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Shabbat Parashat Vaetchanan 5776

P'ninat Mishpat: Returning Expenses to Organization Head

(based on ruling 73141 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The defendant (=def) was the head of an organization (=org) from 2007 until his resignation in 2011, and the plaintiffs (=pl) were and are members of the board. Def is claiming expenses of 13,500 shekels from org for use of his telephone (org did not have an office and most of its activity were run out of def’s home) and his car on behalf of org over the years. Pl say that standard practice is that a non-profit organization executive does not charge it for use of his car. Regarding the phone, they had urged def to use an unlimited call plan. In any case, def’s indirect benefit from org’s activities exceeded the expenses, and he, therefore, does not deserve compensation. Def says that in past voluntary positions, he had charged for use of his car. After the dispute arose, def found approximately 21,000 shekels in cash that belong to org, which he is willing to return but claims that this disclosure adds to his claims’ credibility.


Ruling: Def’s work on org’s behalf is considered that of a yored b’reshut (someone who worked with permission), which normally entitles him to pay and not only returned expenses (see Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 375:3-4). While it is clear from context that def was not asking for and therefore could not demand pay, he at least deserves reimbursement for expenses, unless there are strong enough indications otherwise.  

Pl brought convincing documentation that heads of organizations are not in the practice of charging for using their car or their telephone. Def argued that this case is different because the organization worked out of his house, and therefore the level of use of his resources was too great to ignore. Beit din accepts def’s argument in regard to the phone but does not see why this fact would affect the use of his car. We also note that in ongoing briefs to the board, def listed phone expenses as part of org’s budget but did not mention anything regarding car expenses.

Beit din looked into the claim that def should have used an unlimited call package. Def responded that the quality of the reception for companies that had it were not good enough. Since he used his personal phone, def cannot be expected to switch phones to one he dislikes to save money for org. Regarding the possibility of two lines, we determined that under the circumstances, it was likely to have cost more money.

As far as proving the amount of expenses paid, usually one who demands expenses must prove them or swear about the amount (Shulchan Aruch, CM 375:8). While beit din is very critical of def’s possession in his home of a very large sum of cash that belonged to org, the fact that no one made claims for the money before he admitted its existence does give him credibility to say how much of it he deserves to keep toward expenses. This is based on a strong form of migo called meishiv aveida (see ibid 75:3). However, this only gives credibility to the facts he claims, but does affect beit din’s understanding of societal norms. Therefore, even if we believe def that he intended to ask for reimbursement for the car, since he did not claim to have made this clear to the members of the board, they are not responsible to reimburse him against the common practice.

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