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Shabbat Parashat Shoftim 5775

Pninat Mishpat: Late Demand of Expenses

(based on Shut Chatam Sofer, Choshen Mishpat 78)

Case: The Jewish government-appointed official R. David outlaid moneys in representation of the community. It was decided that he would do as he saw fit with donations or revenue from individuals, including using them to reimburse himself for expenses. A long time after he stepped down from his role, R. David sued the community for expenses for which he claimed he had not been compensated. He did not bring witnesses that he made a claim when he originally stepped down. R. David said he received a ruling from a Sephardi beit din that he had a right to make the claim and should be believed if he swears how much is coming to him.    

 

Ruling: It is true that one who makes monetary outlays on behalf of his friend with permission is believed to say the amount he is due with an oath (see Ketubot 80a). This is even true if he makes the claim after a few years. However, that is only when it is known that there are expenses outstanding and the question is how much. In that case, we do not assume that the time that has gone by is a sign of mechila (relinquishing of rights). In contrast, in this case, it was not until after years that anyone was made aware that there might be outstanding expenses due, in which case, the claimant cannot be believed even with an oath. 

What we have said must be true, for otherwise there are no limits to the potential obligation of someone who was involved at some point in this type of relationship. Can it be that because at some point one outlaid money for his friend, that the friend would have to pay upon demand for an open-ended amount of time? Indeed, we find this idea in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 257:6 and Taz ad loc. 4) that although a gabbai of a tzedaka is believed that he lent money to the fund, he cannot make this claim when a significant amount of time has passed since he stepped down.

If R. David knows people who saw him raise the issue of certain outlays at the appropriate time, he can make them swear if they now deny it. If these people are fit to be witnesses and they agree with him, then he is entitled to this money, even at the expense of the whole community.

If the alleged ruling of the Sephardi beit din comes to our hands, we will respond to it. In the meantime, it is hard to accept that they would hear the word of one litigant without hearing the other side. However, if and when such a ruling is presented with reasoning, we can deal with what is said. In the meantime R. David is not entitled to payment.

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