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Shabbat Parashat Vayikra| 5765

Pninat Mishpat

Obligation to Pay for Another Person’s Rental (based on Piskei Din - Rabbinical Court of Yerushalayim - vol. III, pp. 177-8
Case: A contractor obligated himself to pay $250 a month to the owners of the home he was to renovate to rent an alternative home during the time of renovations if the work would be completed on time. The work did take longer than promised, but the contractor said that he need not pay because the homeowner did not rent an apartment and, thus, there was no need to pay for expenses that never materialized.
Ruling: The gemara (Bava Batra 140a) assumes that one who, at the time of marriage, obligates himself to support his new wife’s existing children is obligated to do so even after they have married. We see from here that when one obligates himself to pay for a certain need of someone else, he is required to continue paying that money even when the need is being addressed by a third party (in the gemara’s case, the stepdaughter’s husband). On the other hand, the S’ma (60:15) says that when one obligates himself to support someone else, if the recipient was in need at the time of the obligation, then we assume that the obligation ends when the need stops.
 How can the S’ma reconcile his position with the aforementioned gemara? The Chacham Tzvi (notes, ad loc.) makes the following distinction. The gemara is referring to a case where the stepfather obligated himself for a set time. In such a case, we assume that if he didn’t stipulate any other parameters, the obligation is governed by the time element alone. However, when the obligation is open-ended, we assume that the intention was that the obligation should last only as long as the need exists.
 Another consequence of the distinction between an obligation for a set time and an open-ended one is whether the lien that emanates from the obligation takes hold in its entirety right away or whether it develops as time and the obligation go on. Only when the obligation is for a set time does it take hold from the outset for the entire time period. The mishna (Ketubot 101b) says that when one obligates himself to support his stepdaughter, the obligation takes effect all at once, and continues even after she marries and has who to support her. But the Hafla’ah says that this is the case only when there were other provisions for the stepdaughter at the time of her mother’s re-marriage. Then we say that if the stepfather nevertheless obligated himself, that the obligation continues on even when she marries. If she had no funds to support herself when the obligation was made, we assume that the obligation falls off when provisions become available.
Whichever distinction we adopt, the contractor, in our case, is not obligated to pay rent money when no rent is actually being paid. In this case, the obligation was open-ended and was made at a time when there was an expected need. Therefore, only if the homeowners can substantiate that they incurred rental expense are they entitled to the money.
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This edition of
Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R’ Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.,
Yitzchak Eliezer Ben Avraham Mordechai Jacobson o.b.m.

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