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Shabbat Parashat Shoftim 5779

P'ninat Mishpat: Was the Site Created Fast Enough?

(based on ruling 71042 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: The defendant (=def) asked the plaintiff (=pl) to create a website to be used to raise money for a sefer Torah to be written to commemorate the victims of the Carmel Mountain fire. Def offered 2,000 shekels and instructed that it be done very quickly, before public interest in the matter would wane. 18 days later def canceled the project. Pl said that he worked hard to do the project quickly and indeed had sent a picture of the site to def and was waiting for def to send content. Def says that he demanded that the work be complete within a day or two and therefore offered more money than the job was worth (he claimed it was an easy project because existing sites can be used as a basis with a need of minor modifications). Def claims that pictures of the site were not enough; he needed it working on the internet so that he could show it to donors immediately. He also said that during discussions after the cancellation, pl had said: “If you don’t want to pay me, don’t pay me, but give me an answer.” Thus, pl already waived any money due. Pl denies making such a statement.   


Ruling: We showed/described the work done to two people who deal in the field of website development, and they estimated the amount of work needed at 10-25 hours (depending on the amount of professionalism needed) and its value at 2,000-4,000 shekels. Therefore, the price and the efficiency with which pl did the work was reasonable. 

Based on the timeline that was presented and taking the time pressure into consideration, it is borderline as to whether pl acted swiftly enough. However, we do not accept def’s claim that there was a set time limit of two days. From an email conversation between the parties after eight days, there is no indication from def that pl had broken his commitment and no ultimatum given as to exactly when the work had to be complete. Therefore, that is not grounds for foregoing payment.

There is a factual disagreement as to whether pl relinquished rights to payment. Given a case where there is an existing obligation to pay pl but with no signed document, so that def could have been believed that he paid, he can also say (based on “migo”) that the other side was mochel (relinquished rights to payment) (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 75:22). However, one has to check what language pl used, even according to def’s account. The Maharam Ruttenberg (IV:435) says that language such as “I will not make a claim against you” is not the same as waiving the obligation, and an obligation remains, which can be demanded later. Since we have the right to rule based on compromise, we add our impression that the claim of mechila was not strong, and we obligate def to pay pl 1,600 shekels if pl is willing to take def’s content, add it to the site, and make it available online.      


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