Shabbat Parashat Bechukotai 5772
P'ninat Mishpat: A Kibbutz’s Rights to Fringe Benefits(condensed from Hemdat Mishpat, rulings of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)
Case: The defendant (=def) is a member of a kibbutz (=pl) who served for many years as a teacher outside the kibbutz. According to the kibbutz’s agreement with its members, all salary, funds, and property that come into the member’s possession are to be given to the kibbutz. One of the benefits that a teacher receives is a fund to be used to take enrichment classes, and def took advantage of this opportunity over the years. Upon def’s retirement, he was allowed to convert remaining money in the fund to a cash payment, which came to approximately 50,000 shekels. Pl claims that this money is a form of income, which belongs to them. Def counters that this fund is earmarked for a special type of personal use, which makes it off-limits to pl. Secondly, def claims, there have been occurrences where other members of the kibbutz kept monies that likely should have gone to the kibbutz according to the letter of the law, and pl did not take action.
Ruling A kibbutz is a special type of framework founded upon the value of partnership and equality, which finds expression both in the social sphere and in the legal sphere. When beit din is asked to decide matters in the legal/monetary realm, it must base itself on the written agreements between the members of the kibbutz and the kibbutz as a whole. Beit din cannot be influenced by the social elements of the dispute, which is the domain of the kibbutz itself. Thus, complaints about favoritism and selective enforcement are not relevant in the venue of beit din. Only when a certain manner of handling financial matters becomes the norm does it become a factor that beit din should take into account. By means of analogy, if workers at a factory steal raw materials and the management does not always prosecute or punish such workers, this does not mean that they cannot take action against a certain individual worker. Only if the situation is that the management, as a rule, lets workers take the materials may a worker follow the established norm. Therefore, beit din will not alter its ruling based on alleged individual cases of selective enforcement of kibbutz rules.
The kibbutz’s by-laws are the basis of the members’ rights and privileges in relation to the kibbutz, based on the rule that “if one makes a condition, everything follows the condition” (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 176:5). The by-laws clearly state that any money or property that an individual receives from any source is supposed to be handed over to the kibbutz. The use of the enrichment fund was an exception as long as its purpose was such that it could be used only by an individual member, in this case, def. However, once def converted the assets into money that can be used for any purpose by anyone, those monies are like any other that def received. This is similar to other fringe benefits that can be converted into money that can be used for any purpose, and thus it is pl’s right to receive that money.
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Les & Ethel Sutker
Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l