Editor’s note: Parties to a dispute are almost always supposed to seek compromise (peshara) rather than strict din. In fact, the Gemara 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 as a source of Torah knowledge as opposed to a guide for ideal Torah behavior.
Mr. Rubin met a business associate, Mr. Metzger. “I owe you $10,000,” Mr. Rubin said. “I hope to pay within the month.”
“That’s funny,” replied Mr. Metzger. “Before our meeting I looked over my records and didn’t see any outstanding balance for you. Are you sure you owe me?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” said Mr. Mr. Rubin. “Last year there was an order I never paid for.”
“When I return to the office I’ll check my records again,” said Mr. Metzger.
The following day, Mr. Metzger called Mr. Rubin. “I appreciate your honesty,” he said. “However, I reviewed the records, and I’m certain there’s no outstanding balance.”
Mr. Rubin got off the phone puzzled. “I know I owe him,” he said to himself. “Perhaps there’s some mistake in his records. There’s nothing to do now, though.”
A year later, Mr. Metzger called Mr. Rubin. “Do you remember a year ago you said you owe me $10,000?” he asked.
“Yes,” answered Mr. Rubin. “You said you were certain I didn’t.”
“Well, I went over my records once again,” said Mr. Metzger. “It seems that I added the numbers incorrectly and you do, in fact, owe me.”
“I was willing to pay you a year ago,” replied Mr. Rubin. “But you were insistent that I didn’t owe you anything. Now you tell me that you added incorrectly, which is a strange claim.”
“Whatever the reason, I see now that I made a mistake,” said Mr. Rubin. “You do, in fact, owe me and I’d like my money.”
“I’d like to consult Rabbi Dayan,” said Mr. Rubin.
“We can go together,” replied Mr. Metzger.
The two went to Rabbi Dayan. “Do I have to pay Mr. Metzger now that he claims he made a mistake?” Mr. Rubin asked.
“The Shulchan Aruch rules that if one person says to another, ‘I owe you money,’ and the other replies, ‘You certainly don’t owe me,’ the person need not pay him anything,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “He does not even have a moral obligation to pay since the other person effectively forgoed the debt.” (C.M. 75:11; Shach 75:32)
“The Maharam of Rothenberg derives this law from Bava Basra (135a), which discusses a man who claims a certain person is his brother and should share in the parents’ estate, whereas the other brothers deny this claim definitively. If that person dies without descendants, only the brother who recognized him as a brother inherits him since the others claimed he wasn’t a brother and thus forgoed their rights.” (Mordechai B.B. #590; Maharam, Prague #135, Lvov #106)
“A further proof comes from (Bava Kamma 35b), which discusses ‘ta’ano chittim v’hodah lo b’seorim’ – the plaintiff claimed wheat and the defendant admitted barley,” added Rabbi Dayan. “The defendant doesn’t have to provide wheat or barley. Rashi explains that by not claiming barley, the plaintiff implicitly forgoed any claim to it.” (C.M. 88:12; Shach 88:17)
“What if the other person later claims he made a mistake and now realizes he is owed money?” asked Mr. Metzger.
“The Bach (C.M. 75:10) writes that he is believed and can retract,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “However, the Sma (75:28) and Shach (75:33) disagree. They asssume that he forgoed with a full heart and is now trying to back out of his mechilah. The Urim (75:29-30), cited by Nesivos (Chiddushim 75:25), indicates that this rule applies only when the other person denied being owed anything in beis din where he should have been very careful. Other authorities, though, do not mention this limitation.”
“Nonetheless, the Aruch Hashuchan (75:15) rules that if the borrower realizes the lender initially made a mistake, he remains chayav b’dinei shamayim (morally obligated),” concluded Rabbi Dayan. “Moreover, if beis din recognizes based on the circumstances that the lender initially made a mistake, the borrower remains legally obligated.”