Thus, Mrs. Chait could have subcontracted the garment to Mrs. Snyder, and maintained control of her dealing with Rivka. Of course, if she had done this, she would also have been responsible for the finished garment, and would have been responsible for adjustments and alterations to the gown.

A BUILDING CONTRACTOR

Let me explain the difference between subcontracting and Rav Arik’s case with the following common example. When you hire a contractor to perform major renovation work, he usually subcontracts much of the work to other artisans, such as electricians or plumbers. Does your contractor charge you the same price that his subcontractors charge him? Of course not; he marks up the price. How can he mark up his charges when we just said that the supervisor of the Gemara is not entitled to charge extra for the costs of the laborers?

The difference is whether the contractor is still responsible for the work of the subcontractor. In the Gemara’s case, the supervisor is not responsible to repair inferior work performed by the laborers. Similarly, I believe that in Rav Arik’s case, once the second seamstress took over the job, the first seamstress was no longer involved. If the client is unhappy with the job, she will ask Mrs. Snyder to fix it, but has no recourse against Mrs. Chait.

However, if the customer is dissatisfied with the work of a subcontractor, who is responsible to make sure that it is repaired? The contractor. Therefore, the contractor may charge for his involvement and responsibility and mark up the subcontractor’s charges. In essence, the subcontractor is not working for you: he is working for the contractor. In the case of the Gemara, although the supervisor guaranteed the wages, the laborers were working for the business owner, not for the supervisor.

Therefore, if Mrs. Chait is still responsible for the quality of the finished product, she may charge for that part of the responsibility. She may assume total responsibility for the finished product and merely use Mrs. Snyder as her subcontractor. Clearly Rav Arik was not discussing such a case.

A FINDER’S FEE

Could the first seamstress have requested a finder’s fee?

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 63b) mentions the responsibility to pay a broker’s fee to the person who arranges the sale of property or merchandise (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 185:1; Rama 87:39). This is a standard business practice, similar to paying a commission to a stockbroker, real estate agent, or personnel recruiter (sometimes called a “headhunter”). As a matter of fact, this is also the halachic source for paying shadchanus gelt; one pays a shadchan for making the arrangements necessary for the engagement and marriage to transpire. If this is true, why could the first seamstress not have requested a shadchanus fee for arranging that the second seamstress make the gown for the client? In this instance, Mrs. Chait should be entitled to a finder’s fee for referring the business to Mrs. Snyder, yet Rav Arik does not mention this fact. Why not?

I do not know why he does not discuss this possibility, but I would suggest the following: Shadchanus gelt and finder’s fees are chargeable only when they are standard practice. If a certain type of transaction does not usually involve a finder’s fee, one cannot charge it. For this reason, one cannot charge a finder’s fee for referring a visitor to a neighborhood grocery store: although purchasing groceries is a transaction, one does not usually charge for the service of informing a person where to buy a bottle of milk. Similarly, it is not standard practice to charge for referring a person to a tailor or seamstress for the production of a single garment; therefore, it does not warrant a finder’s fee.

THE CONGREGATIONS AND THE CANTORS

We can now examine the legal issues involved in the din Torah mentioned above, where the chazzan booked two different shullen for Yomim Norayim, one for Shacharis and the other for Musaf, and incurred the wrath of both congregations. An actual din Torah ensued in 1896 in Brayulav, Moldavia under very similar circumstances. The shaylah was more interesting because the chazzan involved was the community shocheit, and some members of his community wanted to disqualify him as a shocheit due to the moral turpitude displayed by not keeping his word. (Can you imagine what they would think about our contemporary politicians?) The shocheitchazzan contended that both congregations should pay him as agreed, minus the expense of hiring the additional bal Shacharis for Yom Kippur. Congregation Shachein Tov felt that since he had left them without a chazzan of choice for Yom Kippur, they owed him nothing. The local rav, Rav Shelomoh Mehr, who was asked to rule on the case, referred it to the posek hador, the Maharsham of Brezin, Galicia, for final judgment.

