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Shabbat Parashat Tetzaveh 5774

Ask the Rabbi: Keeping Benefits from a Communal Purchase

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I was asked to buy an air conditioning system (for several thousand shekels) for my beit knesset. I received money to put in my account and ordered it with my credit card. A few weeks later, I received a 500 shekel gift certificate (in my name) for purchases at a certain outlet. Must I pass on the benefit to the beit knesset?

: The question of who gains when a shaliach (agent) who, in buying something for his meshaleiach, receives a special deal, is discussed in the gemara (Ketubot 98b). The basic rule is that when the commodity does not have a set price, we treat the good price or extra quantity received as part of the purchase, which goes to the meshaleiach. If there is a set price and the purchase ended up being out of the norm, the extras are split between the shaliach and the meshaleiach.

Before categorizing your case in this regard, we must discuss the logic behind the gemara’s ruling. Rashi (ad loc.) says that the profits are shared in the latter case because while we view the special rate as a present, we do not know who the intended recipient is, so we split it between the two parties out of doubt. The Rif (ad loc.; see Ran ad loc. and Beit Yosef, Choshen Mishpat 183) says that we objectively view the benefit as being joint between the two people responsible for the profitable transaction. The shaliach is the one who was given the “present.” On the other hand, the meshaleiach’s money and request to buy were the trigger for the “present.” The Hagahot Oshri (to Rosh, Ketubot 11:15) explains that the good fortune that brought about this profit is naturally attributable to the shaliach and the meshaleiach, and so they split the profits.

Later poskim discuss variations of the case which depend upon the rationale behind the rule. The Ran (on the Rif ibid.) says that if the seller said explicitly that the special rate was due to the shaliach, Rashi would award the gain to the shaliach, whereas the Rif would say the meshaleiach still gets half for his critical role in the whole process. Rashi’s logic would also not apply to a case where the extra came from the seller’s mistake (of the type that does not require return), whereas it would be less clear who would deserve the extra according to the Rif; the matter of good fortune certainly applies (see K’tzot Hachoshen 183:8). The Shulchan Aruch (CM 183:6) seems to hold like the Rif, which is the preference of the Shach and Taz (ad loc.) whereas the Rama (ad loc.) accepts Rashi. The major poskim do not follow the Hagahot Oshri.

The application of these rules to your case depends on certain factors you did not mention. If the company clearly advertises the gift certificate along with this item or large purchases in general, then it would seem that you do not deserve any part of it. That is because the gift certificate is not a special present but part and parcel of the transaction. Just as if there is a 20% sale on a certain day, you would not claim the reduction for yourself, the same is true for another set benefit. If the matter were a discretionary decision of the store with no known reason, then it would be similar to the present which is subject to the 50-50 split. If you were entered into a lottery of buyers and your name was selected, then according to Rashi you should pass on the profit because there was no intention to give it to you, and profits from the sale naturally go to the buyer. According to the Hagahot Oshri, you are part of the good fortune; one can argue what the Rif would say in that case.

Since it is important to be beyond reproach and suspicion in dealings with community needs (see Tzedaka U’Mishpat 7:7), we suggest discussing the matter with the powers that be in the beit knesset. Even though the strict law is similar to that regarding standard monetary rights (see Noda B’yehuda II, Yoreh Deah 155), you must make sure there will be no conflict. You can share the pertinent elements of our presentation to help you come to an agreement.

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