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Shabbat Parashat Vayikra 5775

P'ninat Mishpat: Is Expensive Food for Sickness Included in Support?

(based on Shut Rabbi Akiva Eiger I:150)

Case: Yitro, who owned a store and wanted to retire, gave his son-in-law Moshe some money and sold him the store in return for a promissory note. Moshe also obligated himself to support Yitro during the rest of his life (the word used, mezonot, includes at least feeding but is often used broadly, referring to general support). Yitro has since died and Moshe now wants to reduce his debt from the note to the inheritors due to the fact that for quite a while, he spent extra money on a special diet due to Yitro’s illness. Did Moshe’s obligation to support Yitro include the extra medically related outlay?

 

Ruling: The Rama (Choshen Mishpat 60:3) rules that if one accepted to support his friend, he is “not obligated in his medical expenses, only in the cost of his support like when he was healthy.” The Rama’s language needs explanation, as he is obviously still required to feed him while he is sick, so what does “support like when he was healthy” mean? The simple meaning is that he does not have to pay more to sustain his friend than when he was well. Admittedly, it is common for a sick person to eat less than a healthy one, and it could be saying that he has to give as much money for food as when he was eating more. This is parallel to one who accepts to support his stepdaughter for a set time, in which case he pays the money that food normally costs even if she is sick and eats less (see Rama, Even Haezer 114:5) and even if she marries and her husband  provides for her (Shulchan Aruch, EH 114:9). However, while this halacha is true, the Rama’s language implies he is limiting the obligation to no more than the sustenance of a healthy person.

The Ritva (Ketubot 102a), who is the source for the Rama, is also telling. He learns from the Yerushalmi that says that the supporter is obligated to pay the cost of a healthy person that he is exempt from medical expenses. How are those two matters connected? One possibility is that he equates between extra food expense for the sick and medical expenses. Another is that if he does not get a break when food bills go down, then fairness dictates that he shouldn’t have to pay more when they go up. Either way, we see that Moshe was not obligated to pay for Yitro’s expensive diet.

The querier suggested a distinction between one who accepts support for a set amount of time and one who accepts for the rest of his friend’s life. The former does not obligate himself in medical expenses because people do not usually accept unexpected expenses but the latter has to expect medical expenses at some time in the future and thus becomes obligated. However, there is no source in Rishonim for such a distinction.

The querier also suggested that our case is parallel to that of partners who share income and expenses, where we say that open-ended medical expenses are parallel to food expenses (Shulchan Aruch, CM 177:2-3). This, he reasoned, is because they view themselves as in business together, which is also the case here, where Yitro left money for Moshe and helped with the store even after the sale. However, the comparison is not a good one. Regarding partners, just like Reuven could pay for Shimon’s medical expenses, so could it be the opposite. In this case, while Yitro gave whatever he gave, support existed only from Moshe toward Yitro.

Therefore, unless the language used was that Yitro would be “fed from Moshe’s table,” the extra expenses are to be reduced from Moshe’s obligations to Yitro’s inheritors.

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