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Shabbat Parashat Vayigash 5778

P'ninat Mishpat: A Sub-par Vacation Package

(based on ruling 75110 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The plaintiffs (=pl) saw on a Chabad house’s (=def) site, a Pesach-vacation package: a hotel providing kosher-for-Pesach meals for 100 euro per person; Seder and day trips arranged by Chabad free of charge. Pl, who was returning to Israel before the seventh day of Pesach, wanted a switch of the order of trips so they would not miss one that interested them, and the rabbi agreed to accommodate. Pl has the following complaints: the hotel’s meals were sub-par, and kitniyot were served at one of them; two day trips, including the one that interested them, were cancelled. The rabbi was not at the Seder but was replaced by his brother. Pl are suing the Chabad house for 100 euro per member of the family. Def responds that vacationers do not pay them for anything, and they only receive a finder’s fee per guest from the hotel. Therefore, def is not responsible when things do not go as hoped for. The rabbi, who had an important personal reason to be elsewhere, is not obligated to always be present, and there was a qualified replacement. 


Ruling: While the advertisement presents def as the organizer of the whole package, it is clear for a few reasons that def is not serving as a for-profit vacation provider. No contract was signed, and pl paid no money to def. The style of operation of Chabad houses in tourist locations is well-known – they provide services for free or for a minimal price and are able to continue because of donations of some participants and other Jews. Two “deals” were made.  

1. The hotel – def was an agent for the hotel, from which alone it received pay. Therefore, if pl has complaints, they should sue the hotel, just as one may not sue a real-estate agent when a seller deceives the buyer [unless the agent was involved in intentional deception].

2. Seder and trips – def was responsible without pay. When one offers services for free, he is allowed to quit even if he cannot be easily replaced (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 333:5, based on the Maharik). The Gra (ad loc. 35) explains that it is because in that case no employer-employee relationship exists. Additionally, even if relying on the offer caused a loss, the recipient should have taken into account that one who provides services for free can decide to stop them at any time, and he accepts the risk.

We do find that one who causes one to make a decision based on assurances he gave can be obligated to pay even if he is not paid (see Shulchan Aruch, CM 306:6 and Rama, CM 14:5). Some say that this is because of garmi (semi-direct damage) (Gra CM 306:16). Some say it is based on arev (accepting responsibility to one who extends himself due to another’s assurance, classically, when lending money based on a co-signer’s assurance). However, it is not possible to apply this here, as overall pl did not lose based on the assurances; he just did not gain as much as he had hoped. It is amazing that pl is suing for the entire amount he paid for the package, as if he received no benefit from the hotel and the services he received from the Chabad house.

Therefore, def is exempt from paying.


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