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Shabbat Parashat Beshalach 5776

Pninat Mishpat: Appraising Relatives

(based on Shut Noda BYehuda I, Choshen Mishpat 21)

Case: In our community (the rabbi is asking), the minhag has been to have appraisers (who determine the amount that members of the community must give towards taxes, communal expenses, and/or charity) do the appraisal of everyone in the community, including their relatives. This is especially necessary because most of the people in the community have relatives within it. There was a meeting recently to choose new appraisers, and people agreed to the old system, but once the identity of the appraisers was determined based on lots, some people complained about the system. Do they have a right to do so?


Ruling: Even if there were not an established minhag to have appraisers of this type, since people were present when the decision was taken, they cannot back out. This is true even if no act of kinyan was done to finalize the agreement because something that was done in the presence of the seven lay leaders of the city is binding even without a kinyan.

The only question is if some of the people who are complaining were not present when the decision was made. It is possible that the seven leaders cannot make a decision that gives to one person at the expense of another without all present. However, in this case it does not make a difference since we are talking about a set minhag (its occurring three times suffices). In such a case, an individual cannot undo the practice, especially when the issue at hand is taxes, in which case we follow even bad minhagim.

In this case, the one complaining wants that the appraisers should be permitted to appraise only people who are not related to them. They should realize that this idea will not solve the problem anyway, as in matters of apportioning responsibility, all members of the community have an interest in the decisions. After all, if one raises the demands on people who are not their relatives, it makes it possible to take less money from one’s relatives and oneself. If one wants to totally reject the minhag and have appraisers who conform to the normal halachic requirements of impartiality, then it would only be possible to have people from outside the city with no relatives in the city do it. However, this is impossible to arrange for all intents and purposes.

It is true that the more common minhag is indeed that the appraisers appraise only those who are not related to them. However, that is not the halacha but based on minhag. When the minhag is different, as in your community, an individual has no right to complain about it.

Please realize that I usually do not state my opinion on matters affecting other communities and am doing so only because you are here to ask me several questions, and I promised you that I would answer what I can. Also be aware that if the government has any qualms with the system that is being employed, you must follow what they say. I just give permission to show my letter to the government and the likelihood is that they will agree that you follow what the Torah has to say on the matter.

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