By Rabbi Meir Orlian
It was two days before Pesach. “I still don’t have a Haggadah,” Sruli Simchah said to his mother.
Mrs. Simchah turned to her husband. “I’m busy cooking,” she said. “Can you take Sruli to the store?”
“OK,” replied Mr. Simchah. “Come, Sruli.”
On the way out, they met their neighbor, Mr. Sasson. “We’re going to buy a Haggadah,” Sruli announced.
“That’s nice,” Mr. Sasson said.
“We also haven’t had a chance to buy a Haggadah for our son,” he said to Mr. Simchah. “Would you mind picking up one for him?”
“I’m going anyway,” replied Mr. Simchah. “I’m happy to buy for him also.”
When Mr. Simchah got to the store, he saw a large sign: “Haggadah Clearance! Buy one; get the second one at 50 percent off!”
“Great!” exclaimed Mr. Simchah. “Buying two will even save us money.”
When Mr. Simchah came home, he showed his wife the Haggadah. “That’s a nice one,” she said. “Good choice!”
“We even got it for half-price,” Mr. Simchah added. “Mr. Sasson asked me to buy a Haggadah for his son. There was a ‘Buy 1, get 2nd at 50 percent’ sale, so ours cost only half-price.”
“I don’t think it’s fair that we should take the whole discount,” Mrs. Simchah replied. “The discount was for both purchases.”
“What’s not fair?” said Mr. Simchah. “Mr. Sasson just pays the regular price of the Haggadah. Anyway, I made the effort to go to the store.”
“But when you buy two items, each one costs less,” reasoned Mrs. Simcha. “How can you say that Mr. Sasson’s Haggadah was full price and ours half-price?”
“I’ll check with Rabbi Dayan,” said Mr. Simchah. He called Rabbi Dayan and asked: “Can I take the discount for myself or should it be split?”
“The answer is not definitive,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “Contemporary poskim have provided different rulings.
“The Gemara (Kesuvos 98b) teaches that if a person sent an agent to buy something, and the seller added something extra, the customer and the agent should share the bonus,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “However, if the seller gave a discount on the item and charged less, the customer gets the benefit, since that is the cost of the item; the agent cannot pocket the difference” (C.M. 183:6; Pischei Choshen, Pikadon 11:[29,42]).
“How does that apply here?” asked Mr. Simchah.
“One possibility is to view the sale as applying the discount only to the second item,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Thus, although the discount was based on the first item, which was charged full price, you can keep the discount for yourself. Your neighbor cannot claim that you gained at his expense; he paid the regular price and lost nothing.
“Alternatively,” continued Rabbi Dayan, “we can view the sale as the purchase of two items, each costing only 75 percent of the full price. According to this understanding, the discount would have to be shared, since each item costs less” (see Halichos Hachaim #232, #235).
“Which approach is correct?” asked Mr. Simchah.
“I prefer the first approach for two reasons,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “First, it is the more literal understanding, and the items are charged at the register in this manner. Second, when the items are not of equal value, the discount is half of the lesser item, which indicates that the sale is not 25 percent off each but rather 50 percent off the second or lesser item.
“Bottom line, I would rule that you follow whoever is in possession of the money,” concluded Rabbi Dayan. “If the neighbor already gave you the money, you can keep the entire discount for yourself if you want to. However, if you laid out the money and he pays afterward, he can ask that you share the discount with him.”
From The BHI Hotline: Appliance Repairs
Q: I’m an appliance repairman and I have a number of questions that I hope you will be able to answer. Sometimes it is clear that it is not in the customer’s best interest to repair the appliance and he is better off replacing the appliance. In such an instance, must they pay me?
A: Common practice is that the customer pays for the diagnosis even when the advice is that the appliance should be replaced. If it is subsequently discovered that the appliance did not have to be replaced, the repairman’s liability depends on the degree of his negligence. If the repairman followed standard protocol in deciding that the appliance must be replaced, even though it turned out that it could be repaired, he is exempt from liability. If the repairman did not follow standard protocol in advising that the appliance must be repaired, he may be liable if the customer unnecessarily replaced the appliance (see Nesivos 234:1 and Mishpat Hamazik 1:17:).
Q: Many times I endeavor to repair an appliance but as much as I try, sometimes the appliance cannot be repaired. In such a case, is the customer obligated to pay me for my service?
A: If a repairman decides that the appliance could be repaired and endeavors to make the repair but fails in his effort, he has not earned payment for his services. It is understood that he is paid to repair the appliance. If he does not repair the appliance, he is not to be reimbursed (C.M. 264:4). This is the nature of this industry; sometimes he earns money without much effort and other times he invests significant effort but ultimately earns nothing.
However, sometimes (especially with expensive machinery) part of the job is to diagnose whether the appliance can be repaired or not. Even the customer realizes that it may not be possible or worthwhile to make the necessary repair, but knowing that the appliance cannot be repaired is valuable information. In some cases it is also understood that the repairman may endeavor to make repairs and possibly replace parts that may not work, and then decide that the appliance must be replaced, in which case the customer must pay his fee. In many instances it is expected that one first consult the customer before attempting a repair that may not work (see Sefer Maaseh Uman 4:).
Q: Often a customer calls about an appliance and I realize immediately that the issue was due to an improper setting and all I need to do is press a button to reset the operation. When the repair is so simple, may I charge the customer my fee?
A: In this case, since you properly diagnosed the problem, you may charge for the service call (C.M. 335:2). There is a discussion whether a repairman who is uncomfortable telling the customer that all that was necessary was to press a button may tell him that he performed a more extensive repair. It is clear, however, that it is not necessary to say that the appliance did not require repair (Gilayon Vayishma Moshe 17:5).
In a circumstance in which the repairman caused damage while trying to make a repair, as long as he followed standard protocol, he is not liable (Minchas Pitim 306:4). On the other hand, if he was negligent and behaved in a manner that was not consistent with standard protocol, he is liable (C.M. 306:4). Similarly, if the repair did not fix the problem and due to his negligence it caused more damage, he is liable for the additional damage.
As with all monetary matters, if there were agreements that were accepted or if there is a common custom that dictates liability or exemption, the halachah will follow those guidelines.
Adapted by Rabbi Meir Orlian
From the writings of Harav Chaim Kohn, shlita
Q: A visitor left a package of cookies in our dorm room and declared them hekfer (ownerless). My roommate took them for himself, while I claim that we already acquired them jointly. Whose are they?
A: The Gemara (B.B. 84b) teaches that partners can acquire through kinyan chatzer in a joint courtyard. Based on this, the Rosh and Rema rule that joint property acquires hefker on behalf of both partners (C.M. 260:4).
The Ketzos Hashulchan disagrees with this ruling, and maintains that joint property does not acquire hefker for both unless they are partners in all financial matters, so that whoever subsequently takes the hefker acquires it. However, later Acharonim uphold the Rema’s ruling, so that the cookies should be shared (Ketzos 260:1; Aruch Hashulchan 260:9; Tabaas Hachoshen 260).
Nonetheless, if the roommate intended from the beginning to take the cookies for himself and did not want the property to acquire jointly, the Nesivos concurs that he alone acquires them (Nesivos 260:9).
This article is intended for learning purposes and not to be relied upon halacha l’maaseh. There are also issues of dina d’malchusa to consider in actual cases.
Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, which is headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, shlita, a noted dayan. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, please call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e‑mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e‑mail to email@example.com.