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“Why don’t you buy yourself a new dress for Rosh Hashanah?” Mr. Singer asked his wife a few days before the Yom Tov.

“With a three-day Yom Tov coming up, I don’t have time to go shopping,” Mrs. Singer sighed.

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“Give yourself a few hours to look after work tomorrow,” suggested Mr. Singer. “I’ll watch the children.”

Mrs. Singer browsed in a few stores and finally found a beautiful dress, which needed alterations. She bought it and headed straight to her seamstress neighbor, Mrs. Horowitz.

“I just bought this dress and need it altered for Rosh Hashanah,” Mrs. Singer said.

“The alterations are $60,” said Mrs. Horowitz. “I have a lot of other clothing waiting, though. If you need the dress for Rosh Hashanah, you can add $25 for priority service.”

“Definitely!” exclaimed Mrs. Singer. “Whatever it costs to have the dress ready for Yom Tov!”

At noon on erev Yom Tov, the seamstress called Mrs. Singer. “I began working on the dress,” she said, “but unfortunately I will not be able to finish the alterations before Rosh Hashanah. The previous jobs took longer than anticipated.”

Mrs. Singer was crushed. “There’s no way you can do it?” she asked.

“I’m very sorry, but there’s absolutely no way,” Mrs. Horowitz replied. “I’ll do it first thing after Yom Tov; you’ll have the dress for Yom Kippur or Sukkos.”

After Rosh Hashanah, Mrs. Singer asked her husband: “Do I have to pay Mrs. Horowitz the full cost for the alterations? She ruined my Yom Tov! If anything, she owes me for the heartache she caused!”

“I empathize with your frustration,” said Mr. Singer, “but I don’t know whether that justifies withholding payment from her.”

“Can you please check with Rabbi Dayan?” asked Mrs. Singer.

Mr. Singer called Rabbi Dayan. “My wife bought a dress for Rosh Hashanah,” he said. “The seamstress promised to finish the alterations by Yom Tov but she couldn’t complete the job. Must we pay the full amount for the alterations?”

“When the employer stipulates clearly that the work must be done by a certain time, failure to complete it on time is a breach of contract,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Kesef Kodashim [C.M. 375:1] rules that the worker is not entitled to the full amount agreed upon but rather as someone who worked unsolicited, yored shelo b’reshus, at a basic cost.”

“However, if the work was required regardless, even after the set time,” added Rabbi Dayan, “the worker is entitled to the normal wages due for such work, like a yored b’reshus. If the worker charged more than is typical for this kind of work, his wages would be reduced.”

“In this case,” Rabbi Dayan concluded, “the alterations had to be done anyway. Your wife can still benefit from the dress on other holidays or next year. Thus, she must still pay the normal rate for the alterations, but does not have to pay the extra $25 fee for the priority service.” (Pischei Choshen, Sechirus 13:4[4])

“Can my wife demand damages from the seamstress for ruining her Yom Tov?” asked Mr. Singer.

“No; damages are for monetary loss,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “Your wife suffered emotional distress and disappointment, but there was no monetary loss by not having the dress for Rosh Hashanah. This would be true even had the work been irrelevant afterward, such as a gown to wear at a child’s wedding. At most, it would be grama, for which one is not legally liable.”

“What if it had caused an actual monetary loss?” asked Mr. Singer.

“There is a dispute on this issue, and it depends on a number of factors,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “According to some authorities, a worker is liable also for a loss of revenue he caused through failure to complete his work responsibly.” (See Rama C.M. 333:6; Shach 333:39; Nesivos 183:1.)

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Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to subscribe@businesshalacha.com. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail ask@businesshalacha.com.
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