Friday morning, the air conditioner began rattling wildly. “Something’s wrong with the air conditioner,” Mr. Wolf said to his wife.
“Please call the repairman right away,” she replied. “The weather report predicted a sizzling weekend.”
Mr. Wolf called his regular air conditioner repairman, Mr. Braun. “Sorry, but I’m already booked solid this morning,” Mr. Braun said.
Mr. Wolf tried calling a few other repairmen, but none were available; everyone was busy.
“We can’t go into Shabbos like this,” Mrs. Wolf said to her husband. “We’re all going to boil. And we’re hosting a shiur this Shabbos!”
Mr. Wolf tried Mr. Braun again. “We’re desperate,” he said. “I haven’t been able to find anyone and we’re hosting a shiur this Shabbos!”
Mr. Braun looked at his watch. “I expect to finish today at about two o’clock,” he said. “I usually don’t start a new job so late on Friday afternoon, but I’ll come.”
“Thanks,” said Mr. Wolf. “I really appreciate it.”
Mr. Braun arrived at 2:30 and checked the air conditioner. “It needs major work, two to three hours,” he said, “but I should be able to have it working for Shabbos.”
By 4:30 Mr. Braun had replaced the broken part. “It will take about forty-five minutes to put everything back together and check it,” he said. “I expect it will work fine.”
Mr. Braun was about to reassemble the unit when he got a call from his wife. “Please come right away,” she said. “Your mother was admitted to the hospital and wants you immediately.”
“I’m really sorry, but I’ve got to run,” Mr. Braun said to Mr. Wolf. “My mother was just admitted to the hospital.”
Mr. Wolf looked around the house, with the mess of the disassembled air conditioner. “Go ahead!” he said. “Your mother’s health comes first.”
Mr. Wolf desperately searched the Yellow Pages for an emergency AC repair service. “We can send a repairman over immediately,” one service said. “However, you’ll have to pay the premium weekend rate and an emergency surcharge.”
“Whatever it is, we need it!” said Mr. Wolf.
The repairman came shortly afterward and finished the job. With the premium weekend rate and emergency surcharge, the remaining work cost what the entire job was supposed to.
After Shabbos, Mr. Wolf called Mr. Braun. “How is your mother doing?” he asked.
“Thank G-d, she is recuperating,” replied Mr. Braun. “I’m really sorry about the mess I caused by leaving.”
“It’s understandable,” said Mr. Wolf. “I need to pay you for the work that you did.”
“That’s nice of you, but I understand that you had to pay a pretty penny to have the job finished,” Mr. Braun said. “I’ll charge you for the part but not the labor. Why should you pay double?”
“It’s not your fault that you had to leave,” Mr. Wolf said. “You’re entitled to payment for whatever you did.”
“I won’t take payment unless Rabbi Dayan says you owe me the money,” said Mr. Braun emphatically. “Let’s ask him!”
The two men met with Rabbi Dayan. “Mr. Braun started a job for me Friday afternoon but had to leave toward the end on account of his mother’s medical condition,” Mr. Wolf explained. “I needed to pay an emergency repairman the entire amount to finish. Do I also have to pay Mr. Braun for his work?”
“You must pay the value of the work that was done, even though it cost extra to have the job completed,” ruled Rabbi Dayan.
“Why is that?” asked Mr. Braun.
“A job that is clearly time-bound is referred to as a davar ha’aved,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “In general, a worker may not back out in the middle of such a job unless an equivalent worker is available. If the employer needs to pay extra to procure replacement workers, he can deduct this amount from the work done by the first worker, even the entire amount.” (C.M. 333:5)
About the Author: 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 email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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