Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Mrs. Schreiber taught 5th grade in Bnos Yisrael school. One evening, she received the happy news that the other 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Twersky, had given birth.

In the morning, Mrs. Schreiber met the other teachers in the teachers’ room and suggested that they each pitch in $20 to buy Mrs. Twersky a gift.

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“I don’t have money with me,” said Mrs. Holler. “Can I give it to you tomorrow?”

“Sure, there’s an envelope in my cubby over there,” said Mrs. Schreiber, pointing to her cubby in the teachers’ room. “Just put the money in there.”

Mrs. Holler did so, as did two other teachers. But on the following day, when Mrs. Schreiber went to retrieve the envelope, she saw that it was missing. “I can’t believe it!” Mrs. Schreiber exclaimed. “The money’s gone!”

“What should I do?” Mrs. Schreiber asked her husband, when she returned home.

Mr. Schreiber offered to call Rabbi Dayan on her behalf. She agreed, so he called Rabbi Dayan and asked, “Is my wife liable for the money in the missing envelope?”

“Since your wife was responsible to collect the money for the gift, she is considered a shomer chinam,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Although she did not receive the money in her hand, the cubby is considered her chatzer, and she became responsible for the money when it was placed in it [Choshen Mishpat 291:5; Aruch HaShulchan 291:13].

“As you know, an unpaid guardian is liable for negligence, but not for theft. Leaving money in an open cubby, even in a teachers’ room, is generally considered negligence, and therefore she could be liable [Choshen Mishpat 291:1, 15-18].

“However, in this case, your wife is exempt.”

“Why?” asked Mr. Schreiber.

“Because, ” explained Rabbi Dayan, “the money still belongs to the teachers until your wife buys the gift. If a guardian stipulates that he should be exempt for a low level of guarding, his stipulation is binding. If a guardian shows a person where his money is kept and, or if the person put his money in a particular place, an implicit stipulation is considered to have been.

“Since the other teachers knew that the money was being collected in an open cubby, they accepted this manner of guarding their money [Choshen Mishpat 291:17; Knesses Hagedolah, Hagahos HaTur 291:119; Pischei Choshen, Pikadon 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.