Rabbi Meir Orlean
The Stein family was celebrating Shabbos sheva brachos. A large pot of cholent was simmering in the shul kitchen.
On a shelf nearby stood a cup of milk, left over from the morning. Someone walked by and knocked it over. Milk spilled onto the cover and down the side of the cholent pot. “Oh, no!” cried Mr. Fleishman, the caterer. “Milk got on the pot! What do we do?”
Mr. Fleishman turned to Boaz, his waiter. “Rabbi Isser lives down the block,” he said. “Go ask him about the cholent.”
Boaz ran to Rabbi Isser and told him about the accident. “Unfortunately, there’s nothing to do,” said Rabbi Isser. “The milk on the side of the pot gets absorbed. It’s all prohibited and needs to be disposed of!”
Boaz returned. “Rabbi Isser ruled that the cholent is prohibited,” he told Mr. Fleishman.
Mr. Fleishman decided to consult a more senior Rabbi. “I’m running out for a few minutes,” he told Boaz. “Keep the meal moving.”
The caterer consulted Rabbi Posek. “We had a problem with the cholent, and Rabbi Isser said that it is prohibited,” said the caterer. “Is there any room for leniency? It’s a terrible loss!”
Rabbi Posek considered the issue. “In a case of great loss, there is room to be lenient, if the milk is less than a sixtieth,” he said. “Let me discuss it with Rabbi Isser” (See Rama, Y.D. 92:6-8; 242:31).
After some discussion, Rabbi Isser agreed. The caterer ran back to Boaz. “The cholent is permissible,” he exclaimed.
“Sorry, I already dumped it into the garbage,” said Boaz. “Rabbi Isser said that it had to be disposed of.”
“Who asked you to do that?” exclaimed Mr. Fleishman. “I sent you to ask the she’eilah, but never expected you to dump the cholent! I’m going to hold you liable for the cholent and deduct from your pay; you damaged me!”
“What do you want from me?” argued Boaz. “I followed Rabbi Isser’s ruling!”
The two went to Rabbi Dayan. “Is Boaz liable for the cholent?” Mr. Fleishman asked.
“Shevus Yaakov (1:61) addresses a similar case,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “A person was sent with food that was questionable to ask the Rav, who ruled that it was completely prohibited. The person then disposed of the food. It turned out that the Rav had made a mistake, and the food was in fact permitted. The owner claimed payment from the Rav and/or the person.
“Shevus Yaakov rules that neither is liable,” continued Rabbi Dayan. “Shulchan Aruch (C.M. 25:1) writes that the Rav is not liable, since he did not damage directly and did not intend to damage (grama). Although the Rema cites an opinion that the Rav is liable, it remains a doubt and we cannot extract money when there is doubt (muchzak). Furthermore, the Shach (25:5) sides strongly with the Shulchan Aruch’s opinion.”
“What about the person who asked the question?” asked Mr. Fleishman. “He actively threw the food away and wasn’t told to do so!”
“Shevus Yaakov writes that the person is also exempt, since he disposed of the food based on the Rav’s ruling,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “Although he actively damaged, he is considered completely anuss (the damage is beyond his control). He carries less liability than a Rav who mistakenly ruled and also actively disposed, who is liable” (Pischei Teshuvah, Y.D. 242:17).
“Are there other examples of exemption for one who acted based on a halachic ruling?” asked Boaz.
“We find, similarly, that a guardian who transferred an entrusted item to others based on an erroneous ruling of beis din is exempt,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “Radvaz (1:299) explains that he is considered anuss. Similarly, renters who paid the wrong landlord based on beis din’s instructions are exempt” (Rema 297:1; Nesivos 140:10; Pischei Choshen, Pikadon 3:31).
“Thus,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “since Boaz disposed of the cholent based on Rabbi Isser’s ruling, he is exempt.”