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“I’m going on vacation tomorrow,” Barry said to his friend Saul. “I’m worried about leaving my motorized bike.”

“Would you like me to watch it?” Saul asked.

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“If you have room,” replied Barry. “I would feel more secure.”

“How long will you be away?” asked Saul.

“I’m going away for a month,” answered Barry. “I’ll pay you $30 for watching the bike during the month.”

“OK,” replied Saul. “That’s fair enough.”

Barry brought over the motorized bike, and Saul put it away in a spare room.

A month later, Barry returned. A week passed and he did not come to pick up his bike.

That weekend, there was a burglary in Saul’s house. “Your bike was stolen,” Saul notified Barry. “It’s unfortunate that you didn’t pick it up on time.”

“It seems that you are liable for the bike,” said Barry. “You took responsibility for it.”

“I did for the month that you were away,” replied Saul, “but I’m no longer responsible.”

“If you didn’t want to be responsible any longer,” said Barry, “you should have notified me.”

“I didn’t have to,” Saul responded. “You paid me to watch the bike for a month, not beyond that. How can I be held liable?”

“I paid you for the month; you’re a paid guardian, a shomer sachar,” said Barry. “Until the bike is returned or you notify me, you should remain liable for theft. If you want, I’ll pay you $5 for the extra week.”

“Paying now won’t help,” said Saul. “Once the month is over, I bear no responsibility whatsoever for the bike.”

The two came before Rabbi Dayan. “Is Saul liable for the theft?” Barry asked.

“Saul is no longer considered a paid guardian liable for theft,” ruled Rabbi Dayan. “However, he remains a shomer chinam, an unpaid guardian, liable for negligence; for example, if he forgot to lock the door.”

“What is this based on?” asked Saul.

“The Gemara [B.M. 81a] teaches that a borrower, after the agreed time, no longer carries liability of a borrower for ones, of uncontrollable circumstances,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Beis Yosef derives from this that a paid guardian, after the agreed time, no longer carries liability for theft. Nonetheless, while the item remains in his house, he is liable for negligence, as an unpaid guardian” (C.M. 304:6; 343:1-2).

“However, Ketzos Hachoshen [343:2] cites the Ritva that a paid guardian remains liable for theft until he tells the owner he no longer wants to watch the item,” continued Rabbi Dayan. “This is based on an earlier Gemara [B.M. 80b] that a professional cleaner, technician, mechanic, or the like continues to be considered a paid guardian for the entrusted item, even after completing the work, until he notifies the owner to come pick it up and pay at his convenience.” (C.M. 306:1)

“So maybe Saul should be liable?” asked Barry.

“First of all, some versions of the Ritva read that after the set time, the paid guardian has the laws of a shomer chinam, in consonance with the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “This version is cited by Machaneh Ephraim [Hil. Shomrim #19] and accepted by the Divrei Chaim [Dinei Mechira #20]. Moreover, the Shulchan Aruch clearly rules that Saul is no longer liable for theft, so that he cannot be made to pay.”

“What about an unpaid guardian?” asked Saul. “Does he also remain liable for negligence after the set time?”

Machaneh Ephraim deals with this question as well,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “He is inclined to the view that an unpaid guardian is not liable after the set time, even for negligence. Since he initially accepted liability only for negligence and agreed only for a set time, on what basis can he be held liable beyond this? However, the issue is not conclusive.” (Pischei Choshen, Sechirus 7:2[6]).

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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.