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Shabbat Parashat Vayeira 5777

P'ninat Mishpat: Control of Shul-Based Vending Machine

(based on ruling 71008 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiff (=pl) placed a vending coffee machine in a shul (=def) with the gabbai’s permission. It was agreed that he would pay 80 shekels a month for water and electricity. Over time the gabbai became opposed to the business, claiming that there were multiple complaints from shul-goers over coins lost in the machine and the product’s poor quality. First, it was decided to raise the charge to 100 shekels a month. Later, def demanded pl to give up the business. Pl demands compensation for lost revenue and also for effectively voiding his sale of the machine/business to Reuven, with the latter now demanding a return of 7,400 shekels. Pl claims that the gabbai wanted to replace him with Shimon, who would pay more money than he was. Pl claims that the gabbai exaggerated problems with the machine, which pl tended to promptly. Shimon is a professional in the field of coffee machines. He came to look into the complaints and eventually took over the business after pl was asked to leave. He described the consequences of pl’s lack of proper upkeep of the machine and what should be done. After using the old machine for a month, after paying pl 2,600 shekels for it, Shimon installed a new machine, as def required. His reported sales during the time of his operation were four times that of pl’s. 

 

Ruling: Pl did not claim that a kinyan was made to concretize any rights he might have in maintaining a concession in the shul. His monthly payments were to cover expenses and not for rental rights. Def agreed to the arrangement as a resource for their congregants. Therefore, they do not have long-term obligations toward pl. Even if there were such an obligation, it is far from certain that pl would have the right to unilaterally sell his rights to a third party. Def certainly does not have obligations to restore pl’s anticipated future profits.

One can raise the question whether def acted morally or were responsible on some level for pl’s losses. There are clear indications that there were deficiencies in the service that pl provided. It was right for def and its gabbai to ensure that their congregants were receiving sufficient quality for that for which they were paying, and they went about decision-making according to the rules of the shul and a spirit of fairness. No proof was provided that the gabbai acted with malice or with an eye toward personal profit. Although Shimon is an interested party and not an objective witness, his testimony strengthens a logical picture of the issues which caused def’s actions.

Def is exempt from paying, including in taking part, as is customary, in half of the beit din charge.

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