Editor’s note: Parties to a dispute are almost always supposed to seek compromise (peshara) rather than strict din. In fact, the Gemara (Bava Metzia 30b) states that Yerushalayim was destroyed because cases were settled based on din (rather than lifnim meshuras hadin). We encourage readers, therefore, to read this column – which often addresses human disputes – as a source of Torah knowledge, not a guide for ideal Torah behavior.
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Mr. Landau walked into Schein’s Shoe Store. “Can I help?” asked a young salesman.
“I need a good, comfortable shoe, but not too expensive,” said Mr. Landau. “A style similar to what I’m wearing. Size 10.”
“I’ll pull out some options,” said the salesman. He brought over five boxes of shoes.
Mr. Landau chose a pair and tried it on. “These shoes feel comfortable,” he said. “Are they leather? My feet are sensitive.”
“Yes, we only sell leather shoes in our store,” replied the salesman proudly.
“Then I’ll take them,” Mr. Landau said.
The salesman returned the shoes to the box. “Take the shoes to checkout,” he said. “Wear them well!”
Mr. Landau paid and went home. Three days later, he returned with the shoes in hand.
“I wore the shoes for two days, but they didn’t feel right,” he said. “My son noticed that the shoes are not all-leather; only the uppers are leather. The rest of the shoe is synthetic.”
“I can’t accept shoes for return after they’ve been worn,” said the salesman.
“But you misled me,” argued Mr. Landau. “I specifically asked if the shoes were leather, and you said they were.”
“I never said they were ‘all-leather,'” replied the salesman. “We also call shoes with leather uppers ‘leather shoes.'”
“But I told you my feet were sensitive,” said Mr. Landau. “Under doctor’s orders I always buy all-leather.”
“I’m relatively new in the store,” said the salesman. “I don’t know what you buy. You asked if the shoes were leather, and I said they were since some people call shoes with leather uppers ‘leather shoes,’ even those with sensitive feet. Anyway, all-leather would have cost more!”
Mr. Landau decided to consult with Rabbi Dayan. “Is the sale invalid because I meant all-leather?” he asked.
“Since you already paid, the store does not have to accept the return,” answered Rabbi Dayan.
“Why?” asked Mr. Landau.
“If someone bought an ox that proved to be wild, the sale is considered a mekach ta’us (an erroneous purchase) and void if the ox was purchased for plowing. But if the ox was purchased for slaughter, the sale is valid,” Rabbi Dayan note dby way of introduction.
“When it’s unclear for what purpose it was purchased, Shmuel [Bava Kama 46a and Bava Basra 92a] rules that hamotzi mei’chaveiro alav har’eaya, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff. Even if most people buy for plowing, the seller does not have to accept the ox back once the customer paid since some people purchase for slaughter.” [Choshen Mishpat 232:23]
“What if the customer hadn’t paid yet?” asked Mr. Landau.
“In that case, since the customer holds the money, he can claim it is a mekach ta’us and return the ox,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “Some maintain that is true even if most people purchase for slaughter since the customer in this case holds the money and the burden of proof is on the seller; others disagree.” [See Nesivos 232:12 and Aruch HaShulchan 232:36]
“Does it matter what the customer usually buys or what the price is?” asked Mr. Landau.
“Yes,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “If the seller knows the customer works in a slaughterhouse, we presume the sale is for slaughter; if he is a farmer who plows and does not deal with meat, we presume the sale is for plowing. Similarly, if there is a clear price discrepancy between an ox bought for plowing and an ox bought for slaughter, the price can be indicative.” [Pischei Choshen, Ona’ah 12:15-18]
“How does this relate to our case?” asked Mr. Landau.
“If the seller knew that you always purchased all-leather shoes, it would be a mekach ta’us,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “However, since he did not know, once you paid, the store can claim that leather uppers are also called ‘leather shoes.'”