Mr. Alter walked slowly around the shul, organizing the siddurim and chumashim. After his retirement, more than 15 years ago, he had volunteered to clean the shul on a weekly basis. Over the years, as Mr. Alter’s expenses rose and income dwindled, the shul began paying him a small, unofficial stipend.
Recently it had become difficult for Mr. Alter to carry the piles of siddurim and chumashim back to their places. Also, due to the cold weather and Mr. Alter’s health, he was not able to come as regularly as he used to. Often the shul wasn’t cleaned properly and seforim were left lying around.
With much reluctance, Mr. Reiss, the shul president, decided to raise the issue with Mr. Alter.
“We really appreciate your efforts in straightening the shul,” said Mr. Reiss. “How is it going?”
“I’ve been straightening the shul faithfully for over 15 years,” said Mr. Alter, “but I’m finding that it’s getting harder.”
“I’ve been noticing that,” said Mr. Reiss. “We’re happy to have you continue, but the shul needs to be straightened. Do you think you can continue?”
“I’ve been wondering about that,” answered Mr. Alter. “To be honest, though, the extra money makes a big difference in my monthly budget.”
“Unfortunately, the shul’s budget doesn’t allow paying two people for straightening the shul,” replied Mr. Reiss. “If you can commit to doing it on a regular basis, great; otherwise, we’ll have to consider getting someone else.”
“I’ll try my best, but you know that my health is not what it used to be,” replied Mr. Alter. “Some weeks, especially in the winter, I’m just not able to come out. I’d be willing to hand the responsibility over to someone else if I could get some sort of pension, or severance pay, from the shul; that would provide at least some extra income.”
“Given the informal nature of the work and the minimal hours involved, I don’t believe you’re entitled to pension or severance pay,” said Mr. Reiss. “I’d like to help you, but it’s communal money, so I can’t distribute it freely. We’ll leave things as they are through the summer, but next winter we might have to get somebody else.”
The following winter, Mr. Alter was out for a month with pneumonia. Mr. Reisss visited him often. During one visit he notified Mr. Alter that the shul would have to transfer the responsibility of straightening the shul to someone else.
When Mr. Alter recuperated, he summoned Mr. Reiss to a din Torah with Rabbi Dayan, demanding some pension or severance pay.
“The shul has no legal responsibility,” Mr. Reiss countered. “I empathize with Mr. Reiss, but am I entitled to spend communal money for unwarranted expenses?”
After some deliberation, Rabbi Dayan ruled: “As there is no legal requirement, the shul is exempt from paying Mr. Alter pension or severance pay. However, as it is wrong to send him away empty handed, the shul should pay him some compensation lifnim mishuras hadin, beyond the letter of the law.”
“Could you please explain?” asked Mr. Alter.
“The Gemara [B.M. 83a] relates that Rav ruled, in a certain incident, that Rabbah b. b. Chanan should pay poor workers of his lifnim mishuras hadin, despite the fact that they were not legally entitled to payment,” replied Rabbi Dayan.
“The Rama [C.M. 12:3] cites a dispute between the Rosh and the Mordechai as to whether a beis din can enforce acting lifnim mishuras hadin. The Bach rules that they can, when the party is financially able to pay. However, many achronim conclude that a beis din may not force with legal consequences but can use persuasive speech, telling the party he is obligated to do so lifnim mishuras hadin.” (See Pischei Teshuvah 12:6; Aruch HaShulchan C.M 12:2)