Rabbi Meir Orlean
We’re having Little League playoffs next week,” Eli said to his friend Avi. “Can I borrow your bat for batting practice?”
“Sure,” Avi said. “Take good care of it.” He gave Eli the bat.
Eli finished practice and started to leave. “Can I borrow your bat?” asked Aharon.
“It’s not mine,” said Eli.
“What’s the difference?” said Aharon. “I’ll bring it back to your house in half an hour.”
Eli hesitatingly agreed and left.
Moshe pitched the ball. Aharon swung hard. There was a loud “crack” and the ball went flying far.
“Great hit!” Moshe said.
“Yeah…” Aharon said. “But the bat cracked.”
“That’s strange,” said Moshe. “A bat is not supposed to crack when hitting a ball.”
“I know,” said Aharon. “Sometimes it happens, though. It could have been weakened by previous batting. It’s not even my bat. Eli borrowed it from Avi, and I begged him to let me use it.”
“You’re in a bit of a pickle now,” said Moshe.
“But I didn’t do anything wrong, or even unusual,” insisted Aharon. “You and the other players saw what happened. You pitched and I hit. That’s all!”
“I know,” replied Moshe, “but I don’t know whether that makes a difference.”
Meanwhile, Avi and Eli came by. “I heard that you have my bat,” said Eli. “I’d like it back.”
“I’m sorry to say…” began Aharon, “I was batting with it, and the bat cracked!”
“No way,” said Avi. “Bats don’t just crack. I’ll bet you banged it against the wall or something like that. Anyway, Eli had no right to give you the bat, so one of you owes me, regardless of what happened.”
Eli and Aharon looked at each other.
The four decided to come to Rabbi Dayan. “I lent my bat to Eli, who lent it without permission to Aharon,” said Avi. “Aharon claims it broke during batting practice. Who is liable?”
“It’s not clear that anyone owes you for the bat,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “It depends on who was present when the bat broke.”
“What do you mean?” asked Avi.
“The Gemara (B.M. 29b, 36a) teaches that a person who borrows an item may not lend it to another,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “Furthermore, although a borrower is exempt if the item was lost or damaged through regular usage (meisah machmas melachah), the initial borrower is usually liable if he lends to another, since the owner can claim that he does not trust the word or oath of the second borrower” (C.M. 340:1; 342:1).
“Then Eli should be liable!” exclaimed Avi. “I have nothing to do with Aharon.”
“If others were not present when the bat broke, that would be true,” replied Rabbi Dayan.
“However, as I mentioned, the primary concern is that the second borrower may have mistreated the borrowed item and the owner does not have to accept his word as to what happened. Lending to others is not considered inherent negligence, though, and the regular liabilities of a guardian remain, in principle.
“Therefore, if witnesses were present and testify that the item was damaged through regular usage, the borrowers are exempt,” continued Rabbi Dayan. “Similarly, if the initial borrower was present at the time and can swear to the owner, or if the owner regularly lends the second borrower items of similar value, indicating that he considers him trustworthy, the borrowers are exempt if the item became damaged through regular use, just as the first borrower would be exempt if the item got ruined through his own use” (C.M.291:26; Shach 291:47; 342:1).
“Where does this leave us?” asked Avi.
“It was wrong of Eli to leave the bat with Aharon,” concluded Rabbi Dayan. “Nonetheless, if Moshe and others testify that the bat broke through normal usage, the exemption of meisah machmas melachah applies, and nobody is liable. Otherwise, Eli would be liable, since Avi can refuse to accept Aharon’s word or oath that the bat broke through normal use.”