An affluent Jewish congregation in the Tri-State area entered into a contractual agreement with Harold to construct a community center in the heart of their neighborhood. The complex was to include a synagogue, social hall, mikveh, and workout room. Harold hired out subcontractors for each of the different features of the project. The mikveh complex was subcontracted to Maurice, who was entrusted with the project based on his impressive résumé. But after the mikveh was completed, a bitter monetary dispute raged between Harold and Maurice regarding the total cost of the mikveh project. The two appeared in Bet Din to resolve the complicated matter, in which Maurice claimed he was owed a substantial amount of money and thus requested a “cease and desist” order, preventing use of the mikveh by the public until he was paid in full. He pointed out that the mikveh was built using his raw materials and his workers, and until he received the full payment, the mikveh should be forbidden to use. Maurice further noted that forbidding the use of the mikveh could also be beneficial to Harold in giving him leverage to recoup some of the additional expenses he had incurred from the congregation that hired him. Additionally, he claimed that since the local neighborhood maintained an operating mikveh in the area, preventing use of the new mikveh would not stop people from observing this important mitzvah.
Harold responded that while it is likely that he owed Maurice a minimal amount, he was by no means willing to make any further payments until their dispute was resolved. In addition, Harold felt it would be preposterous to punish the congregation until he makes whatever payment is required, given the small amount entailed.
How should the Bet Din rule? Does Maurice have a valid claim? Should the Bet Din prevent the opening of the mikveh until the matter is resolved?
According to the ruling of the Shulhan Aruch, a craftsman who receives raw material for labor is not viewed as the rightful owner of the developed product. Though the craftsman developed and enhanced the raw material submitted to him, nevertheless, he is not deemed the product’s legal owner.
If, however, a craftsman supplies the raw material for a product that he subsequently develops, according to halachic authorities the craftsman is considered the proper owner. Since his time and money was invested, he is the legal owner and is entitled to dictate and control the status of the product. While according to one opinion a craftsman maintains the status of an employee even if he supplies the raw material, the consensus of the majority is to rule as aforementioned.
The above ruling is applicable in instances in which the craftsman or contractor performed services for his client without receiving monetary compensation. If, however, the client prepaid for the work performed, the money extended is to include the cost of the raw material, thereby making the client the official titleholder of the project. As the property owner, all major considerations regarding usage, occupancy, and the like, are to be regulated by his order. This ruling is applicable even if the prepaid sum merely covers the cost of the raw material and not the cost of labor. Since the client paid for the material, the contractor is viewed as an employee who is owed wages for his services.
By rule of the Shulhan Aruch, partners who are shareholders in a property cannot prohibit entry onto the said premises to each other. Since they had invested together, each has the legal right of entry, and until proven otherwise, each may equally share and benefit from the property. In instances in which one of the partners has the property deed in his name and a certificate of occupancy enabling him legal entry, the other investing partner may by no means prohibit entry. Even if the investing partner may have a valid claim, he may not prohibit entry to the titleholder. As titleholder, one maintains legal possession of the property, and unless the claims against him are validated by a Torah judicial system, he is permitted to occupy the property.
By Torah law, in instances in which a dispute occurs regarding public property, a Bet Din will be deliberate and cautious before preventing the public from occupying grounds without first hearing the case. Although the legal position of the public is by no means favored over a private individual, nevertheless, a Bet Din will refrain from enacting a cease and desist against a public building unless clear evidence is submitted to validate the claim. Without hearing the case, and without a formal lien on the property, a Bet Din is likely to reject a cease-and-desist order.
VERDICT: Proceed and Permit
The Bet Din rejected Maurice’s request for a cease-and-desist order to prevent usage of the mikveh by the public until the monetary dispute is resolved. Although Maurice did, indeed, use his raw materials and workers to construct the edifice, upon inquiry, he acknowledged that he received numerous payments that clearly covered the costs of the raw material. Hence, as elaborated in Torah law, Maurice maintains the mere status of an employee, and is not entitled to dictate the condition of occupancy of the property. Furthermore, even if a substantial sum of money is due to him, he is at best only a partner in the property, and by Torah law cannot prohibit the other partners from entry. In addition, the leaders of the congregation submitted the deed and the certificate of occupancy allowing them entry onto the premises. With the members of the congregation in full legal possession of the mikveh, Maurice’s request for a cease and desist was easily discarded, and the Bet Din informed his attorneys to proceed with the monetary claim for possible collection. As a rule, a Bet Din will proceed with caution before preventing public entry into a community building.
In Loving Memory of Vera Bat Carol, A”H
YOU BE THE JUDGE
Three iPhone 15s
Eli went out for lunch with his friend David in a local café in Israel. The two were discussing Eli’s upcoming vacation to Los Angeles, and David asked Eli to buy him the new iPhone 15 from overseas. Eli agreed, and David forwarded the full sum in cash to Eli for the purchase. At the Apple store in Los Angeles Eli inspected the new gadget and he decided to purchase three phones. One phone was for David, the second was for his own personal use, and the third he intended on selling in Israel at a profit. Eli wrapped the three phones in bubble wrap and packed them in his suitcase. Upon arrival in Israel Eli opened his suitcase and discovered that his bag was tampered with. He inspected the contents of the bag and immediately detected that the bubble wrap was ripped and one of the phones was missing. He filed a complaint with the airport authorities, and while they were planning to investigate, the airport authorities added that it was possible the phone was stolen by a passenger as the suitcase was revolving on the belt. Eli had decided that it was David’s phone that had been stolen and Eli contacted David to inform him of the unfortunate occurrence. David responded that Eli had no right to determine that of the three phones it was specifically his that was stolen, since all three models were the same. David suggested that perhaps they split the loss between the two of them, or possibly Eli was to suffer two thirds of the loss as two of the three phones were his.
How should the Bet Din rule – in favor of Eli or David?