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Shabbat Parashat Eikev 5782

P'ninat Mishpat: Questionable Promises to Kollel Students part II

(based on ruling 71063 of the Eretz Hemdah-Gazit Rabbinical Courts)

Case: A group of kollel students (=pl), formerly of a certain kollel (=def), have claims about def’s alleged failures to keep promises to them. [We will deal with different claims separately.] Def had pl sign up for the Kollel Haelef program, where the kollel gets extra money for each avreich who promises to serve as a rabbi/teacher after a certain number of years. When some expressed misgivings, concerned it would cause them problems with stipends in the future, a member of def’s administration assured them that def “would take care of them.” Now pl want tens of thousands of NIS a piece because they have difficulty getting kollelim to pay them because the Misrad Hadatot will not pay for them anymore. Def argues that pl were aware of and agreed to the program’s provisions, and def only promised to try to intervene in cases of difficulties, not to pay for many years of kollel studies.   

 

Ruling: The Rashba (Shut V, 77) obligates someone who signs on a document to follow its provisions even if he claims that he did not understand what he signed and it is known he cannot read it, for he relies on those who inform him of its contents. In this case, it is easy to ascertain the provisions of Kollel Haelef, which is all the clearer after they expressed their concerns, at which point they should have considered all implications.

What is the impact of def’s assurance to deal with pl’s problems? The damages of having trouble with future kollelim is gerama (indirect and/or down-the-line problems). The Mordechai (Bava Kama 115) obligates one who explicitly commits himself to pay for gerama. One example is when one sells a field to a dangerous person and promises to pay his neighbors for damages the buyer will make (Bava Kama 114a, see Nimukei Yosef ad loc.). While some understand that the obligation there is even without a commitment (see Beit Yosef, Choshen Mishpat 175), it appears that there is a consensus that when one obligates himself to pay for a gerama damage, it is binding.

However, there are a few reasons to exempt def from paying for lost stipend opportunities. First, it is impossible to preclude pl’s explanation that they offered only non-monetary or very limited help. The Maharik (129) says that regarding vague commitments that need explanation, beit din must estimate what it is logical that people will agree to. Here, not only is it illogical that a kollel would give an open promise covering tens of thousands of NIS, but it is unlikely that pl would think they did. Second, endangering the ability to profit (i.e., from future stipends) is weaker than indirect damage discussed by the Mordechai (see Shut Harosh 68:12). While the Sha’ar Mishpat (61:2) posits that this obligation also works, it is unclear that in our case the obligation is sufficiently explicit. Third, this case is less than loss of future profit, as an individual cannot ask Misrad Hadatot for a stipend, just that his kollel can, and the kollel decides how much to give to the avreich. Thus, it is only more difficult, not impossible, for an avreich after the Kollel Haelef years to find a kollel willing to pay him as much as they would otherwise.

Because def did not do a sufficient job of clarifying the matter of Kollel Haelef, we rule based on compromise that def must pay each member of pl who lost as a result 4,000 NIS.   

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