Mr. Plaut and Mr. Davidoff were litigating before Rabbi Dayan’s beis din.
Mr. Plaut was a salesman for Mr. Davidoff. The contract called for an additional commission at the end of each year, and they disputed the amount of the additional commission.
“What is the sum in dispute?” asked Rabbi Dayan.
“$3,000 a month,” replied Mr. Plaut. “I began working on March 1 last year. From 3/21 to 12/21 is nine months. Nine months times $3,000 is $27,000. I claim $27,000.”
After hearing the claims of each party and examining the contract, the dayanim accepted Mr. Plaut’s position that he deserved an additional $3,000 a month.
“On a mathematical note, though,” Rabbi Dayan said to his colleagues, “Mr. Plaut claimed nine months, and $27,000. However, from March to December, inclusive, is 10 months, so that Mr. Davidoff really needs to pay $30,000.”
“We also noticed that,” acknowledged his colleagues. “It’s strange that Mr. Plaut repeated over and over his claim of $27,000 for nine months from March through December.”
“The dates are agreed and well documented,” said Rabbi Dayan. “It’s clear to me that Mr. Plaut made a common mathematical error, subtracting three from 12.”
The litigants were called back into the room.
“We accept Mr. Plaut’s claim fully,” Rabbi Dayan ruled. “Mr. Davidoff must pay him $30,000.”
“How could that be?!” exploded Mr. Davidoff. “Mr. Plaut claimed only $27,000!”
“Mr. Plaut worked from March through December, inclusive, which is 10 months, not nine,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “He repeated his error numerous times, but it remains a mistaken calculation.”
“So what?” argued Mr. Davidoff. “Mr. Plaut claimed $27,000. How can you obligate me to more than he claimed?”
“The Gemara (B.B. 5a) relates that Ravina erected fences around his fields, which completely encircled Runya’s field,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Nonetheless, Runya refused Ravina’s request to share, at least minimally, in the cost of the fences, but later showed that he benefited from them. Rava ruled that Runya should pay the minimal amount that Ravina demanded; otherwise, he threatened to impose the full share required by law” (C.M. 158:6).
“Rema (C.M. 12:17) derives from this that if the plaintiff claims a small amount, the dayan should not rule more than this, even if by law the plaintiff is entitled to more. He cites Rivash (#227), who ruled similarly.
“Sma (17:26) understood that Rema ruled so even when the plaintiff erred in his legal rights. He questions this ruling, though, since in the Gemara’s case, Ravina was seemingly aware of his rights but willingly agreed to accept less. Similarly, in the case of the Rivash, the plaintiff willingly offered a choice to the defendant. However, if the plaintiff erred in his rights, perhaps the dayan should rule what he deserves by law.
“Shach (17:15) and Taz (17:12), indeed, explain that the case of the Rema is where the plaintiff simply claimed a lesser amount, and it is possible that he intended to forgo partially. Therefore, out of doubt, the dayan should not obligate the defendant more than the plaintiff’s claim. However, if the plaintiff clearly erred in his rights, it is mechilah b’taus, and the dayan should rule the true amount.
“Some Acharonim write that even if the dayan is in doubt whether the plaintiff intended to forgo or erred, he can alert him to his rights, but should mention that if he intended to forgo – he may not take more” (Pischei Teshuvah 12:17; Aruch HaShulchan 17:19).
When the error is mathematical, though, and there was clearly no intent whatsoever to forgo – seemingly everyone would agree that beis din should rule the correct sum.
“Therefore,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “since March through December is 10 months, not nine, we ruled that you are liable $30,000, even though the claim was mistakenly calculated as $27,000.”
Verdict: Beis Din should not rule more than the claim when it is possible that the plaintiff was willing to forgo some of his rights, but should correct a clear mathematical error.