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Shabbat Parashat R'ei | 5764
Should Beit Din Hold up Payment When a Ruling is Questionable? - Excerpts from Piskei Din Rabbani’im IX pp.226-241
Case: A husband obligated himself in alimony with a signed document. He now claims that the document is invalid for a number of reasons, including the fact that the obligation is open-ended, which, according to the Rambam, invalidates it. He demands that beit din suspend further payment, despite the document having been approved by another beit din.
Ruling: There are a few factors that justify beit din not aiding the husband in his attempt to extricate himself from the obligation he accepted upon himself at the time of divorce.
In a case (like this one) where a majority of opinions rule that the defendant has to pay but a reasonable minority disagree, we normally allow the defendant to say kim li, that he has confidence that the opinions that exempt him are correct. In such a case, we employ the rule that the one who possesses the money has the upper hand and is exempt. The question is what happens if beit din ruled, in such a case, that he has to pay. Can the defendant sue in another court to halt payments, or do we employ the concept of kam dina (the ruling stands), which gives validity to a ruling that might not have been made based on what we now know?
A similar case arises in Sanhedrin 29b. R. Yishmael ruled that a certain, questionable admission was valid, but R. Chiya demonstrated some time later that his reasoning had apparently been faulty. R. Chiya instructed the defendant that the money he had paid based on R. Yishmael’s ruling would remain in the hands of the plaintiff, but that he would not have to pay any more. If we follow the precedent just cited, it would seem that the defendant in our case would not have to pay more than he already did.
However, there is room to distinguish in two possible ways. Firstly, it appears that R. Chiya, who made the second ruling, was convinced that the first ruling was a taut b’shikul hada’at (a mistake in analysis). But in our case, the second beit din agrees that most rishonim accept the obligation’s validity, and only for lack of certainty would they not have forced the defendant to pay. However, that lack of certainty might not be enough to overturn the first court’s decision.
Secondly, the situation after the first ruling is such that the plaintiff no longer needs beit din’s help in order to secure payment, as the document it authorized is useable to force payment through the civil authorities. It is possible that in such a case, even those sums of money that were not yet paid are considered as if they are in the plaintiff’s possession (the ex-wife, in this case), and kim li would no longer forestall payment.
The main factor, which brings us to decide not to intervene, is the fact that the obligation to pay was not really created by beit din, which would have brought up questions about the ruling’s validity, when done against the rules of kim li. Rather, beit din just confirmed an agreement that the sides decided upon and brought to them for approval. In such a case, where it is likely that the obligation is valid, beit din should not get involved to prevent payment.
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