Baruch Hashem, the weeks after Tisha B’Av were busy with weddings. Rabbi Dayan was attending another wedding, that of Benzion and Achinoam.
The wedding was very joyous. Benzion’s friends danced with vigor till they dripped with sweat. Many of them removed their jackets and placed them on their chairs while they danced.
Zvi had sat next to David, and they both removed their jackets. While the waiter arranged the table during the dancing, he mistakenly returned Zvi’s chair to David’s spot, and David’s chair to Zvi’s spot.
At one point, the music picked up rhythm, and on each side of the mechitzah, the chassan’s and kallah’s friends began doing shtick.
Zvi and Benzion were known for their “bull-fighting” routine at weddings. Zvi ran back to his seat, grabbed his jacket, and returned to the center. He waved his jacket wildly as Benzion charged at him, and gracefully whipped the jacket around and sidestepped Benzion. The friends cheered with joy at their antics.
Benzion turned around, charging again. Zvi swirled the jacket and snapped it so hard that it tore. He hugged Benzion, and the dancing resumed.
Zvi went to return the jacket to his chair. David stood there with a puzzled look.
“You tore my jacket,” David said. “You’ll have to repair it.”
“I didn’t realize it was yours!” exclaimed Zvi. “Anyway, it was part of the wedding shtick. Things sometimes tear or get dirtied while dancing, and people don’t make a fuss about it.”
“I left the jacket safely on my chair,” insisted David. “Why did you take it?”
“I grabbed the jacket from my seat,” explained Zvi. “The jackets are almost identical. I had every reason to assume that the jacket on my seat was mine. Someone must have switched the chairs.”
The two approached Rabbi Dayan. “Yeyasher kochacha on your dancing,” Rabbi Dayan said to Zvi. “You were bringing simcha to the chassan and kallah!”
“Thank you,” replied Zvi. “I mistakenly took David’s jacket, though, which tore.
“Am I liable for the damage?”
“The Mishnah (B.K. 26a) teaches that a person who damaged is always liable, whether he damaged intentionally or not,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “The Gemara (B.K. 26b; Sanhedrin 72a) adds that even if the person damaged through oness – not through his volition – he is liable.
“Nonetheless, Tosafos (B.K. 27b) writes that in ‘circumstances beyond his control – oness gamur’ – a person is not liable. Rama rules accordingly” (C.M. 378:1-3).
“One of the cases on which Tosafos bases this principle is that of heirs who slaughtered and ate a cow that their father left them, but which was actually borrowed (B.M. 112a). They are not liable for the full value as one who damaged, but only partial payment for what they benefited” (C.M. 341:4).
“Machaneh Ephraim (Nizkei Mamon #6-7) and Imrei Yosher (2:62) derive from this that a person who damages an item found in his place that he thinks is his – is not liable, since it is oness gamur” (see also Ketzos 25:1; Minchas Pittim 380:2).
“Machaneh Ephraim infers from the Rashba, though, that he disagrees. Nesivos (126:6) and Maharsham (1:75) also write that a person who damaged an item he mistakenly thought was his – is liable, even if the true owner also mistook the item, since a person has a great responsibility to make sure that he doesn’t do damage. Elsewhere (232:5), Nesivos differentiates that the heirs had no way of knowing that the cow was not their father’s, and is therefore considered oness gamur, whereas a person who thought that something was his could have checked” (Pischei Choshen, Nezikin 1:20).
“Rama (378:9) does exempt one who damages unintentionally during wedding festivities,” concluded Rabbi Dayan. “However, this seems limited to cases where the custom is to forgo such damage, or where there is an expectation of reciprocity, such as when people joust or dance together, but not in this case since David put his jacket aside.”
Verdict: According to some authorities, Zvi is exempt, since he had no reason to think that the jacket on his chair was not his. Others hold him liable since he could have checked.