Does Shachein Tov’s claim that the shocheitchazzan is entitled to no financial compensation have validity? The shul claims that the shocheitchazzan’s breach of contract caused them irreparable damage. Both Rav Shelomoh Mehr and the Maharsham concur that the shul did not suffer irreparable damage by the substitution of a mediocre chazzan. Thus, the agreed amount should be prorated based on a calculation as to how much of the fee was for Rosh HaShanah and how much for Yom Kippur, and the chazzan receives compensation appropriate for the Rosh HaShanah davening. Since the substitute chazzan received less for Yom Kippur than the shocheitchazzan would have earned, the shul saved some money as a result. On the other hand, the chazzan’s claim that the shul should simply subtract the substitute’s wage from his fee is inappropriate. Since this would result in his receiving more than the prorated amount for Rosh HaShanah, it would in essence pay the chazzan some compensation for the Yom Kippur davening that he did not perform. Therefore, the difference between what the first chazzan was supposed to receive and what the second chazzan actually did receive reverts back to the shul.

Regarding whether the chazzanshocheit is disqualified in the future as a shocheit for exhibiting moral turpitude, the Maharsham ruled him qualified to continue in his profession as shocheit. Maharsham agreed, in principle, that someone who breaks his word in financial matters has seriously compromised his integrity and is considered mechusar amanah which halachically makes him a rosho, an evil person. The Maharsham implies that this offence is serious enough to warrant dismissal of a shocheit.

However in this case, the shocheit was not mechusar amanah in failing to abide by his agreement, but rather, he overextended himself in a way that he thought he could honor both commitments. Indeed, even if we assume that he could not honor his commitments, his violation was one of negligence, not intent. The chazzanshocheit truly believed that his double commitments were not in conflict with one another, and that he could accomplish both. Furthermore, had he realized that Congregation Ohavei Kol would fire him for davening Shacharis at Shachein Tov, he would never have agreed to daven at Shachein Tov. Therefore, he is considered someone who placed himself negligently in a circumstance where he was forced to forgo one of his agreements. This constitutes sloppy or careless behavior in business dealings, which, although reprehensible, demonstrates bad judgment, not moral turpitude. Bad judgment about one’s financial matters does not disqualify a shocheit or anyone else for that matter.

The Maharsham does not discuss directly how much Congregation Ohavei Kol must pay the chazzan. He implies that Rav Mehr had ruled that they must pay the chazzan in full, and that neither rav accepted the shul’s claim that he had underperformed in his vocal commitments to them, since he had indeed davened all the tefillos contracted.

THE CASE OF THE GLATT GELT

We can now examine the last of the three original shaylos, that of the Glatt Gelt.

The Rav HaMachshir of Glatt Kosher Inc. had hired Rabbi Gold to be his mashgiach, and knew that Rabbi Gold was making a substitution. If Glatt is dealing directly only with the substitute, then this case is parallel to the Gemara’s case of the supervisor and Rav Arik’s case of the seamstress; thus, Rabbi Gold would receive no additional compensation, unless this entitles him to a finder’s fee. However, if Rabbi Gold is still responsible to make sure that someone oversees the production, or he is responsible to train the mashgiach, then he is entitled to compensation for this work. If he chooses to charge Glatt and in turn pay Monish Key, he could argue that Mr. Key is really his employee and not Glatt’s. For example, if the substitute will contact Rabbi Gold if he has a problem, or if some other complication would still involve Rabbi Gold’s responsibility, then Rabbi Gold can claim that he is still in the hire of Glatt Foods, and Mr. Key is his subcontractor. Similarly, if Rabbi Gold is training or instructing Mr. Key for the job, then he may charge for this service.

However, this is permitted only if Glatt Kosher Inc. agrees to allow Rabbi Gold to arrange his own substitute. Otherwise, Glatt Kosher Inc., would assume that Rabbi Gold, their crackerjack field supervisor, is doing all the work himself. It is unacceptable and a serious breach of faith on the part of the field supervisor if he is not the one providing the service for which he is charging and instead arranging a substitute unbeknownst to the hechsher. This is indeed similar to the Mabit’s ruling, cited earlier, that it is deceptive to substitute an artisan without the knowledge of the customer. Although the cases are not 100% parallel, it is certainly true that in kashrus supervision the religiosity, practical expertise, and halachic knowledge of the field supervisor are major factors influencing the quality of work performed. Therefore, the supervisor has no right to arrange substitution without the foreknowledge of the hechsher.

A Torah Jew observes his contractual commitments with trust and faith. He certainly realizes that Hashem’s Torah is all-encompassing and directs every aspect of his life, certainly the details of his livelihood and his financial dealings.

