Latest update: March 29th, 2013
Congregation Toras Yisrael decided to hold a learning program on Friday morning, Chol Hamoed Pesach. Two weeks before Pesach, the gabbai in charge of the program discussed possible guest speakers with the shul rabbi, Rabbi Brick.
“See if you can get Rabbi Stein,” suggested Rabbi Brick. “He’s a very powerful speaker; the crowd will enjoy him.”
The gabbai contacted Rabbi Stein. “I’m calling on behalf of Congregation Toras Yisrael,” he said. “We’re planning a learning program on Friday morning, Chol Hamoed Pesach, and would like to know if you’re available.”
“I’m not sure yet,” said Rabbi Stein. “There’s a good chance we’ll be away for Pesach. I’ll let you know in a week.”
“Were you able to get Rabbi Stein?” Rabbi Brick asked the gabbai on Shabbos.
“I contacted him,” said the gabbai, “but he said there’s a good chance he’ll be away. He’s supposed to call back in a few days to finalize.”
“OK,” said Rabbi Brick. “Meanwhile, I’ll also try contacting someone.”
Rabbi Brick called Rabbi Maggid, who was also known to be an inspirational speaker.
“I would be happy to come,” said Rabbi Maggid. “What time is the shiur?”
“At 11 a.m.,” answered Rabbi Brick. “Please try to be there a few minutes early. We offer an honorarium of $200.”
At the end of the week, Rabbi Stein called the gabbai and notified him that he was available to speak.
“Wonderful! We’re looking forward to hearing you,” said the gabbai. “The shiur is at 11 a.m. Please be there a few minutes earlier. We are offering a $200 honorarium for the shiur.”
With all the pre-Pesach rush, the gabbai and Rabbi Brick forgot to inform each other about their respective arrangements.
On Friday morning, at about 10:45, Rabbi Maggid arrived at the shul. Rabbi Brick greeted him. Five minutes later, Rabbi Stein arrived. The gabbai welcomed him and sat him next to Rabbi Brick.
Rabbi Brick, surprised, looked at him. “I thought you were going to be away,” he said to Rabbi Stein. “Meanwhile, we arranged for another speaker.”
“It’s unfortunate that the gabbai wasn’t in communication with you,” said Rabbi Stein. “I was asked to speak elsewhere and had to decline.”
“What should we do?” the gabbai asked Rabbi Brick. “Who should speak?”
“Let them both speak,” said Rabbi Brick. “We’ll ask them each to speak for only thirty minutes.” He apologized to Rabbi Maggid and Rabbi Stein for the mix-up and asked that they curtail their shiurim so that both could speak.
After the program, the gabbai approached Rabbi Brick. “We budgeted only $200 for the guest speaker,” he said. “What should we do about the money? Split it? Pay double? Give to Rabbi Maggid who was arranged first?”
“Good question,” said Rabbi Brick. “Rabbi Dayan is sitting here at the dais; let’s ask him.” He quickly explained the awkward situation to Rabbi Dayan and asked: “How do we handle the payment?”
“Both you and the gabbai were authorized on behalf of the shul to procure a speaker and arrange payment of an honorarium,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “Therefore, the shul is responsible to both speakers.”
“But only one speaker was needed,” objected the gabbai. “Once Rabbi Brick arranged with Rabbi Maggid, there was no need for me to contract Rabbi Stein.”
“This is no worse than a person who asked an agent to hire a worker,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “Even if the agent tarried at first, so that the person went ahead and hired someone else – if he didn’t notify the agent and cancel his agency, the person is responsible to both workers, as if he hired them both.” (Pischei Choshen, Sechirus 10:; Pikadon 11:7)
“What if only Rabbi Maggid had given the shiur?” asked the gabbai. “Would we then have any responsibility to Rabbi Stein?”
“This would be similar to a situation where a person hired a worker and in the end did not need his services,” said Rabbi Dayan. “He still has a responsibility to the worker, especially if the worker did some preparatory work or had the opportunity to work elsewhere and can no longer do so.” (C.M. 333:1-2)
“But if only Rabbi Maggid gave the shiur – or even in our case that each gave only a short shiur – shouldn’t there be some reduction in the honorarium on account of that?” asked Rabbi Brick. “Isn’t there a concept of po’el batel? A worker is often willing to accept a reduction in salary not to have to work as long or hard.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com.
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