Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The autumn air was crisp, but the sun was shining.

“What a great day to get together in the park!” Asher said to himself. He suggested the idea to some friends. They decided to meet in the afternoon to play ball and go bike riding.


Asher called Benny. “We’re meeting at two this afternoon at the park with our bikes,” he said. “Would you like to join us?”

“I’d love to,” Benny said, “but my bike is not available.”

I have an extra one,” Asher said. “If you want, you can borrow it.”

“That would be great,” said Benny. “Count me in!”

At 2 o’clock the group met at the park. After some ball playing and a little nosh, they set out along the bike path.

Benny was riding along at a normal pace at the head of the group. He spotted another bicyclist racing towards him. He slowed down, but the other bicyclist kept zooming; he careened into Benny, knocking the bike over. The bicyclist sped off and was gone before anyone had a chance to say something to him.

Benny got up slowly. “Are you OK?” Asher asked him.

“I think so,” Benny said. “The bike is damaged though. It can’t be ridden and needs repair.” Benny called his brother to pick him up with the car.

“I’m sorry; you saw what happened,” Benny apologized to Asher. “It wasn’t my fault; I was riding normally.”

“I saw that, but you could have been more careful,” said Asher. “Had you stopped completely, it’s possible the accident might have been avoided.”

“Maybe,” acknowledged Benny. “But I didn’t do anything wrong. I rode the bike in the normal manner, and this accident occurred”.

“Still, you might have prevented it,” argued Asher. “Anyway, you borrowed the bike and are liable for anything that happens, even oness [uncontrollable circumstances].”

The two agreed to come before Rabbi Dayan.

“Benny borrowed my bike and it was damaged through an accident, mostly someone else’s fault,” said Asher. “Is he liable?”

Chazal exempt a shoel, a borrower, if meisa machamas melacha [died on account of work],” said Rabbi Dayan. “The Gemara [B.M. 96b] explains that this exemption is not based on a Scriptural inference but rather on simple logic: The item was not borrowed to sit idle but rather to be used. Since the damage was due to routine use, Benny is exempt.” (C.M. 340:1)

“This damage wasn’t exactly due to use, though,” pointed out Asher. “How is it different from any other oness that occurred?”

“Good point!” replied Rabbi Dayan. “The Ramban and Shach [340:5] maintain that the exemption of meisa machamas melacha applies only to a malfunctioning of the borrowed item. However, the Rambam, Shulchan Aruch and SM”A [340:8] rule that any incident that occurred through the course of normal usage is included in meisa machamas melacha. Thus, Benny cannot be made to pay for the damage.”

“What about the fact that Benny could have been more careful?” asked Asher. “Even if the accident was not his fault, it could have been avoided!”

“While it might seem that the exemption of meisa machamas melacha is only if an oness occurred, such as if the animal died, this is not so,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “The lender gave the item to the borrower to use in the normal manner. Therefore, so long as the borrower used the item in the normal fashion – was not negligent and did not use it in an unusual manner – he is not liable. The same is true for one who rented an item.” (C.M. 340:1,4; Pischei Choshen, Pikadon 10:9 [18-19].

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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 protected]. 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 protected].