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Shabbat Parashat Korach 5773

P'ninat Mishpat: The Return of Equipment that Was Given or Lent part I

(from rulings of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiffs (=pl) daughter-in-law (=dil) worked in a preschool run by the defendant (=def). Over the years, pl presented the school with thousands of shekels of equipment. After several years, dil left the school and the field of early childhood, after which pl demanded return of the equipment. Def objected, as she viewed the equipment as a donation, based on which she had thrown out old but usable equipment. Pl insists that she told def before the donations began and over the years that it was just on loan. At some point, pl threatened def that she would bring workers to take the equipment, relenting only when def agreed to sign a letter acknowledging the equipment was a loan that would be returned if and when a close relative of pl would start a preschool. A year later, pl’s daughter planned to open a preschool. Def sent some equipment in a manner that pl describes as too late (allegedly contributing to the inability of the daughter to open the pre-school), partial, and damaged. Pl now demands payment for the lent materials, which she thinks are no longer in good enough condition to take back.


Ruling: Def insists that pl did not clearly state before giving the equipment that it was a loan during dil’s employment. She does not preclude the possibility that this was pl’s intention, at some point. She acknowledges that pl’s son said that pl made it clear to him at some point that this was her intention, and def admits he is very honest.

There is a general rule that devarim shebalev (thoughts one did not stipulate) are not impactful in interactions with others (Kiddushin 49b). The question is whether that is because the other side can deny he had that intention or whether an intention alone is valueless even if it can be proved that it existed. This is relevant here if def believes pl’s son about his mother’s intention. This point is the subject of a machloket between Rishonim (see Mordechai, Ketubot 254) and Acharonim (see Chelkat Mechokek 42:4 and Chacham Tzvi 115). The more accepted opinion is that devarim shebalev do not impact an agreement even if they existed. In this case, pl’s case is strengthened by the opinion cited in the Rama (Choshen Mishpat 207:4) that regarding presents, devarim shebalev count. Furthermore, def does not dismiss the possibility that pl expressed her intentions, just that it was in a manner that she either did not hear or did not internalize. Furthermore, it is not clear that our case is one of devarim shebalev, which is usually employed to undo a transaction that occurred under certain circumstances. In this case, according to pl, there never was a present.

While it would be difficult for pl to extract money based on her claimed but unproven intentions, def’s written admission is pertinent. One is not able to claim that a signed, written admission is invalid based on different claims that it was not sincere (Shulchan Aruch, CM 81:17). Therefore, beit din holds def to the contents of the admission (that the equipment was borrowed) according to its conditions (that the lending period was until pl’s close relative opens a pre-school).

[We will continue next week with other elements of the case.]

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