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Shabbat Parashat Vayakhel 5776

Pninat Mishpat: Delay in Return of Rented Horse Due to Predictable Flooding

(based on Shut Noda BYehuda II, Choshen Mishpat 56)

Case: Reuven rented a horse from Shimon for a set rate to ride to a certain town around 60 miles away and shortly thereafter return. Reuven returned only after three weeks instead of the normal seven days because riverside roads were flooded with rainwater in a few places. Shimon claims that Reuven should pay three times the agreed upon rental rate since de facto he rented the horse for three times more than what had been planned. Although the agreement had been per trip, since Reuven knew the roads and the possibility of flooding and said nothing, while Shimon did not know this route, Reuven should be responsible for the delay. Reuven responded that while he knew the roads could be flooded, he thought that since in the place they were it had not rained, there would be no flooding.   


Ruling: The querying rabbi cited the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 310:3), which talks about such a case. Where the rental was for a trip, but the trip took a day longer than expected in a manner that the renter should have known and the lessor should not, he says that the renter has to pay for the extra day. However, the rabbi asked on this from the halacha that there is no shevet by animals, including rental animals (ibid. 307:6). Shevet is payment made by a person who damages another person and causes him to have to “sit” at home, as opposed to being able to go to work. In other words, since the agreement was per the whole route, it should not call for extra payment, which should be due only when damage is caused by the delay. Since this type of damage is not payable halachically, the rental fee should not be raised.

This question came up when I was young and was teaching Choshen Mishpat to my students. I would answer that the Shulchan Aruch was talking about paying for an extra day, during which the renter used the animal, and the extra payment is for that extra day of usage. In our case, due to the flooding, there were days that Reuven was unable to use the horse at all, and any payment that might exist would have to be just for causing the animal to not be returned to Shimon. That is a case of shevet of an animal, which, we have seen, is not to be paid.

However, now I see things differently. If Reuven took the animal in the framework of rental, then any extension of this period draws payment as continued rental, without having to obligate as shevet, which is within the realm of damages. If one locks up another person’s animal so that the owner cannot use it, he is exempt from paying, as that would be shevet (Shach, 307:5), but in the framework of rental, he is obligated to pay for the delay. Although there is no payment for shevet even in the framework of rental (Shulchan Aruch, CM 307:6), that is when the animal is returned and is not immediately fit to continue working due to the renter. However, when the renter caused the rental period to go beyond schedule, the lessor can demand payment.

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