*all names have been changed

When There Is a Will, the Relatives May Complain

Yonasan, who was originally adopted by non-observant parents, called me with the following shaylah:

“My parents, meaning the couple who adopted me, eventually divorced, and later my father remarried, although there was a halachic problem with his second marriage. My adoptive father was a kohen, and his second wife, Martha, was a divorcee. Recently, my father passed away. My father’s final will, which was drafted when he was ill and very dependent on Martha, was completely different from his previous will, and left virtually all his property to her. Uncle Jack, my adoptive father’s brother, is very upset about the will, believing that this was certainly not my father’s intention, and that it can be overturned in court. This would make me the legal heir to my father’s estate, although halachically, I am not his son. Uncle Jack wants to file a lawsuit over the matter; however, he has no legal recourse to do so, since the civil law does not consider him my father’s heir. May I file a lawsuit to overturn the will?”

This shaylah is indeed as complicated halachically as it sounds, and actually involves three different areas of halacha:

I. Who is the heir?

II. What is the halachic status of a will?

III. May one file the lawsuit in secular court?

In addition, there is a fourth halachic issue that must be addressed, a question of yibum, which I will discuss later.

I will explain each area of halacha mentioned above in order to explain the procedure that I suggested that Yonasan follow.

I. Who is the heir?

Although civil law considers Yonasan the child of his adoptive parents for all matters, including his being their legal heir, the adoption did not make him their biological son. Indeed, the Gemara states that someone who raises a child is considered as if he had given birth to him;[1] however, the adopted child does not inherit, unless he receives the property as some form of gift, as I will explain.

Thus, although Yonasan is his father’s legal heir (from a civil law perspective, if we ignore the will), halacha does not consider him an heir automatically, unless his father gave him the property in a halachically correct will. Since the existing will made other accommodations, Yonasan receives nothing from his father’s estate halachically, neither as an automatic heir nor as the receiver of gifts through his father’s will. Thus, Yonasan cannot make a financial claim against his stepmother for his father’s estate, since it does not belong to him. If the will is valid, then the property belongs to Martha, his stepmother. If the will is invalid, the property belongs to Uncle Jack.

Why Uncle Jack?

If a man dies without biological children and makes no halachic provisions for his estate, then his closest heir is his father, who, in this case, is already deceased. The next closest relative is any surviving brother. In this case, there is one biological brother of the deceased, Uncle Jack. Thus, he is the halachic heir of Yonasan’s father, and if indeed the will is halachically invalid, the property halachically belongs to him, although he may not be able to take possession of it according to civil law.

Halachically, a woman does not inherit from her husband as next of kin. Instead, the Torah gives her the rights of the kesubah, provides that she may live in her late husband’s house and guarantees her income and support from his property. Martha is entitled to these financial rights if she was halachically married to Yonasan’s father, even if the marriage fell into the category of a halachically prohibited marriage. (One method whereby Martha and Yonasan’s father could have been halachically married in a prohibited marriage would be if they had deceived an Orthodox rabbi, dishonestly getting his agreement to perform their ceremony. There are others.) Thus, if Martha proves that she was halachically married to Yonasan’s father, she will be entitled to this support, even though she was a divorcee and he was a kohen.[2]

II. Is the will valid?

According to civil law, a person has the right to choose his heirs and thereby to choose to whom he distributes his earthly wealth after passing on. However, according to the Torah, a person does not have the ability to choose his heirs, nor can he arrange to give away property after death. When a man dies, the Torah instructs us how to distribute his assets, through the laws of yerusha.

How can someone leave his property to his adopted child?

There are methods whereby one can transfer his property to his adopted child, or to anyone else, for that matter, who is not a halachic heir. One method is to draw up a will, and then make a kinyan that transfers possession of the bequeathed property to the beneficiary of the will. (I mention this method as a possible illustration, since it does not work in all situations.) This can be done in a way that the person wishing to bequeath his property maintains ownership over it in the meantime and leaves him the right to change his bequest later. Some poskim, albeit a minority, contend that a legally valid will alone constitutes a kinyan. These authorities reason that arranging a legally valid will, knowing that the government will transfer property as a result, is halachically equivalent to making a kinyan.[3] However, most poskim maintain that a standard civil will is not halachically valid.

Yonasan’s father was not observant and did not have his lawyer make the will halachically valid. (Unfortunately, many observant Jews do not attend to this important matter either. Just as it is important for a person to have a will drawn up, it is important to make sure that it is halachically valid.) Therefore, many poskim would consider Uncle Jack to be the halachic heir of the estate, yet he cannot file a civil suit concerning the property, since he is not an interested party according to civil law. But before we even get to this step in the discussion, we need to discuss whether the Torah permits Yonasan or Uncle Jack to sue in civil court.

