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Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach | 5768
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Question: A laundromat damaged much of my clothing and is willing to reimburse me for only some of the losses by offering free laundry service. Is that a legitimate form of payment?
Answer: We will deal with the question of the form of payment and take no stand on how much, if at all, they owe you. That requires hearing both sides and appraising the clothes’ value.
Not always does halacha require one to make payment in the form of cash. Regarding a regular loan, one who has cash must pay cash (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 101:1). However, regarding damages, even one who has money may give objects of the same value (ibid. 419:1). Although one who pays damages with real estate has to give the choicest level of fields that he possesses, he can pay whichever and whatever level of movable objects (m’talt’lin) he wants (Shulchan Aruch, ibid). This is because m’talt’lin are considered a choice form of payment, as the recipient can take them to wherever he wants and sell them (Bava Kama 7b).
Now let’s analyze the type of payment that the laundromat is offering. They are offering a service that is of value only in a very limited context (laundering at a single establishment). Therefore it lacks the broadness of m’talt’lin, which one can take with him. However, if they give you a written credit that can be sold to anyone, the certificate is arguably like m’talt’lin, as it can be sold if the recipient personally has no use for it. Is this really so?
There is a similar case that is discussed by the poskim, albeit in the context of a loan, which can serve as a precedent for our case. The Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 101:2) accepts the opinion that if a debtor has a loan contract against a third party, he can give it over to his creditor as payment. The Rama (ad loc.) concludes that this can be done even if the debtor has standard m’talt’lin that he could give as payment. The concerns of those who do not allow such payment (see Tur in the name of Sefer Haterumot) are as follows: the loan contract is not something of intrinsic value; there is a danger that after receiving the loan contract as payment, the creditor will be unable to extract payment from the third party. Since we see that the Torah expected payment to be in a relatively safe and accessible form, the contract does not seem to be up to the qualifications.
Our case is similar in that in both one cannot practically take the document anywhere to sell it, but, on the other hand, it certainly is more movable than land. Our case is better in that the person who is trying to thereby exempt himself from payment is the one providing the service. If he reneges on the credit, the court case will resume from the same point. Both cases have similar questions as to whether a document can be considered as the equivalent of money (see K’tzot Hachoshen 101:2).
It is important to note that the Shach (CM 101:3) argues on the Shulchan Aruch and Rama and says that a loan contract can be used as payment only when no standard m’talt’lin exist. Even they say that the value of the contract is not its face value but depends on how much a person would pay for them, after considering how easy it is to extract payment from the specific debtor. In this case, the laundromat’s reputation and accessibility would be factors.
In such matters, accepted standards emanating from laws or social norms may affect the halacha. It seems to us (albeit before extensive research) that, in this type of case, proprietors often give this type of compensation. We understand why you would prefer to get cash, and you now understand that it might be legitimate for them to give you a credit as compensation. Assuming that you would not prefer to drag the matter to a din Torah and that you may lack ways of exerting effective pressure, this might be the best way to get them to agree to return to you the most value for your loss.
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