By the Bais Hora'ah
Q: I landed in my home city upon returning from a trip, and while trying to decide how to get home from the airport, I met a neighbor who had just landed as well. He told me that he had already ordered a taxi. I asked him if he had room for me and my luggage, and he readily agreed to have me join him.
When we reached home, he asked me to pay my half of the fare. I gave him the money without arguing, but I’m wondering if I was really required to pay. He had already ordered the taxi and was ready to pay the full fare on his own.
Shouldn’t my joining him be classified as zeh neheneh vezeh lo chaseir – I benefited while he didn’t lose – in which case I should not be required to pay?
A: At first glance, it would seem that you are correct. A halachic precedent for your case can be found in the Rema (Choshen Mishpat 264:4), who discusses a case of two people – we’ll call them Reuven and Shimon – who were incarcerated, and Reuven paid money that resulted in both of them being released.
If beis din determines that Reuven did not spend any extra money to free Shimon, he is not entitled to compensation, because it is zeh neheneh vezeh lo chaseir.
The Rema adds, however, that that this is only true if Reuven intended to pay the legal fees purely for his own sake, and his efforts happened to free Shimon as well.
If, however, he initially planned to pay for both of them to be freed, Shimon must pay half of the total, because we no longer view it as though all the expenses were paid for Reuven’s sake, but rather that they were paid for both of them – even if the total amount is exactly the same.
Based on this halachah, it would seem that if your neighbor had originally ordered the taxi with you in mind, or even if he didn’t realize that you were there, but he hoped that he would find someone to split the fare with him (see Shu”t Maharshag 3:124), then you were required to pay him. But if he ordered the taxi with the intention of paying the full fare himself, and the price did not go up because you joined him, it is considered zeh neheneh vezeh lo chaseir, and you are not required to pay (ibid. and Chashukei Chemed Bava Kamma, p. 143).
The fact that your neighbor paid the fare at the end of the ride, when he already knew that you were joining him, does not change the halachah, because his initial intention to pay the full fare himself still renders this a case of zeh neheneh vezeh lo chaseir (see Shaar Hamishpat 73:17).
In truth, however, your case is not exactly the same as the case of the prisoners who were released because of Reuven’s payment. In that case, Reuven did not do anything extra in order to free Shimon; rather, the same legal maneuver that freed him automatically freed Shimon as well. The benefit Shimon derived was not due to any extra effort or even a decision Reuven made, and he is therefore absolved from compensating Reuven because of zeh neheneh vezeh lo chaseir.
In your case, had your neighbor simply ordered the taxi and taken it alone, you would have been left without a ride home. Only his decision to grant your request to join him enabled you to derive that benefit. His consent to your joining him is equivalent to him offering you a ride in his own car.
When someone performs a service for a friend, the recipient cannot claim that he took for it granted that it was provided for free. Therefore, when someone tells his friend, “You can live in my courtyard,” or “Let’s go out to eat,” we must determine whether he was offering to host him for free or he was planning to charge him rent.
Nowadays it is customary that when someone offers another person a ride in his own car, he is offering that ride for free, and he cannot demand payment when he drops the passenger off. But a person who orders a taxi pays a considerable amount for the trip, and the custom is that those who join him for that trip pay a portion of the fare. We can therefore assume that your neighbor’s consent to you joining him was predicated on his understanding that you would pay half the fare, and you are therefore required to pay (see Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 264:4; 246:17; 363:10, and Nesivos 153:3).
In addition, this might not qualify as a case of zeh neheneh vezeh lo chaseir at all. Your neighbor might have been more comfortable traveling alone, yet he agreed to forgo that comfort in order to provide you with a ride, so you are required to pay because it’s zeh neheneh vezeh chaseir.