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Terrified of Paris

Sam, a commercial real estate representative, booked a flight from New York to Paris less than two weeks after the recent large-scale scale terrorist attack. With a hotel booking for three nights, Sam scheduled numerous meetings with investors and developers interested in doing business with the company he represented. On the eve of his flight, Sam phoned his parents to let them know that he was going to Paris for a few days. His elderly parents were horrified by the news, and felt that it was completely reckless of Sam to travel to Paris during such turbulent times. They insisted that Sam cancel the trip and reschedule it in another two months.  Sam explained to his parents that he was leaving to the airport in a half hour and that it was simply too late to cancel. However, his mother did not handle the news well and began experiencing a panic attack. At that point his father commanded him to cancel his trip and Sam reluctantly complied. However, the last minute cancellation came at a cost. The airline charged a substantial amount for the change, and the hotel charged him for the first night of his stay on the company credit card. Although Sam’s boss consented that his actions are clearly not grounds to fire him, he was nevertheless upset and insisted that he reimburse the company for the loss sustained. Sam replied that the situation was beyond his control, and he was compelled to cancel his trip out of respect for his parents’ wishes.  Sam argued that had he fallen ill the day of the flight and had to cancel, he would not be forced to pay out of pocket.  Similarly, he claimed that all of the circumstances compelling him to cancel should be considered, and he should not bear the expenses incurred.

Is Sam obligated to reimburse his boss or not? How should the Bet Din rule and why?


According to According to the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch, one who cancels the purchase of a perishable item is responsible to reimburse the seller for any loss incurred due to the last minute cancellation. Since the order was processed at the request of the buyer and is no longer salable to another customer, complete compensation for the damages is required. Nevertheless, if the order was placed verbally and the buyer cancels due to circumstances beyond his control, in certain instances he is not liable for the damage caused. 

By rule of the Shulhan Aruch, a person is obligated to honor his parents by providing for them their needs. Nevertheless, all costs entailed by a child providing for his parents are to come at the expense of the parents. A child’s obligation is merely to fulfill the wishes of his parents by providing the service required to ensure their comfort and wellbeing. Additionally, leading halachic authorities require a child to obey the instructions of a parent even in matters that do not pertain to a parent’s needs.  Since by law a child is restricted from contradicting the words of his parent, it stands to reason that he may not defy their explicit instructions.

Although a child is required to obey the instructions of a parent, nevertheless, if carrying out the command of a parent will ultimately cause damage or loss to the child, the child is exempt from fulfilling the order. Since it is obvious to the parent that the reason the child defied the instruction is due to financial loss, it is by no means considered undermining or insulting to the parent’s status.  Furthermore, as aforementioned, one is only obligated to provide for his parents at their expense.  If however, a financial loss is involved, a child need not bear the loss, and in such an instance is not required to honor his parents.  In addition, a number of halachic authorities rule that in any instance in which a parent is not receiving a direct benefit from their command to the child, the child is not obligated to carry out their instructions.  This above ruling is compounded in instances in which the child’s job is jeopardized.

Accordingly, in instances in which a child is not obligated to heed his parents’ command to cancel a purchase, he may not later claim that the cancelation was due to circumstances beyond his control. Since he was not obligated to follow his parents’ orders, he is responsible for all damages incurred by the seller due to the last minute cancellation.

Furthermore, even if one is to argue that a child is obligated to obey his parent’s command to cancel a purchase, the child may not later claim exemption for the consequent damages due to circumstances beyond his control. Since he was physically willing and able to complete the transaction, he may not claim the right to cancel a purchase due to an outside factor. Although this latter ruling is subject to what is customarily acceptable, nevertheless, cancelling a purchase based on an irrational request of a parent is clearly grounds for liability.

VERDICT Foot the Bill

Our Bet Din ruled that Sam is obligated to reimburse his boss for the cancellation fees owed to the airlines and hotel. As mentioned in Torah law, cancelling a flight and a hotel reservation a half-an-hour prior to the trip is grounds for liability. Although Sam’s parents commanded him to cancel his trip, nevertheless, Sam is obligated to reimburse his boss. By Torah law, a child is not required to obey his parents’ instruction in instances in which he will sustain a loss. If Sam chose to travel against his parents’ wishes, ultimately they would have understood that he did so in order to not suffer a financial loss. As a general rule, a child is obligated to respect his parents by providing their needs. Nevertheless, the cost entailed by a child in providing for his parents is essentially the expense of the parents. Since Sam was not obligated to heed to his parents’ instruction, he may not claim that the circumstance was beyond his control, and he is required to compensate his boss for the last minute cancellation. Even if one is to argue that due to his mother’s exaggerated condition Sam was perhaps obligated to cancel his flight, nevertheless, he is not exempt from payment. While in certain instances a boss is customarily not entitled to compensation from his employee on account of a loss, if the loss came about from an irrational decision, he is entitled to collect. Sam’s parents’ demands were irrational, as millions of people were flying in and out of Paris two weeks after the attack. However, our Bet Din complemented Sam for his good will and concern for his parents, though he was obligated to foot the bill.