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Shabbat Parashat Bamidbar| 5768

Damages to a Borrowed Chair on Purim

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Question:My friend borrowed chairs for a Purim seuda. One of his “happy” guests jumped on a chair and broke it. Does one have to pay for damages he makes during mitzva-sanctioned reveling?

Answer: We must address two issues: 1) Does the damager have to pay? 2) Does your friend, who borrowed the chairs (a sho’el) have to pay? We must point out that we cannot rule conclusively regarding a specific case without being authorized to hear the claims of each side.

Damages on Purim: The mishna (Sukka 45a) tells of the practice that on the last day of Sukkot, adults would joyously grab lulavim from youngsters. Tosafot (ad loc.) derive that when the practice is to act out of appropriate joy (such as at a wedding) in a manner that causes damages to others, people are exempt from paying for resulting damages. The Rama (Orach Chayim 695:2) applies this rule to damages that result from reveling on Purim. Several sources explain that the key matter is that there is an accepted practice to act wildly (see Rosh, Sukka 4:4; Terumat Hadeshen II, 210). Rabbeinu Yerucham understands that this sets up an assumption of mechila (relinquishing of rights to payment) should damage occur. Therefore, the limitations that poskim place on this exemption, such as that the damage was unintentional (Mishna Berura 695:14) and not too great (ibid.:13) are logical. Although the Aruch Hashulchan (OC 695:10) says that it is no longer accepted to act on Purim in a way that justifies the exemption, this appears to be a minority opinion. In our case, therefore, the reveler who unintentionally damaged a single chair on Purim is apparently exempt.

The Sho’el’s Obligations- One who borrows an object is obligated to pay for it even if it disappeared or was broken b’oness, under circumstances beyond his control. The gemara (Bava Metzia 96b) posits that an exception to this obligation is meita machamat melacha: if the object broke (literally, [the animal] died) due to the work for which it was borrowed. One could claim that since the chair was meant to support a person and it broke under those circumstances, the sho’el would be exempt. On the other hand, meita machamat melacha applies only when the object was used responsibly, not abused (i.e. by jumping) (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 340:1).

We must determine the extent of the exemption of meita machamat melacha. The Shulchan Aruch (CM 340, 3) accepts the Ramah’s approach that the main point is that the damage occured during the regular work, regardless of the cause. However, the Rama (ad loc.) rules like the Ramban (Bava Metzia 96b) that the exemption is because we can “blame” the owner of the object for giving the sho’el something that cannot withstand the job it was given to do. When the object does not fail to withstand its task, the borrower remains obligated to pay. The Shach (ad loc.) accepts the latter ruling. In this case, it is hard to blame the chair owner, as chairs are not meant to withstand jumping adults, so the ruling seems to depend on the machloket between these opinions.

On the other hand, in addressing damages during reveling, the Levush (CM 378:9) raises the possibility that when one lends something to be used for wild activities where damage is likely, meita machamat melacha might apply. This would be another reason to exempt your friend. However, our case is not exactly the same. The Levush is talking about a case where the borrowed object is in the “direct line of fire.” In our case, while many people act uncharacteristically wild on Purim, the consequences are not usually focused on chairs used in the seuda.

In the final analysis, it is unclear if a beit din would obligate your friend, the sho’el, to pay. However, the apparent conclusion from the halachic sources is that he would do best to pay.


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