“Yossi is getting married in three weeks,” Moshe said to Yehudah. “He mentioned that if a few friends wanted to chip in, he would be happy to get a washing machine as a gift. Are you interested?”
“How much do you expect it will come to?” asked Yehudah.
“$80-100 a person, depending on how many people participate,” replied Moshe.
“That’s fine,” said Yehudah. “Put me down. How many people are there?”
“I already have seven,” said Moshe. “I’ll ask a few more people and then place the order next week, so they’ll have it in time.”
The following week, Yehudah’s wife asked him what he suggested for the new couple.
“A few friends are chipping in to buy a washing machine,” Yehudah said to her.
“That’s nice,” she said. “But I prefer something they could use on their Shabbos table, like a challah cover or a fancy serving tray. I saw some nice things on sale.”
“If you prefer, we’ll do that,” said Yehudah. “I’ll tell Moshe to take us off the list.”
Yehudah called Moshe’s house but there was no answer. He left a message: “This is Yehudah. We’re going to get our own gift for Yossi and do not want to participate in the purchase of the washing machine.”
Meanwhile, that same day Moshe completed the order of the washing machine at the store. When he returned home in the evening, he heard Yehudah’s voice message.
“Too late,” Moshe said to himself. “I already bought the washing machine. Yehudah should have notified me earlier.”
Moshe called Yehudah back. “I didn’t hear your message until after I bought the gift,” said Moshe. “So it’s too late; you’ll have to pay. It comes to $82 for each of ten people.”
“What’s too late?” asked Moshe. “You were buying it anyway; just divide the cost into nine instead of ten.”
“But you were on the list when I made the purchase,” said Moshe. “It’s not fair to make the others pay more.”
“I called to cancel beforehand,” pointed out Yehudah, “but you were out.”
“The truth is,” said Moshe, “it’s possible that by the time you called I had already bought the washing machine.”
“Even so, if I’m going to give another gift and won’t benefit from the washing machine,” reasoned Yehudah, “I don’t see any reason I should have to pay for it.”
“Whether you want to give another gift is your own issue,” said Moshe flatly. “I bought the washing machine for you as well, so you have to pay.”
“Not unless Rabbi Dayan says I have to,” said Yehudah. “We’ll ask him whether I have to participate in the payment.”
“Great idea,” said Moshe. “Let’s go.”
The two went to Rabbi Dayan’s beis hora’ah. They explained what happened and asked: “Does Yehudah have to pay his share in the washing machine or can he back out?”
“You have to check the voice mail, what time Yehudah called to cancel,” said Rabbi Dayan. “Once Moshe bought the gift on behalf of those who signed up, they cannot retract.”
“Why is that?” asked Yehudah.
“When people signed up, they became partners in the purchase, and Moshe was their agent to buy the washing machine,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “Shelucho shel adam k’moso – a person’s agent is like him [Kiddushin 41b). Thus, when Moshe purchased the washing machine he did so on behalf of all those who had signed up, so you are already a partner/owner in the gift.” (C.M. 182:1; 200:12)
“What about the fact that Moshe used his own credit card to buy the washing machine?” argued Yehudah. “Isn’t it like he bought it, and we’re now buying it from him?”
“That’s irrelevant,” said Rabbi Dayan. “Even when an agent uses his own money to purchase something, the transaction is credited to the sender. Moreover, any halachic kinyan [act of acquisition] done by the agent – whether hagbaha, meshicha, chalifin, etc. – is binding on behalf of the sender.” (C.M. 183:4)
“What if it turns out that I called to cancel before Moshe completed the purchase?” asked Yehudah.
“Then you would not have to pay,” continued Rabbi Dayan, “since Moshe was no longer your agent.”
“Even though I didn’t know he cancelled?” asked Moshe.
“I think so,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “In principle, a person can cancel an agent even not in his presence. However, where this causes a loss – e.g., it is not possible to return the item – the sender usually remains liable for the loss, since he undertook responsibility for the purchase [arev]. However, here there was no loss, since Moshe was going to buy the washing machine for the group regardless. Thus, if Yehudah called before Moshe finalized the purchase, he would not have to share in the payment.”
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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