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Fellow Weekly Newsletter - Issue 73 "1809 -2009" Business Law and Ethics for the Shabbos Table

Publication: Fellow Weekly Newsletter

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Welcome to Fellow Weekly's: WHAT'S THE LAW?™

Encouraging intelligent and entertaining debate at your Shabbos table.

What's the Law?™ raises issues of business law and ethics through lively emails by featuring your real-life scenarios answered by our leading authorities and professionals.

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CASE 173: 1809-2009

Pressburg 1809. Wishing to unseat the Austrian government, Napoleon's forces converged on the nation's capital on Saturday, June 3, 1809. While heavy bombardment decimated the city's infrastructure, rains and strong winds ripped off the roofs, knocked over walls and destroyed foundations. What was left, was left to the looters for easy bate.

As always, the Jewish ghetto endured the brunt of the destruction and escalated crime. Fearing for their lives, most of the people fled with their shirts on their back to St. Georgian, mostly taking comfort beneath the stars in the open fields.

Nathan Landau was fortunate to dwell in a stone home protected by iron shutters. Nathan kindly allowed many of his brethren to store their valuables in his guarded home during the storm.

On Sunday, October 15th peace was announced, the people returned and began to rebuild the community.

By Wednesday, the townsmen returned to Landau to reclaim their treasures: all but one. A large unfamiliar valise of clothing bearing no name continued to take up space in his corridor. Apparently, unbeknown to Nathan someone had left the valise in the Landau home.

By Nov 15th, Mrs. Landau had enough. Her mother was coming to town and she wanted it out. At the behest of his frazzled wife, Nathan put the valise out in the darkened courtyard that night. By the morrow, the valise was nowhere in sight.

On Nov. 20th there was a knock on Landau's door. Aaron Frankel came to claim his suitcase.

Brooklyn 2009. "It would mean so much to me dear, if our living room could be kept a little tidier," said Dave nicely one day to his faithful wife Molly.

"Dave, I understand your frustration. I do try my best, but do you see those piles of mail piling up on the mahogany bookshelves? The previous tenant has yet to notify the Postal Service of his changed address and we've been receiving this fellow's mail in our box for the past six months. I've contacted him numerous times and he told me that he'll notify the Postal office and be over to pick up his mail..."

The growing Mount Everest was getting under Dave's skin...

What's the Law?

Please email us with your comments, questions, and answers at

Read next week's issue for the answer!



The resolution of the Tagsatzung (Swiss Parliament of the twenty-six autonomous cantons) in 1678, allowed Swiss Jews to settle in the communities of the Surb valley. However, 98 years later, in 1776, Jews were further restricted to living strictly in Endingen and Lengnau.

Jewish residents were limited to enter but few professions, such as trade; and apartment houses were built with two separate entrances, one for Jews and one for Christians.

Whilst definitive legal and social demarcations segregated the members of the two faiths, community life was relatively safe and comfortable in the predominantly Jewish villages,

The winter of 1801 began an emotional period in the life of Hugo Bloch, president of the Endingen Israelitsche Gemeinde. Moritz Loeb, a refined, and well sought after young man, offered Hugo's daughter Hanna his devoted hand in matrimony.

Securing his valued commitment, Hugo assured Moritz a handsome dowry of 25,000 Franc to be delivered sixth months later on the date of the nuptials. They agreed that Hugo would pay Edwin Kahn, a mutual friend to hold the funds in escrow until the anticipated wedding day.

In the interim, stormy clouds began to thicken overhead. With western winds shaking the ancient columns, the old guard struggled to stand their ground. Emancipation would be hard to come by. Enraged at Napoleon's attempt to bring equality to the snowcapped Alps, angry mobs responded with vengeance. They took up arms and fell upon the Jewish communities of Edingen and Lengnau. Within a few frightening days, they pillaged the Jewish homes of their riches and valuables.

Only the limited treasures hidden in underground vaults escaped the marauders hands. Edwin was one such lucky fellow. His valuables and family heirlooms remained unscathed, yet Moritz's dowry met the same fate as Edwin's personal spending money. Lying alongside one another in a locked metal box beneath his bed, they were unprotected from the hands of the angry mob.

Moritz demanded that Hugo to return to the drawing table. Hugo claimed Moritz should take it up with Edwin. Edwin denied liability

What's the Law?

The Answer

Edwin is fully liable. If Hugo fails to collect the funds from Edwin, Hugo is responsible to reimburse Moritz with a new 25,000 franc.

Detailed Explanation

Pillaged! implicates the following three laws.

1. A bailee may not be negligent in his/her duties and is consequently liable for damage, theft, or loss due to his/her negligence regardless of whether he or she receives payment for his or her services.

Failure to ensure that the trust is not easily accessible to thieves is deemed negligence; the particular guidelines for which depend upon the security risks and due expectations of the time and place [Choshen Mishpat 291: 18] .

(A bailee must even thwart off thieves [Choshen Mishpat 291:8], though is not required to risk his/her life while doing so [Choshen Mishpat 303: 3])

Example: Homes in Babylonia were generally not secured from thieves. Under such conditions, Shmuel the Talmudic giant ruled that the only responsible mode of guardianship for valuables would be underground. When conditions worsened and thieves began to tap the ground for hollow spaces, the rabbis required increased levels of security [Bava Metzia 42a, Choshen Mishpat 291: 15].

Conversely, in more secure environments, as long as the trust is not easily accessible to thieves, one need not bury the valuables in the ground [Choshen Mishpat 291: 18] .

2. A bailee would be required to duly upgrade his or her level of supervision commensurate with heightening security risks or else may notify the depositor in front of witnesses that he/she does not wish to continue safeguarding the article under the new conditions [Pischei Teshuva Choshen Mishpat 291: 6].

Example: Repairing B's lawnmower, A locked it in his shed with a standard Medeco™ lock. In the interim, the neighborhood sheds with simple locks suffered from a rash of break ins. A is required to move B's lawnmower into his alarmed garage.

3. A bridegroom is entitled to his dowry only following the nuptials [Pischei Teshuva Choshen Mishpat 70: 3].


Moritz only receives ownership or the right thereof upon marrying Hanna. Thus, throughout the engagement, the money belongs to Hugo. Consequently, Hugo appointed Edwin a trustee over the funds.

Though Edwin took extra precautions beyond the norm, over his personal valuables even under peaceful conditions, we may assume that hiding the money in his locked safe beneath his bed was a sufficient mode of protection against thieves.

However, as a trustee, Edwin should have been alert to the changing security risks. As the facts proved, when mobs of marauders ransack homes, a higher level of supervision is required.

Thus, he was required to move the dowry into his underground vault or else notify Hugo in front of witnesses that he no longer wishes to safeguard the money under the new conditions.

Edwin's failure to relocate the money to the underground vault was a negligence on his part. Consequently, he was liable to reimburse Hugo the 25,000 franc.

Hugo remains responsible towards Moritz should Moritz go through with the marriage. Thus, irrespective of whether Hugo succeeds in collecting the reimbursement from Edwin, Hugo is required to deliver (a new) 25,000 franc upon the marriage date to Moritz upon his marriage to Hanna.

[Answered by The Fellow-Yesharim Research Center]

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