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Shabbat Parashat Acharei Mot | 5768
Claim That a Side to a Contract Did Not Understand It
(based on Halacha Psuka, vol. 42 - A Condensation of a Psak by the Beit Din of the Rabbanut of Yerushalayim II, pp. 225-226)
Case: The plaintiff rented an apartment from the defendant and paid in advance for a long period of rental. The contract states that the plaintiff is responsible for repairs of the apartment, which is in poor condition. The plaintiff says that given that she paid so much for the apartment in advance, she would not have agreed to pay for all repairs (she is prepared to pay half). She claims to have signed the contact as is because she is illiterate. The defendant counters that she received three days to show the contract to an advisor and, therefore, she is responsible for signing it.
Ruling: The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 45:3) rules: “If one admitted with his signature and the document was written in the script of non-Jews, it is clear that he did not know how to read it and there are witnesses that he signed without reading it, he is still obligated by everything that is written in it.” In another place (ibid. 61:13), it says: “Someone who claimed about his wife’s ketuba that he did not understand when the chazzan read the ketuba and the tena’im, we do not listen to him. Rama - the same is true regarding other intricacies that one can imply from the document, and we do not say that the person was not so careful about the wording.” According to these sources it seems clear that the plaintiff’s claim should be rejected.
However, the matter is not clear. The S’ma (61:53) explains that the reason that the signature is binding despite the possible claim that he did not understand is that he should have said in the first place that he didn’t understand and that he needs it to be explained. In this case, in fact, the plaintiff did ask that the contract be explained to her, in which case we should assume that her signature was based on that which she was told. Beit din determined that the advisor did not read and explain the contract, but only gave general advice as to whether the contract was written normally. Since the contract did not mention the matter of paying far in advance, the matter of payment for repairs was not an unreasonable condition. Had he known about the early payment, he would not have advised her to sign the contract as is with the plaintiff’s obligation to pay for repairs. Because the explanation did not properly capture the content of the document, the signature is not binding.
[Editor’s note – It seems that one can argue on the logic of this p’sak din for the following reason. Just as one should have asked for a translation of a document if he was signing it, so should the plaintiff have asked her helper to explain its details, not just give general advice. Even if advice was sufficient, she should have given him the pertinent information upon which to base his advice.]
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