Mr. Fine was the director of a worldwide tzekadah organization. He needed his organization’s brochure translated into various foreign languages, and contracted translators for each language. To ensure quality, he was insistent that each translator have a qualified degree in that particular language.
He received a bid to do the Hebrew translation from a Mr. Silver. Mr. Fine asked him about his training, explaining that the organization was only willing to offer the job to someone with a qualified degree.
“I have an advanced degree in translating Hebrew,” replied Mr. Silver. “I also have years of experience with these kinds of brochures.”
“How much do you charge?” asked Mr. Fine.
“Twenty dollars a page,” replied Mr. Silver.
“I’ll get back to you,” replied Mr. Fine.
After Mr. Fine compared the bid with those from other professional translators, Mr. Silver’s price seemed the best offer. Mr. Fine called Mr. Silver back and offered him the contract for the twenty-page brochure.
A week later, Mr. Silver returned the translated brochure, with a bill for $400. When Mr. Fine received the translation he was disappointed. The translation was passing, but lacked the power and command of language in other translations he’d seen.
Mr. Fine called Mr. Silver. “I appreciate your prompt work,” he began, “but am disappointed with the quality of the translation.”
“What do you mean?” asked Mr. Silver.
Mr. Fine explained that the translation was acceptable, but the language was on a relatively basic level. “Where did you get your degree from?” he asked Mr. Silver,
“I’m learning at the city university,” replied Mr. Silver.
“What degree do you have?” asked Mr. Fine.
“I’m in the middle of my M.A.,” said Mr. Silver. “I hope to be getting my license by the end of next year.”
“You told me that you already completed an advanced degree,” replied Mr. Fine. “I made it very clear we wanted someone with a qualified translating degree.”
“I know I can do a reasonable job,” Mr. Silver replied. “Degree or not.”
“But the job is not on the professional level we expected,” Mr. Fine said. “We only agreed to pay you twenty dollars a page with the understanding that you were a professional translator. If you’re not a professional, you don’t deserve that much.”
“So how much are you willing to pay?” asked Mr. Silver.
“Twelve dollars a page,” said Mr. Fine.
“That’s quite low,” said Mr. Silver. “Even without a professional degree, most people get around fifteen dollars a page.”
“You deceived us,” insisted Mr. Fine. “We’re not willing to pay more than twelve dollars.”
“You can’t just drop from twenty dollars to twelve for a page,” said Mr. Silver. “We agreed on twenty. I would certainly have not done the work for less than fifteen dollars a page.”
“But the whole price agreement with in error,” said Mr. Fine. “You misled us. I’d like to discuss with Rabbi Dayan if we owe you anything!”
“And I’d like to know if you can give less than twenty dollars,” replied Mr. Silver. “Let’s go!”
The two went to Rabbi Dayan. “Mr. Silver quoted me a price of twenty dollars a page for a translation job on the basis of false information,” claimed Mr. Fine. “How much must I pay?”
“Mr. Fine, you must pay the going rate for such a job,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “If there is a range of prices, you would pay the lower end of the range for similarly qualified workers.”
“Why is that?” asked Mr. Fine.
“When there is a significant error in the price agreement, one that nullifies the arrangement, the job was effectively done without an agreement,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “When a job is done without a price agreement the employer has to pay the value of the work that he gained through the service.” (Tumim 89:8; Rama C.M. 332:4)
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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