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Yehuda and Aryeh were business partners. Yehuda served as the sales agent, traveling to meet potential clients. He would bring receipts of his expenses and get reimbursed from the business account.

One day, Aryeh was surprised to find a bill for an expensive suit. “What is this?” he asked Yehuda.

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“As you know, I meet potential business clients,” explained Yehuda. “With some of them, I’ve found that an expensive suit makes the difference in closing a deal.”

“I can understand that, but the price seems a bit much,” said Aryeh. “Besides, the suit is yours and you need to buy clothes anyway.”

“If it weren’t for the sales meetings,” replied Yehuda, “I would suffice with a nice shirt and tie, or a regular suit, like I dress in the office. I need the expensive suit to impress these potential clients.”

“I refuse to allow it, though,” insisted Aryeh.

“How about we ask Rabbi Dayan?” suggested Yehuda.

“Okay,” agreed Aryeh.

After hearing both sides’ arguments, Rabbi Dayan said, “The Gemara [Bava Kamma 11b] discusses children sustained by their father’s estate. When they subsequently divide the estate, we deduct the value of the clothes they purchased and are still wearing.” [Choshen Mishpat 176:9; 288:1]

“We don’t, however, deduct the value of the clothing of the eldest brother who manages the estate, since it is the children’s interest that he dress well when he represents them,” continued Rabbi Dayan.

“The default assumption is that the other children allow this expense. However, they can protest, and are entitled to prohibit him from dressing henceforth at their expense. The Rashbam [to Bava Basra 139a] also writes that, ideally, the eldest brother should avoid squandering the estate’s money on clothing” [Choshen Mishpat 286:2; Sma 176:30].

“Do these rules also apply to business partners?” asked Aryeh.

“The Rema [Choshen Mishpat 176:9] does apply them to partners,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “He concludes that we follow the common practice since the partners initially entered their partnership on the assumption that it would govern their relationship.”

“So, if the partner who serves as a sales agent needs to buy expensive clothing, he can reasonably consider it a business expense and charge the joint account,” said Rabbi Dayan, “The other partner can protest and refuse to allow such an expense for the future, but he cannot refuse to reimburse what was already bought. However, if the expense was extravagant beyond need, it cannot be charged to the business.” [Pa’amonei Zahav 176:9]

“Thus,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “Yehuda is entitled to be reimbursed for the expensive clothing he needs in his capacity as a sales agent – within reason – provided that there is no common practice otherwise. Nonetheless, Aryeh can protest and thus prevent future purchases of this kind.”

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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.