Shabbat Parashat Pinchas| 5765
A Questionable Entry in a Grocery Bill - Based on Piskei Din of the Rabbinical Court of Yerushalayim- vol. III, pp.51-52
Case: A grocery store keeps a record of a customer’s purchases, which he pays at intervals. The customer claims that he believes that it is likely that some entries are mistaken, and, therefore, he should only have to pay those charges that he agrees to.
Ruling: The Shoeil U’meishiv (I, 2:190) discusses an almost identical case and says the following (after we give background). One who admits to part of a claim made against him and denies part is obligated by the Torah to make an oath (sh’vuat modeh b’miktzat)that he does not owe the full amount (Sh’vuot 38b). If he is unable to swear to exempt himself on the amount in question, because, for example, he is not certain that he does not owe the money, then he is obligated to pay (Bava Metzia 98a). In contrast, if one is not certain if he owes any of the money demanded, then he does not swear and does not need to pay (Bava Kamma 118a). The question is whether this case is one of a person who admits to part of the payment or denies (equivocally) the whole thing. The Shoeil U’meshiv raises the possibility that he is considered to deny the whole thing. This is so if we look at every entry in the grocery’s ledger, which corresponds to a different visit to the grocery, as a different event. The defendant agrees fully to some of the visits and questions fully some of the other visits that allegedly ended in purchases. On the denied claims, he is like one who denies totally and since he is not obligated in any Torah-level oath, he does not have to pay despite his inability to swear.
However, this suggestion is very difficult, as it contradicts the view of the Sefer Hat’rumot which is brought as halacha by the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 88:31) without dissent. They rule that if one makes several claims of loans taking place at different times, or even if the claims stem from different types of monetary obligations, and the defendant agrees to some and denies some, he must make a Torah oath. If the defendant has an obligation to make a Torah oath and says that he is unsure of the truth, then he has to pay.
The logic is as follows. When one makes claims or, for that matter, testifies on occurrences that require payment, the crux of the matter is the amount of money due. The story(ies) behind the obligation serves only as the foundation of the obligation, not the heart of it. Therefore, we look at the total amount from all entries on the grocer’s bill for the customer as one unit. As the customer agrees to part of the bill and is unsure about the rest, he is a modeh b’miktzat who has to pay.
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