The Case – A Junk Collector


Jacob, president of a successful charity organization, decided to update the computer room with new equipment, and allocated funds for the project. Of the 30 computers owned by the organization, more than half were busted, and were surely not worth fixing. Leon, the superintendent, chose not to dispose of them, but rather to sell them to a used parts dealer, and he earned a handsome sum of $1,200. When the new equipment arrived, Jacob proudly expressed his joy over finally trashing the old equipment, and thanked Leon for the labor entailed in disposing of it. Later that day, Jacob found out about Leon’s profit from the sale, and asked Leon to forward the income to the organization. Leon refused to forward the funds on the grounds that Jacob’s intention all along was to dump the old gear, and as superintendent it was his job to dispose of it. Since he could have dumped it, it stands to reason he reserved the right to take it for himself or to sell it. Jacob agreed that he intended on dumping the equipment, but he never explicitly instructed Leon to do so. Furthermore, since the old computers belonged to the organization, the organization should receive even unexpected profits that the old computers generated.  

How should the Bet Din rule, in favor of Leon or Jacob, and why?

Torah Law 

According to the rule of the Shulhan Aruch, in order for personal property to be effectively abandoned, it is necessary for its owners to give explicit instructions to dispose of the item. In certain instances, even if the owner himself throws a valuable item into a public area, it is not regarded as abandoned, and a finder may not acquire the item. The action of throwing an item into a public area can be attributed to frustration or the like, and is not necessarily an indication that the item was actually abandoned. Needless to say, the mere intent to dispose of an item is not a license for another party to declare ownership, as until it is effectively abandoned one may not take possession. 

Leading halachic authorities debate the legal status of an item that is mistakenly abandoned by its owner. Although the owner clearly instructed to dispose of his item, nevertheless, he did so since he was unaware of the item’s inherent value. Hence, according to most halachic authorities, the abandonment is rendered null and void, and in the event the item was already collected by another it must be returned to its owner. Other halachic authorities differ with the above reasoning, explaining that since the owner clearly instructed to dispose of his property without first inquiring with regard to its remaining value, he effectively abandoned the item. Although he mistakenly forfeited the remaining value of his property, once collected by another party, it may not be reclaimed by its original owner. 

As a general rule, in instances in which a halachic dispute exists as to the rightful legal owner of an item, the party in possession may withhold the item and claim ownership. Since halachic authorities support his claim of ownership, he may rely on their opinion and withhold an item already in his possession. 

By rule of the Shulhan Aruch, one is entitled to a commission fee for enabling a sale of an item. Although no stipulation for payment was made prior to the sale, nevertheless, the owner is required to compensate the salesman for his services. Likewise, if a party ships and handles an item for an owner, he is entitled to compensation for his services even if not conditioned for from the onset. The rationale behind this ruling is that people are generally unwilling to provide a service without receiving compensation, and it is therefore considered as if he stipulated for payment. Naturally, one can only expect compensation in instances in which the service provided is clearly beneficial to the recipient. It is important to note that in absence of agreed upon terms of payment a Bet Din will appraise the value of the service provided according to the commercial market rate of the specific industry of record. 

Endnotes: Shulhan Aruch Hoshen Mishpat 261:4, Ibid Netivot Hamishpat, Shulhan Aruch Hoshen Mishpat 273:2, 7,   Shulhan Aruch Hoshen Mishpat 142:2, Kesot Hahoshen142:1, Netivot Hamishpat142:2, Rema Hoshen Mishpat 264:4. 

VERDICT:  Collector of Wages 

The Bet Din ruled in favor of the organization by awarding it $1,000 of the proceeds of the sale. However, as compensation for Leon’s services, which included a commission fee for selling the computer parts to a dealer, and for hand delivering the equipment, the Bet din awarded him with the $200 balance of the proceeds. As mentioned in Torah law, Jacob, the organization’s president, never explicitly instructed to discard the old computers. Although it was Jacob’s full intent to scrap them, nevertheless, he never effectively abandoned the property, thereby making it illegal for Leon to sell the organization’s assets. Although Jacob later commented that he was thankful it was dumped, nevertheless, at the time of sale it was the property of the organization, and hence, the proceeds of the sale are to be forwarded accordingly. Furthermore, Jacob was never aware of the inherent value of the computer parts, and mistakenly intended on dumping them. According to numerous halachic authorities, mistakenly abandoning property is rendered invalid, and even after the sale of the old computers Jacob may reclaim his ownership and collect the proceeds of the sale. The latter is true even if Jacob possibly did instruct to one of his employees to throw away the old equipment. Leon was awarded $200, since according to Torah law he is entitled to compensation even though he did not stipulate for payment. 

In Loving Memory of Vera Bat Carol, A”H 


The Matchmaker 

Simon, a middle-aged man who underwent two painful divorces, decided that it was time to become an observant Jew, and he began to regularly study in yeshiva. Shortly thereafter, he expressed interest in remarrying, and was told that if he seriously chooses to pursue the matter, he is to speak with none other than his friend Reb Mendel. A match was made, and after Simon dated Miriam twice he received a phone call from Reb Mendel that the fee for his services is $5,000. Miriam as well was informed by Reb Mendel that if the match proved to be successful, the fee for his services is $2,500. The two, who were clearly interested in each other, were appalled by Reb Mendel’s exorbitant fee, and rejected his outrageous demands. Happily, the couple married and some two months after the wedding they were summonsed to Bet Din by Reb Mendel who claimed to be owed $7,500. In Bet Din, Simon and Miriam explained that they were of Sephardic origin and never imagined that there existed a fee for matchmaking. Furthermore, Simon claimed that as a good friend of Reb Mendel, it was obvious that the match was made in good will and not for monetary compensation. Reb Mendel responded that he is an experienced matchmaker and regularly collected payment for his services. His reasoning for charging Simon $5,000, as opposed to only $2,500 for Miriam, is that Simon is a high-risk client, as he is two times divorced. Reb Mendel explained that working with a high-risk client always presents difficulties, and he is entitled to compensation accordingly.  

How should the Bet Din rule – in favor of Reb Mendel or the couple and why?