Story LineHave a Seat!Rabbi Meir Orlean
Mr. Gordon had sued his neighbor, Mr. Schuster, in beis din. This was their first experience appearing before a beis din and they did not know what to expect.
When it was time for their hearing, the secretary ushered Mr. Gordon and Mr. Schuster into the room where the Dayanim were seated for the din Torah. The two litigants stood there, unsure how to proceed.
Rabbi Dayan welcomed them and said: “Please have a seat.”
Beis din heard both parties and questioned them. Afterward they called on Mr. Gordon’s first witness, who entered and took a seat alongside Mr. Gordon.
“Please stand up,” Rabbi Dayan instructed the witness, “in respect of beis din.” The witness stood up and delivered his testimony.
The scene repeated itself with the second witness, who was also instructed to stand.
After hearing the testimony, Rabbi Dayan said to the litigants: “Please step out for some time while we deliberate.”
Mr. Gordon and Mr. Schuster stepped outside and waited for a half-hour. The secretary then called them back in. “The Dayanim have reached a decision,” he said. “Please enter.”
Mr. Gordon and Mr. Schuster entered and took their seats, as before.
“Please stand up,” Rabbi Dayan instructed the two, “in respect of beis din.”
Mr. Gordon was puzzled. Were they disrespectful beforehand for sitting? Why had Rabbi Dayan initially offered them a seat and now required them to stand?
Rabbi Dayan issued the verdict and announced that the proceedings were over.
Mr. Gordon mustered the courage and said: “Before we leave, can I ask a question about the proceedings?”
“Certainly,” answered Rabbi Dayan.
“When we initially entered, you offered us seats,” Mr. Gordon said. “Yet when the witnesses entered, you instructed them to stand, in respect of beis din. The same thing happened when we entered for the verdict. Why is that?”
“I’m happy to explain,” Rabbi Dayan replied. “The Torah states: ‘The two people who have the dispute should stand before Hashem’ (Devarim 19:17). The Gemara interprets this verse as follows: ‘The two people,’ i.e., the witnesses, and those ‘who have the dispute,’ i.e., the litigants, ‘should stand before Hashem,’ i.e., the beis din, who are a tribunal of G-d” (Sanhedrin 19a; Shavuos 30a)
“Then how could you initially offer us a seat?” asked Mr. Gordon.
“The verse applies primarily while testifying or rendering the verdict,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “During the adjudication, the court can allow either sitting or standing, provided that both parties are treated equally” (C.M. 17:1; Sma 17:5)
“Furthermore, the judgment is valid even if the witnesses or litigants sat throughout,” continued Rabbi Dayan. “Therefore, if one litigant is an esteemed talmid chacham (or his wife), he should be seated, along with the other litigant. The mitzvah of honoring Torah supersedes the mitzvah of standing before the court.”
“Why did you choose to seat us initially?” asked Mr. Schuster
“The Shulchan Aruch cites the Rambam that the practice evolved to seat the litigants and witnesses throughout to avoid dispute that could arise from differentiating,” said Rabbi Dayan. “This remains the practice in many batei din. Nonetheless, some authorities write that it is proper for the litigants and witnesses to stand of their own accord to show respect. Aruch Hashulchan writes that some batei din continue to have the witnesses and litigants stand, especially while delivering the verdict” (C.M. 17:3; Shach 17:7).
“What about arbitration?” asked Mr. Gordon.
“There is no need to stand for arbitration, since arbitrators do not function as a tribunal of Hashem,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Some maintain that this is true also if relatives or disqualified people were accepted as Dayanim, since that is not a true din Torah. Even so, although beis din is legally construed nowadays as binding arbitration, it maintains the halachic right to issue a Torah ruling and deserves its due respect” (Responsa Rashba 2:64; Minchas Chinuch #234).
From the BHI HotlineInvisible Hazard
My office is replacing the old carpet with new flooring. Part of the process involves smearing glue on the floor prior to putting down the new flooring. The glue is invisible and when I walked into the area, I slipped, and various pieces of clothing were ruined. The office wants to pay, and I would like to know:
Q: Is the office responsible to pay for the clothing?
If yes, are they responsible for new clothing? I would not have purchased new items had the old ones not been damaged. Or are they responsible for the value of used items, or the difference between the two?
A: We must first identify who is the mazik — damager — in this situation. No person caused the damage (adam hamazik) and directly damaged the clothing.
The Mishnah (B.K. 2a) enumerates different categories of mazik, and one of those listed is bor (lit. a pit). The damage of bor is characterized as damage that results when someone passes over a hazard. A bor does not move; it remains stationary and the person passing over it becomes damaged. A bor could be a person’s possession or a hazard that he created and the owner/creator is obligated for the full value of the damages (C.M. 410:1).
In your situation, the one responsible for the bor (the owner or the contractor, depending on the circumstances: see C.M. 410:4, 30) must pay for the damage (see also 410:9 with Shach 1, but it would seem that one must put up a warning sign or cones when doing this type of construction since the glue is invisible).
However, we must consider whether one is liable for damages caused by a bor on his own property when the damaged party had permission to be there (See Aruch Hashulchan, C.M. 410:4; Pischei Choshen, Nezikin 7:; Even Ha’ezel, Nizkei Mammon 10:11).
Even though the bor owner is liable when the damage occurs on his property, in this situation he would be exempt. The reason is that when the Torah discusses a bull or donkey that falls into a bor, Chazal infer from this passage that one is liable for damages only to a person or an animal caused by his bor. One is not obligated to pay for utensils damaged by a bor (chamor v’lo keilim) (C.M. 410:21). Anything that is not a living creature is categorized as a “utensil,” and thus the bor owner is not liable to pay for damaged clothing.
Some authorities contend that there is a moral obligation (chayav latzeis yedei Shamayim) to pay for damaged utensils (Birkas Shmuel, B.K. 2), whereas others maintain that once the passuk exempts the bor owner, there is not even a moral imperative to pay for clothing (Minchas Shlomo, B.K. 29:4; see Chazon Ish, B.K. 2:7, which expresses uncertainty about the matter; see also Maharsham 2:138). However, since most people consider it proper and decent to take responsibility for damage they caused, if the bor owner wishes to pay, the damaged party may accept payment, provided that he does not indicate to the bor owner that he is obligated to pay.
Concerning the question of whether the bor owner would pay for a replacement garment or the value of the used garment, see issue #346 [Inyan Feb 8, 2017] stating that one is liable only for the garment’s value before the damage. Since it is generally difficult to appraise the value of a used garment, the parties should negotiate a settlement. However, as discussed, in this situation, the bor owner is not obligated to pay anything for the damaged garment.
Money mattersDebt Collection from Future Inheritance#373
Q: A person passed away leaving behind debt greater than the value of his entire estate. His elderly father subsequently passed away, leaving assets that were passed on to the grandsons. May the person’s creditors collect the remaining debt from these assets?
A: The creditors may not collect the remaining debt from the grandfather’s estate. Some explain that the inheritance flows directly to the grandsons, who stand in their father’s place, “skipping” the father. Thus, the assets never became subject to the person’s debt (B.B. 159a; Shach, C.M. 104:21).
Others explain that a creditor may not collect from assets that the debtor never possessed, even if the inheritance were not to “skip” the debtor (Rema, C.M. 104:16; Ketzos 104:15).
Collection from life insurance policies, retirement accounts and other benefits paid to the inheritors depends on the terms of the agreement and local state law. In most cases, the proceeds are paid directly to the beneficiaries and protected from the deceased’s creditors, unless the deceased estate is named as the beneficiary, such as to pay off a mortgage (see Cheishev Ha’efod 3:50).