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Shabbat Parashat Matot Masei 5772

P'ninat Mishpat: Dispute over Sales Price and Product Quality (part II)

(condensed from Hemdat Mishpat, rulings of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case:   The plaintiff (=pl) sold a large amount of oil and dried dates to a grocery store owner (=def). Def did not pay right away and after time refused to pay much of the bill for the following reasons. Def does not remember what price they had decided on for the oil and thinks that the amount demanded is too high. The dates became wormy over time. Def claims that he kept the dates properly refrigerated and blames pl for having transported the dates to him in an non-refrigerated transport. Pl responded that other people to whom he sold dates in a similar manner did not have problems of infestation, and he therefore suspects that def did not store them properly.


Ruling:  [Last week, we explained that def has to pay the full price charged for the oil.]

The mere fact that the dates became infested does not necessarily mean that there are grounds for mekach ta’ut (misinformed sale). The mishna (Bava Batra 97b) says that if one sells wine and it spoils, the seller is not responsible, unless it is known that the seller’s wine regularly spoils, and so rules the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 230:5). In our case, there is no indication that pl’s stock of dates was defective (as other buyers who bought from the same type of date did not have problems). Therefore, problems that arose after the sale are not grounds for mekach ta’ut.

Since there is a problem now with the dates, the question is who has to prove when the problem arose in this specific delivery of dates, as def claims that they must have arrived in a state that they were unfit for long-term storage. If one buys an animal and it turns out to be a treifa, if it became a treifa before the sale, there is a mekach ta’ut, and if after the sale, the sale was valid. When it is unclear in whose possession it became a treifa, then if the problem was discovered while in the buyer’s possession, we attribute the problem to have happened in the buyer’s possession, and he cannot recover the proceeds from the sale (Shulchan Aruch, CM 232:11).

On the other hand, regarding cheese that became rancid, the halacha is that if it became evident before the buyer paid, he does not have to pay out of doubt even if it was in the buyer’s possession (Shulchan Aruch, ibid. 15). The difference is that it is relatively more common for cheese to go bad, and therefore there is no assumptive status quo that it was fine at the time of the sale. Regarding an animal, which we know was healthy at one point, we assume it maintained its status until we know otherwise.

We could claim that it is normal for dates to become wormy over time and require pl to prove that the problem did not start in his possession. However, the comparison to cheese is not correct. All agree that the dates were in good condition when def received them, just that def claims that they must have been weakened to the point that they could not last as long as they should. In such a case, def must prove that this situation pre-dated the sale (see Aruch Hashulchan, CM 230:4). Furthermore, an expert told us that there is no reason to suspect that a problem could have begun due to the means of transport, and that in all likelihood the problem was in def’s long-term storage.

Therefore, beit din obligated def to pay in full for the dates, as well as the oil.

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Hemdat Yamim

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R' Meir
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