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“I’m heading to the computer store,” Chaim said to his friend Izzy. “They’re having excellent sales now!”

“I’ve been wanting to buy a laptop for a while,” replied Izzy. “Please buy one for me, up to $1,000. You understand computers much better than I do, so I trust your judgment! I’ll also pay you $100 to set it up.”

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“Will do,” said Chaim.

At the store, Chaim compared the various laptop models offered and chose one, which he thought would suit Izzy’s needs at a good price. He paid for it with his credit card and headed out.

On his way out of the store, while heading to his car, Chaim was accosted at gunpoint.

“Gimme the computer!” the thug said.

Chaim realized that he had no choice! He handed the laptop to the thug, who grabbed it and ran off.

Chaim filed a report with the police and told Izzy about the incident. “Let’s see if the police catch the robber,” Izzy said.

A month passed, but the robber was not found.

Finally, Chaim asked Izzy to pay him for the laptop. Izzy was taken aback. “Why should I have to pay you?” he asked. “I never got the laptop from you!”

“I bought it for you, though,” replied Chaim. “I acquired it on your behalf, so it was your laptop that was robbed, and your loss!”

Izzy and Chaim approached Rabbi Dayan, and asked:

“Whose loss is this? Does Izzy have to pay Chaim for the stolen laptop?”

Tur and Shulchan Aruch rule that if Reuven asked Shimon to buy an item for him, and he did, Reuven acquires the item upon its purchase, even if Shimon paid with his own money,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “It is like he lent Reuven the money” (C.M. 183:4; Sma 183:9).

“However, this is only if Reuven said, ‘Buy (or acquire) for me,’ in which case Shimon is like his agent in the transaction and acquired the item on Reuven’s behalf. However, if Reuven merely said, ‘Bring me,’ or ‘Get me,’ the item remains Shimon’s until he gives it to Reuven, because then Shimon acquires the item for himself and subsequently resells to Shimon” (ibid.; Pischei Choshen, Pikadon 12:23).

“In our case, Izzy asked Chaim to buy the laptop for him, so it was Izzy’s from the time of purchase. Chaim was only a guardian of it. If Chaim does not receive a commission, he is an unpaid guardian and not even liable for theft; if he receives a commission, he is a paid guardian who is exempt only from oness (uncontrollable circumstances)” (C.M. 185:7).

“This situation of armed robbery is oness, so Chaim is exempt, regardless. Thus, the loss is Izzy’s, since Chaim acquired it on his behalf and is not liable as a guardian” (C.M. 303:3).

“However, Igros Moshe questions this ruling, when Chaim paid with his own money. The Gemara (B.M. 102b) asks, in a similar case: ‘Who informed the owner of the merchandise to sell to the sender?’ Rabbeinu Yerucham derives from this that if Shimon bought an item for Reuven with his own money, Reuven does not acquire it. Beis Yosef and Rama see this as standing in opposition to the former ruling and reject Rabbeinu Yerucham’s opinion” (Shach 183:2).

“Shach distinguishes, though, that Rabbeinu Yerucham’s ruling applies when Shimon acted on his own initiative, without Reuven’s directive. However, Igros Moshe (C.M. 1:48) rejects this differentiation and further maintains that the Rosh concurs with Rabbeinu Yerucham. He considers the dispute as unresolved, so that hamotzi meichaveiro alav hare’aya, and perhaps Izzy does not have to pay Chaim for the item.

“Other poskim, though,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch simply, or distinguish like the Shach, so that Izzy has to pay” (Pischei Choshen, Pikadon 12:21; Hayashar V’hatov, vol. XII (5772), pp. 52-60).

Verdict: According to the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling, the purchased laptop belonged to Izzy, so that he suffers the loss and must pay Chaim for his expenditure on his behalf.

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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 subscribe@businesshalacha.com. 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 ask@businesshalacha.com.