Rabbi Meir Orlian
Mr. Farber, the principal of Yeshiva High School, asked some students to stay after class to help set up for graduation. “Pizza and ice cream for those who help,” he promised.
While the students were setting up, Mr. Farber called the pizza store. “I’m sending over eight students,” he said. “When they come, please treat them to two pies and ice cream, on us.”
The following day, the students asked Mr. Farber to order pizza and ice cream. “But I sent you to the pizza store yesterday!” he exclaimed, puzzled.
“In the end, the storeowner never gave it to us,” the students replied. “He said that he can’t give it without a credit card number. We tried calling the office, but it was already closed.”
Mr. Farber called the pizza store. “I sent some students over yesterday,” he said. “Did you give them pizza and ice cream?”
“Yes; I have an invoice for two pies and eight ice creams,” said the storeowner. “Could you please give me your credit card number?”
“Is the invoice signed by the students?” asked the principal. “They said they didn’t get the pizza.”
“It isn’t, but I don’t write an invoice without giving the pizza,” the storeowner said. “You told me to give it to them and I did. I don’t know if your students are trustworthy.”
Mr. Farber again questioned the students, who insisted that they didn’t get the pizza. “You promised us pizza and ice cream for our work,” they argued. “We don’t know if the storeowner is trustworthy.”
“This is ridiculous,” Mr. Farber said to himself.
Mr. Farber picked up the phone to Rabbi Dayan. “I sent some students for pizza and ice cream yesterday,” he said. “The storeowner says he gave it to them and demands payment, while the students say they didn’t get it and ask that I order it for them. Whom do I have to pay?”
“The Mishnah (Shavuos 45a) calls this case ‘chenvani al pinkaso, a storeowner on the basis of his ledger,’” replied Rabbi Dayan. “A storeowner who is instructed to provide payment to workers is believed with an oath to say that he gave them and collect from the employer, even if the workers deny having received the payment.”
“What about the students?” asked Mr. Farber.
“They are also believed with an oath to collect their wages,” said Rabbi Dayan. “The employer clearly owes his workers and does not know whether they were paid. The storeowner and workers should swear in each other’s presence so that each will be embarrassed in front of the other and, hopefully, the one lying will admit the truth” (C.M. 91:1).
“Does the payment have to be recorded in the ledger?” asked Mr. Farber. “What if the storeowner claims he paid but has no written record?”
“The storeowner is still believed if he has a definitive claim,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “The Rosh explains ‘his ledger’ is mentioned to teach that if the storeowner has a reliable ledger he can claim that he paid and swear on this basis, even if he doesn’t absolutely remember having given the payment. Since the employer admits having sent his workers for payment, there is circumstantial basis for what the storeowner recorded, so the ledger can be relied upon as a definite claim” (C.M. 91:4).
“So I have to pay double for the pizza and ice cream?” asked Mr. Farber. “How are they going to swear?”
“Nowadays, beis din usually advocates a compromise in lieu of an oath,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “The nature of the compromise is weighted in favor of the party who is believed, in principle. Thus, beis din would probably make you pay about 2/3 of the amount to each party.”