III. Arka’os, the prohibition against filing a suit in a secular court.

A Jew may not litigate against a fellow Jew in civil court,[4] even if both parties agree.[5] This is known as the prohibition against using arka’os. Someone who uses court systems not sanctioned by the Torah performs a chillul Hashem, a desecration of G-d’s Name, because he demonstrates that he feels that G-d’s Torah cannot resolve his financial matters.[6] In the words of the Rambam,[7] “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.”[8] Someone who brought litigation to a secular court is invalidated from being a chazzan for Yomim Nora’im.[9] In addition, he will probably transgress the violation of stealing (gezel), since the property he receives is not his according to halacha.

What if the Other Party Refuses to Go to Beis Din?

This problem is, unfortunately, neither uncommon nor recent, and apparently occurred even at the time of the Gemara.[10] If this happens, the halachically correct procedure is for the plaintiff to have beis din summon the defendant. If the defendant fails to appear in beis din or indicates that he will not appear, the beis din authorizes the plaintiff to sue in civil court.[11] Under these circumstances, the plaintiff has not violated the prohibition of going to arka’os, since he acted according to halacha.

(It should be noted that even if someone is authorized to sue in civil court, he is only entitled to receive what halacha entitles him. It could happen that the civil court awards him more money than he is entitled to according to halacha. Therefore, he should ask a posek after winning the litigation how much of the award he may keep. The balance he would be required to return to the other party.)

Applying these rules to our case means that Uncle Jack may file a suit in beis din against Martha. Although Uncle Jack would like Yonasan to sue in civil courts, Yonasan may not sue according to halacha for two different reasons:

(1) One may not sue in civil court without permission from beis din.

(2) Yonasan has no halachic grounds to claim his adopted father’s estate since he is halachically not an heir.

Does this mean that this was the end of the case?

No. Yonasan explained to Uncle Jack the halachic background to the shaylah. Uncle Jack feels strongly that Martha took unfair advantage of his ill brother, which is the reason why he and his attorney feel that the will can be easily overturned in civil court. Uncle Jack then asked Yonasan if there is any way that Yonasan could proceed with the claim.

Harsha’ah

Enter harsha’ah, which is the halachic equivalent of a power of attorney, into the picture. A harsha’ah allows someone who is not an interested party in the litigation to sue as if he is an interested party. In this instance, Uncle Jack, as the halachic heir, can authorize Yonasan by means of a harsha’ah to sue Martha in beis din. If Martha ignores the summons or indicates that she will not respond to it, the beis din authorizes Yonasan and Uncle Jack to pursue the matter in civil court. The court will not accept Uncle Jack as a plaintiff against the will, since they do not recognize him as the heir. Although the court does not recognize Uncle Jack’s claim, Yonasan may now sue in civil court, based on the beis din’s authorization. Halachically, the basis of the civil suit is to save Uncle Jack the money that is his, even though neither the civil court nor Uncle Jack himself accepts that the money is his.

At this point in the discussion, Yonasan e-mailed me a further question:

“Dear Rav Kaganoff,

“In the event that my uncle does choose, with permission from a beis din, to sue my father’s widow in civil court, *should* I or merely *may* I act on his behalf?”

Indeed, this is a difficult question. In general, saving someone’s money is a mitzvah, and therefore, if someone sued in beis din and was ignored, it is a mitzvah to help him save his money in civil court, providing that this approach was properly authorized by beis din. This act of chesed is included under the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah, returning a lost object to its proper owner.

In our instance, I was less certain if this is considered hashavas aveidah, since Uncle Jack does not consider the money his and is only planning to give it to Yonasan. Is Yonasan required to assist in helping Uncle Jack claim the money, knowing that Uncle Jack will probably assume that it is Yonasan’s and give it to him? Furthermore, since there might be poskim who feel that the money is legitimately Martha’s, one could certainly rely on their opinions to rule that it is not a requirement for him to be involved in the litigation. Thus, there are two different considerations as to why he may not be considered “saving someone’s money”:

(1) Can you say that he is saving someone else’s money, when that person intends to give it to him?

(2) According to some opinions, the money may not be Uncle Jack’s, but Martha’s. Although he is permitted to follow the opinion that the money is Uncle Jack’s, is he required to?

Another consideration: Chalitzah

At this point in the discussion, I introduced a new topic to Yonasan, that of the mitzvah of chalitzah. This requires some explanation. If a man dies without having biological children, there is a mitzvah for his brother to perform a procedure called chalitzah, which permits the widow to remarry. In addition, the chalitzah is a tremendous tikun neshamah for the departed. The mitzvah applies even if the widow is no longer of child-bearing age, and even if the couple married after she was beyond child-bearing age.

