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Shabbat Parashat Teruma 5776

Pninat Mishpat: When Is The Debtor Rich Enough to Pay?

(based on Shut Noda BYehuda II, Choshen Mishpat 14)

Case: Reuven promised his creditors that he would pay when Hashem will “widen his boundaries” (i.e., when he will be financially more secure). The creditors now claim that if Reuven has 50 gold coins, then he has reached that level. They base themselves on the sefer Kol Yehuda, who cites the gemara (Chulin 84a). The gemara comments on the pasuk, “When Hashem will widen your boundaries … and you will say ‘I shall eat meat,’ as your spirit will desire to eat meat” (Devarim 12:20), that there should be a correlation between the amount of money one has and how he eats. Specifically, it says that when one has 50 maneh he can allow himself to eat meat, which thus corresponds to the situation of “when Hashem will widen your boundaries...”

 

Ruling: I do not like this type of ruling, which bases itself on an aggadic statement of Chazal. Furthermore, does it make sense that the amount of coins one needs to be considered financially secure is not affected by the value of the local currency? It is clear that the dayan who is ruling on the case has to estimate the point of the widening of the boundaries based on his good sense.   

Even if we were to base ourselves on this gemara, we should understand that the pasuk of widening the boundaries is not discussing one who eats meat on Shabbatot but on one who eats meat whenever he feels the desire to do so, which sounds from the gemara is on a daily basis. The gemara says that 50 maneh is enough to eat meat occasionally and only when he has 100 maneh does he eat meat daily, as the pasuk describes. If the creditors want to extract money, they have to demonstrate that Reuven’s financial status is equivalent to having 100 maneh.

[The Noda B’Yehuda now goes into a mathematical calculation of different currencies of the time of the gemara and of his time in Europe, and tries to work out the equivalent of 100 maneh in terms of his time and place. It came out to much more than the 50 gold coins that the creditors were claiming]. It turns out that the source that the creditors thought would help them actually harms their case. However, I still maintain that the determination of when it is considered that Reuven has enough money to pay has to be made by the dayanim based on the circumstances and their good sense, not by means of a source-based calculation.

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