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Fellow Weekly Newsletter - Issue 34 - Hot Onions - Business Law and Ethics for the Shabbos Table

Publication: Fellow Weekly Newsletter

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Welcome to Fellow Weekly!
Encouraging intelligent and entertaining debate at your Shabbat table.

Fellow Weekly raises issues of business law and ethics through lively emails by featuring your real-life scenarios answered by our leading authorities and professionals.

This Issue is respectfully dedicated by:
Rabbi and Mrs. David Brafman and friends in honor of Fellow-Yesharim Dean Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits and family
on the birth of their first grandson, Aharon, and Mr. and Mrs. Moshe Kaganoff on the birth of their son Pinchas Eliyahu.

CASE 135: Hot Onions

Steve Ring, a high profile lawyer in Miami Beach, Florida, ran a tight schedule with little or no time for leisure. Nonetheless, he would volunteer twenty minutes a week to help his lonely elderly neighbors, Harriet and Sylvia.

On Thursday afternoons, Tammy, Steve's wife, would phone her elderly neighbors and take down their pre-Shabbat grocery orders. She would subsequently email their lists together with her list to Steve. On his return from work on Thursday afternoon, Steve would stop off at Shopper's Express and run the errands for his wife and elderly neighbors.

Generally, he would have the cashier ring up two separate bills, one for his neighbors and one for his own purchase. Last week, his list being rather short and only requiring a bag of six onions for Harriet, he simply had the cashier ring up Harriet's onions at the end of his own list.

Steve paid for the purchase and went to Harriet's house to deliver the onions. Being in a rush, he told her to be in touch with Tammy the next day regarding the cost. In the meantime, Harriet diced the onions and added them to her potato kugel mix.

Eager to pay her debt, Harriet called Tammy on Friday and asked how much she owed her for the onions. Tammy took out the receipt from her husbands trip to the store, but the onions were not listed. The cashier had obviously failed to scan them. Frantically, Harriet called the supermarket, but they were closing for the day and did not pick up the phone.

- Can Harriet eat the kugel Friday night?

What is the law?

[Based on a true story: Submitted by Mrs. A.S. - Kiryat Sefer, Israel]

Please email us with your comments and answers at
Read next week's issue for the answer!


CASE 134: Shattered!

A hot Shabbat meal, an accepting aura, and a pervasive love of humanity brought hundreds of university students, yeshiva fellows, families of hospital patients and curious onlookers to the Goodman home in Boston, Massachusetts.

A Goodman Shabbat experience was indeed one of a kind. Jerry's melodious voice and Lisa's mouth-watering cuisine left behind a flavor hard to forget. Dozens of guests from all walks of life would join together for an evening of love, song, inspiration, good food and a sense of purpose.

Jerry and Lisa left no stone unturned to fulfill the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim [Genesis 18:1, Maseches: Shabbos 127b], welcoming wayfarers in a most magnanimous, humble, and friendly manner. [Ahavas Chesed 3:1]

In time, the Goodmans needed to add an additional table in their dining room to accommodate the growing crowd.

One Wednesday, Jerry read online that a Mike Gerber was selling a used glass dining room table and matching chairs for three-hundred dollars. Jerry and Lisa drove their van over to Mike's house to view the table. The stunning table seemed like the perfect buy. It was large enough to fit another dozen guests comfortably. Lisa loved the table's style as it fit perfectly with her dining room décor. Moreover, she took an exceptional liking to the chairs because they were extremely comfortable and great for back posture.

Before agreeing to buy the set, Jerry asked Mike if the glass was attached to the table. Mike assured Jerry that it was indeed attached. Jerry looked at Lisa for her approval and Lisa winked in the affirmative. Jerry accepted the offer and handed Mike three crisp hundred-dollar bills.

Jerry and Lisa then brought the chairs out of the house and placed them in their van parked in Mike's driveway. While Lisa held the door open, Jerry and Mike began carrying the table to the front door with care and precision. As they neared the door, they tilted the table sideways so that it would fit through the door. Suddenly, they felt the weight rapidly shift as he glass top fell off the frame, broke the antique umbrella stand by the door, and exploded into countless shards on Mike's floor.

Looking over the remains of the table, it was clear that the top had simply been a heavy pane of glass resting on four suction cups attached to the wrought iron frame.

- What is the status of the sale of the table and chairs? Does Jerry receive a refund? If so, how much?

- Does Jerry share responsibility for any of the damage that occurred to the table or the umbrella stand?

What is the law?

[Based on a true story: Submitted by Judah Spetner – Member, Cincinnati Community Kollel – Cincinnati, OH]

The Answer

We present you here with a concise ruling. For a more intricate elucidation, please see the “detailed explanation” below.

The Goodmans may demand their three-hundred dollars back, yet they must return the chairs. Jerry is absolved from paying for the damage to the umbrella stand.

Detailed Explanation

This case implicates the following two laws:

A consumer may rescind a deal upon finding a blemish in the merchandise purchased. [Choshen Mishpat 232:4]

One is liable for intentional and unintentional damages exacted on an article belonging to a third party.

One is absolved from paying for unintentional and completely unexpected damage he or she causes.

[Choshen Mishpat 378:1, Sha"ch 2]

The Table and Chairs

While objectively there is nothing faulty with a glass tabletop detached from its frame, Jerry made it quite clear that he would agree to purchase only a table fastened to the wrought iron frame. Consequently, we deem anything short of that a “blemish” in the merchandise. Although Mike did not delude his customers intentionally, nevertheless, the Goodmans did not receive the merchandise they intended to buy. Hence, if they wish, they may rescind the entire deal even if they had already performed a legally binding act of acquisition.

Note: At the time of publication, it was brought to our attention that Jerry may have confirmed the attachment of the glass top merely to verify that the table could be turned on its side without consequence - a detached glass top would then not have rendered the table inferior in any way. We plan to discuss this in an addendum to next week's email.

While Lisa did indeed take an exceptional liking to the chairs, it is clear that the table and matching chairs were part of one purchase.

Thus, if the Goodmans decide to void the sale, they must return the chairs to Mike.

The Umbrella Stand

A person is responsible for his or her actions. Hence, one is liable for intentional and unintentional damage he or she causes. Nevertheless, one is not responsible to take precautions against a completely unintentional and unexpected damage. Our situation is a case in point. Jerry had no idea that the glass was detached from the frame. There was no way he could have taken precautions against damaging the umbrella stand. Hence, he is absolved from the damages incurred as a result.

[Answered by Rabbi Eli Marburger, Lecturer –Fellow-Yesharim Research Center]

The Torah commands us to pay our employees on time:
An employee who finishes the job at night can expect payment by dawn [Leviticus 19:13].
An employee who finished the job during the day can expect payment before dusk [Deuteronomy 24:15].
This applies to rental fees as well [Choshen Mishpat 339:1].

Follow the next few weeks for an exciting series on "Timely Payments".
[Choshen Mishpat 339]

Comments or questions? Have a case to submit? Please send us an email at

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