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Fellow Weekly Newsletter - Issue 35 - A Speaking Engagement - 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 lovingly dedicated by
the grandchildren of
Horav Moshe Yaakov ben Faige Devorah Burack
Please pray for his full and speedy recovery.

CASE 136: A Speaking Enragement!

Professor Manny Wright was the president of the New South Wales Board of Australian Legal professionals. Wright was a world-renowned speaker – a celebrity of sorts. His wit, charisma, practical wisdom and powerful oratory skills would hold his audience spellbound.

Wright was invited by Columbia University to address a crowd of six thousand students. Columbia offered him $15,000 for the event. Manny scheduled his speaking tour in New York City for the week of Jan 16th.

As is common with traveling speakers, Wright also agreed to a couple of smaller engagements while he was in town: He was to lecture the student body of the Steinberg Community College in Brooklyn on the subject of “Employer Wages: Ethics and Law” for a fee of $1,000 and a voluntary appearance at a fundraising event for the AFESU (American Further Education Society for the Underprivileged).

Professor Wright sent a message to the Community College directors requesting that he be paid in cash and added, “‘I am giving you an opportunity to fulfill the positive biblical commandment you should pay your worker on the day that he worked' [Deuteronomy 24:15]. Please pay me immediately after my presentation.”

To his dismay, he received the following response from the Community College:

Regarding remuneration, we do not typically pay speakers immediately after their presentation. In fact, here in the US, one month for granting of honoraria is an excellent record of accomplishment at colleges and universities. We plan to pay you within that time. Unfortunately, a cash payment is not an option, as our accounting department requires that all speakers be paid by check. We are all anxiously looking forward to your lecture.

Robin Banks, Ph.D.
Steinberg Community College

Then, en route to Melbourne Airport for his flight to New York, Professor Wright received the following email on his Blackberry™:

We apologize for any inconvenience on your part. However, we regret to inform you that there are insufficient resources available to cover your appearance. At this point, we must cancel your engagement until further notice.

Ripley Offerman
Assistant Comptroller
Columbia University

Wright's stomach sank as he realized that the time and expenses he would incur to just deliver the two minor addresses would be a losing business proposition – his airfare alone would cost more than the Community College address.

Did Ms. Banks lose the opportunity to fulfill a mitzvah?

Does Columbia University have any financial responsibility towards Wright?

What is the law?

[Submitted by Rabbi Menachem Nissel: Member, Fellow-Yesharim Research Center - Jerusalem, Israel]

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


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 husband’s 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]

The Answer

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

Harriet may eat the kugel.

Harriet must return the value of the six onions to Shopper's Express.

If Harriet is unsure of the weight and cost of the onions, she may estimate and pay the ‘lowest estimated cost' of the onions (see detailed explanation below).

Detailed Explanation

The Torah prohibition of theft is well known [Leviticus 19:11, Choshen Mishpat 359:1]. In addition to the prohibitory commandment of “do not steal”, there also exists a positive commandment to return the object which was stolen [Choshen Mishpat 360:1].

The classic case of theft is the blatant act of taking another's property without permission, with no intention of returning it. However, also included in this prohibition are “lesser degrees” of thievery:

1. The unauthorized taking of an object with the intention to pay for the article later. [Choshen Mishpat 359:2]

2. “Borrowing” something without permission, even with the intention to return the “borrowed article”. [359: 5]

When a thief alters the stolen good(s) in such a way that they are no longer returnable in the original state, he or she automatically acquires legal ownership of the stolen property. In such a case, the thief is then required to return the monetary value of the property, rather than return the actual item. [Choshen Mishpat 360:1]

In a case where it is clearly obvious that the item was for sale and the original owner would undoubtedly prefer to be paid the value of the item rather than have it actually returned, the thief may then use the article before paying for it, even if no alteration was made to it [Choshen Mishpat 359:2] (however, in such a case one might still have to transfer the money to the owner via a third-party acquisition before the item may be used [Choshen Mishpat 359:2, Sha”ch 4] – a competent authority should be consulted to ascertain the details of such a procedure [see Hagahos Rabbi Akiva Eiger and Biur HaGr”a]).

Generally, when it is unclear how much one party owes another, it is incumbent on the payee to prove how much is owed to them [Bava Kama 46b]. If this is not feasible, the least possible amount owed is paid. However, in the case of a theft, the higher amount is paid [Choshen Mishpat 365:2].


Although Harriet certainly did not mean to steal the onions, she may still have attained the unfortunate status of an unintentional thief [see Sha”ch and Ketzos 25: 1]. Since she diced them, the onions are no longer returnable in their original state. She acquired ownership of the diced onions and must therefore pay Shopper's Express their value.

As for the amount to be paid, even though a thief must generally pay the highest possible value of the stolen property, since a) this was an unintentional theft, and b) there was also possible negligence on the part of the store for not properly ringing up the onions, Harriet is not considered a thief in this respect and therefore pays the lowest possible estimated cost of the onions [Ketzos 365:2].

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

Addendum to last week's answer

Even if Jerry only confirmed the attachment of the glass top merely to verify that the table could be turned on its side without consequence, the sale would still be considered void. Since the seller made a factually incorrect statement about the metrics of the item, the sale is invalid even though the misstatement was not in regards to an actual "blemish". [Choshen Mishpat 232:1].

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]

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