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Shabbat Parashat Vaetchanan 5774

Ask the Rabbi: Pay for Cancelled Summer Camps

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: During Operation Tzuk Eitan, when summer camps were cancelled because campsites were not “missile-proof,” do the parents have to pay anyway? Does it make a difference if they already paid?

[We answered this question during the fighting, but the halachic and moral concepts can be applied even after its hopefully successful conclusion.] 


Answer: We start with a few halachic sources and conclude with an important moral message.

Bava Metzia 77a records the general rule regarding a work agreement that became unfeasible to carry out. If one side is assumed to have been aware of the possibility of work stoppage and the other was not, the side that knew loses (by paying or not paying, respectively) because of his failure to stipulate otherwise. If the two sides’ degrees of awareness are comparable, the worker is not paid. There are different opinions as to whether the worker loses because he has the more difficult task of extracting money, or because only under special circumstances does a worker deserve pay without performing the work (see Terumat Hadeshen 329 and Be’ur Hagra, Choshen Mishpat 334:5). One difference between the opinions is if the worker was pre-paid. Another pertinent source discusses a case where Reuven rented a boat from Shimon to transport wine and the boat and wine sank midway. Does Reuven have to pay Shimon the rental fee? There are four different halachot (obligated, exempt, split the money, depends if he already paid) in four different permutations of the case (the factors are: whether Reuven can provide other wine; whether Shimon can provide a different boat).

Finally, we present the concept of makat medina (an impediment that affects a broad population). The mishna/gemara (ibid. 105b) says that that a field’s sharecropper is entitled to partial relief from his payment if crops are destroyed by a regional infestation. The Maharam Padova (86) explains that in such a case, one cannot say the “bad fortune” relates to a particular person, and he and the Rama (CM 334:1) apply the concept also to a worker who was prevented from working due to a makat medina. The Mordechai (Bava Metzia 343) cites the Maharam as saying that if the government suspends schools, parents still have to pay teachers. There is great debate (see S’ma 321:6; Shach 321:1; Netivot Hamishpat 321:1) if and under what circumstances we accept the Rama. The Chatam Sofer wrote, regarding teaching that was suspended for weeks due to war, that he found it nearly impossible to determine whether strictly halachically, the teachers must be paid, and he urged for the various sides to reach compromises.

If a specific case came to our doorstep (which would require the presentation of two sides), we would find it hard to be more certain that the Chatam Sofer was. If the question is general, as it appears, it is even harder to answer because many fluid factors are not addressed. A partial list of questions follows. Is the camp in question in a region where some such activities are continuing or are all suspended? Is it possible for the camp to make other arrangements? Was the problem known at the time of payment and by whom?

One of the great national assets going into and to this point of Operation Tzuk Eitan is a palpable feeling of solidarity. Especially around Tisha B’av time, we should recall the gemara (Bava Metzia 30b) that says that Yerushalayim was destroyed because people were unwilling to go beyond monetary law and act beyond the letter of the law. In most cases, both parents and camp directors will have legitimate claims. Let us hope that all people involved in such issues will be willing to offer their brother a compromise if not the benefit of the doubt. (One of our dayanim likes to tell of a Yerushalmi ancestor who was sued in beit din for refusing to receive more payment than he thought he deserved. While our beit din has not yet adjudicated such a case, we will happily do so.) In the merit of mutual understanding and concern, may we defeat our enemies and see a geula shleima.

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