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Thought for the Day: Friendly Torts

What is a tort?  Simple: a wrongful act or an infringement of a right (other than under contract) leading to civil legal liability.  Doesn't sound very friendly, does it?  The halacha for torts is found, of course, in the Choshen Mishpat section of the Shulchan Aruch.  You are not going to find and Art Scroll version, nor even a Mishna Brura on those laws.  The laws are complex and detailed; the tiniest differences can change who owes whom and how much.

There is a story that a R' Yisrael Salanter was once traveling and struck up a conversation with a fellow Jew.  The other passenger related that he was changing careers.  Up till now he had been a shochet (ritual slaughterer), but he was becoming increasingly nervous and worried about what could happen if he made a mistake.  He could be responsible for untold number of innocent Jews eating treif food!  It had gotten to the point that he couldn't sleep any more.  R' Salantar asked what he planned to do for a livelihood, and the man answered that he was going into business.  "What!?", exclaimed R' Salantar, "Up till now you have be responsible for carefully keeping the laws in Yoreh Dei'ah,  Very important, of course, but mostly d'rabanans.  Now you want to go into keeping Choshen Mishpat?  That's almost entirely d'oraisos!"  (R' Salanter, the great ba'al mussar, also knew when to be straight with someone.)  Now they are complex, detailed, and scary!

The truth is, though, that all of us need to deal with Choshen Mishpat questions every day.  Here are a couple that come from a different angle then most.  (More here; and better relayed.)

Reuven bought a chair for 4,000 shekel to be used as the Kisei shel Eliyahu for bris mila in a certain shul.  Reuven lends it to the shul and even puts a small plaque on it saying that the chair is on loan.  The (very well known) rebbe uses that chair for every bris mila where he is the sandek for 10 years; until his p'tira (death), in fact.  Reuven goes to get his chair and a chasid of the rebbe, now zatzal offers Reuven 30,000 shekel for the chair!  Reuven realizes that the chair is a gold mine and starts calling around to chasidim of the late rebbe and finally takes 40,000 shekel for the chair.  Then Reuven starts thinking... it is true that it is his chair, but the fact that the rebbe sat in it as sandek for 10 years is what increased its value.  Reuven knows a mishna in Bava Basra that if an olive tree gets planted into someone else's field, takes root and grows into big olive producing tree, then the owner of the field and the owner of the olive tree split the profits.  After all, you need both.  Maybe the same thing applies here, reasons Reuven, and he owes half the profit to the rebbe's sons.  (He doesn't.)

Another case: a girl got engaged in Eretz Yisrael and her parents and in-laws go to buy an apartment for the young couple.  The father finds an amazing apartment in a great building.  The girl goes to look and agrees that it is perfect.  One problem: a friend of hers who is a little older and hasn't found her b'shert lives there.  More: the older sister -- also still unmarried -- also lives in that building.  The girl doesn't know if it is right to live there where her friend and older sister will have to see this younger friend every day as a new kalla while they are still looking.  The father asked R' Chaim Kanievsky, who said he could not posken such a sh'eila and told the father to ask R' Aryeh Leib Shteinman.  R' Shteinman first said, "it is obviously permissible to buy and live in the apartment."  Then R' Shteinman closed his eyes and said over and over, "But how can one do that?  How can one do that?"  The father suggested buying the apartment as an investment, renting it out, and using that money to rent an apartment for the young couple until they want to move.  R' Shteinman excitedly agreed and gave his bracha to the enterprise.  (Both friends were engaged within two weeks after the young lady's chasuna.  Perhaps the bracha of the tzadik?)

A frum Jew learns halacha to be sure he is doing things right, not to see what angles he can work.


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