Many people do not realize that, if a couple has adopted children, but no biological children, the mitzvah of chalitzah still applies. Since Yonasan’s father had no biological children, his widow (assuming that they were halachically married, as she claims) is a yevamah, who requires chalitzah from Yonasan’s uncle to permit her to remarry.

I quote my letter to Yonasan:

“If your father’s marriage to his last wife was halachically valid, then there is a requirement/mitzvah for your uncle to perform chalitzah,[12] even if your father’s widow has no intention of remarrying and is not observant.”

Yonasan replied:

“I’m surprised it didn’t occur to me.  Question, though — even if they did get married with chuppah and kiddushin, she was a grusha, and he a kohen, so the marriage was forbidden.  He claimed to have asked a rabbi, who permitted the marriage on the basis that since he was disabled, he would not be allowed to perform the avodah, even if the Beis HaMikdash was standing. I did not think this is correct [indeed it is not], but I didn’t see any point in making an issue of it.  Was he right?  Assuming that his marriage was halachically unacceptable. Would that in any way impact on chalitzah?”

To which I replied:

“There is absolutely no halachic basis to any of the reasons he told you to permit this marriage. I presume that he mentioned these reasons to relieve his own conscience, and that he never asked a shaylah; halachically, he was prohibited from marrying a divorcee.

“A halacha-abiding rabbi would not perform such a ceremony, unless he was unaware either that your father was a kohen or that his wife was a grusha. However, even if there had been no proper halachic ceremony, they might have been considered married according to halacha, particularly since they considered themselves married. Thus, although this marriage was forbidden, there may be a requirement to perform chalitzah. The mitzvah of chalitzah applies even in the case of a kohen who marries a divorcee.[13] Is there anyone where they live knowledgeable enough to arrange this for them?”

Yonasan responded to my inquiry:

“There are some very prominent talmidei chachomim living near where both my uncle and my stepmother live.  However, they live a considerable distance from one another. I doubt that the widow is aware of the need for a chalitzah; I also doubt that she’ll object to it if it’s made easy for her. My uncle is, however, totally irreligious. How would I get him to agree to it and to travel the distance involved? He is unlikely to drop everything and fly to where she is to perform what he would see as an unimportant religious ceremony to help out a woman with whom he is upset.  What if he were to appoint someone else as a shaliach over the phone?  Would that be acceptable?”

To which I responded,

“Unfortunately, chalitzah cannot be performed through shelichus (agency). It sounds as if the most likely way for this to happen is to wait until a time that you know that they will be near one another  and then plan carefully how to present it to them. Alternatively, simply mention to them that chalitzah is a big tikun neshamah for your father, whom they both liked (I presume), and ask if they can keep it in mind in future travel plans.

“By the way, the mitzvah is your uncle’s mitzvah to perform, not hers.”

As of this writing, I do not know if Yonasan decided to proceed with the litigation over the will, and I presume that no action has resulted concerning the chalitzah. However, this situation affords us the opportunity to discuss halachos with which many people are unfamiliar, and it provides a tremendous opportunity to make people aware of a number of different mitzvos.

It is important to realize that legal rights and responsibilities are never governed by secular law. A Torah Jew realizes that Hashem’s Torah is all-encompassing, and that halacha directs every aspect of one’s life. Thus, halacha governs all financial aspects of our lives, and one should be careful to ask shaylos about one’s business dealings.

Indeed, through this entire halachic conversation, I was exceedingly impressed by Yonasan’s ability not to be swayed by financial considerations, but to be certain that what he did would be the perfectly correct approach halachically. In fact, he was shortly thereafter awarded a tremendous financial windfall – no doubt, for his adherence to halacha, despite whatever financial temptation existed.


[1] Megillah 13a; Sanhedrin 19b

[2] Mishnah Kesubos 100b

[3] Shu’t Igros Moshe, Even HaEzer 1:104

[4] Gittin 88b

[5] Ramban, beginning of Parshas Mishpatim

[6] Midrash Tanchuma, Mishpatim #3

[7] Hilchos Sanhedrin 26:7

[8] See also Rashi’s comments on Shemos 21:1

[9] Mishnah Berurah 53:82

[10] Bava Kama 92b, as explained by Rosh

[11] Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 26:2

[12] Mishnah Yevamos 20a

[13] Mishnah Yevamos 20a