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Shabbat Parashat Shemot| 5771

Pninat Mishpat: A Political Partys Obligation to Abide by a Questionable Addendum

(condensed from Shurat Hadin III, pp. 221-224)

Case: Three political parties (=def) that ran together in an election signed an agreement with a group of voters. The agreement mentioned that there was to be a binding addendum. The agreement and a handwritten, unsigned addendum were given over to neutral parties by pl and def to hold. The neutral party gave the addendum to a member of the voters’ group to photocopy, and the latter returned copies. In the addendum, it says that a certain member of the voters’ group (=pl) would be appointed to a certain local position. Def first said that the addendum does not bind them because it is unsigned, they might not have read it, and because it was not approved by their national echelons. Upon interrogation at a second hearing, representatives of def said that they were not sure if the promises found in the addendum had ever been made and raised the possibility that the addendum was tampered with during the time it was taken for photocopying and was out of the hands of the neutral parties. Def adds that they would have made the appointment if it had been feasible and still might do so if it became possible.


Ruling: Obligations accepted by public officials are binding even if they were not formalized through a kinyan (act of finalization of an agreement) (Rama, Choshen Mishpat 163:6). A ruling of the Rabbinical Courts proved that this is also true in regards to the promise of appointment to a post. Written agreements are binding even if the parties claim that they did not read the content of the document (Shulchan Aruch, CM 61:13). In this case, although the addendum was not signed, the signed document indicates that there would be an addendum.

Do we have to be afraid that the addendum was altered? The claim is a strange one, as during the first hearing no one cast aspersions on the addendum’s veracity, just to whether it is was binding, and it is not logical that such a basic claim would come up later. Similarly, originally def’s representatives said that they all forgot if there had been a promise (not long after it might have taken place); no one claimed they thought it was not true. Later on, some representatives weakly claimed that it was false. The Rosh (Shut 59:1) says that one cannot change his position from not remembering, when said in a serious manner, to remembering that the other party is wrong. It is also not clear why, if there is a fear of forgery, def would still consider appointing pl to the position. In a case where a document was taken from and then returned to neutral people in charge of watching it, we can apply the assumption that one does not lie about something that is likely to be uncovered (see Ritva, Yevamot 47a).

Def’s entire presentation of facts is suspect, and we see no reason to doubt the veracity of pl’s claim. Thus the addendum to the agreement should be followed to the full extent. The national organization does not have to approve everything that the local branches commit to locally.

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