April 15, 2024
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Shehecheyanu on Winning a Court Case

לעילוי נשמת

יואל אפרים בן אברהם עוזיאל זלצמן ז”ל

Question: As a lawyer, it is clear to me that a client who wins a court case should recite “Shehecheyanu,” and one who loses should recite “Dayan Ha’emet.” After all, a court victory is truly good news and involves much more money than a suit! Am I correct?

Answer: There are different types of triggers for “Shehecheyanu:” cyclical mitzvot, holidays and fruit (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 225); acquisitions of significant objects (ibid. 223); finding out good news (mainly, ibid. 222). In your question, you use the latter two interchangeably; we will separate them.

The parameters of acquiring a house or “important” clothing or furniture are quite defined, and when they are met, one does not need to be overjoyed for “Shehecheyanu” to be called for (it applies even when one pays top dollar). We do not say “Dayan Ha’emet” when such items are lost or broken. A court award rarely meets the classic parameters.

Because good news (ibid. 222:1) and bad news (ibid. 2) are very broad, the bracha trigger must elicit strong feelings. Most types of Shehecheyanu—according to most—are not obligations, but are voluntary and recommended when applicable (see Rama, Orach Chayim 223:1; Mishna Berura 223:7). In cases where it is unclear whether they are warranted, most poskim (see Mishna Berura 223:12) apply safek brachot lehakel (refrain when in doubt); some say it does not apply to such a subjective bracha when one feels the urge to recite it (see Tzitz Eliezer XIV:67). The above may explain what the Mishna Berura reports—most people do not make brachot over good and bad news. (The minhag is that one recites “Dayan Ha’emet” as a full bracha only for the death of a close relative—see Mishna Berura 223:8).

One could solve bracha levatala questions by combining it with a “Shehecheyanu” on clothing (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 600:2) or by omitting Hashem’s name. However, people have the right and maybe should (see Mishna Berura ibid.) make the brachot according to the opinions that when there is true happiness from good news (and sadness from bad), one makes a full bracha. This can include a variety of significant financial events (see Mishna Berura 222:1). However, your clients should be consistent. Take a real estate agent who does not make “Shehecheyanu” when he makes a sale. Should he recite it only when his fee was questioned, and he wins the same amount of money in adjudication?! In fact, as a dayan, I see several reasons why a ruling in adjudication should not bring on “Shehecheyanu” or “Dayan Ha’emet.”

Many rule not to recite “Shehecheyanu” on a fruit that was grown in a forbidden manner (see Yabia Omer V, Orach Chayim 19)—that is not supposed to make you happy. Adjudication at times includes aveirot, e.g., going to a secular court; lying or misrepresentation; improperly insulting one’s “opponent.” If one, thereby, received money he did not deserve, there should not be a bracha. If one lost the case, he should usually assume he deserved to lose, in which case “Dayan Ha’emet” is not appropriate, as he did not really lose anything.

In cases where one side is clearly right, the ruling reveals the obvious; it is likely different from the Mishna Berura’s (ibid.) retrieving property from a thief. If both sides have strong logic—making the ruling significant—one could factor in that his good fortune is at the expense of another, who is now upset (compare to the Ra’avya, Shabbat 289, who says not to make “Shehecheyanu” at a brit because of the baby’s pain).

There are other complications: In many cases, rulings include elements of winning and losing for both sides. Also, timing is not simple, considering that when one receives a ruling, there is time for appeal and receiving payment can be a process (see Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 223:4 on not making “Shehecheyanu” at a wedding).

I have not seen classical poskim suggest these brachot for adjudication, and the minhag is not to do so. Finding a different way to thank Hashem, and contemplating how to be a most moral litigant—or not be one at all—may be wiser than solving a halachic doubt by including a new suit.


This column is written by Rabbi Daniel Mann on behalf of the Eretz Hemdah Institute in Jerusalem, which trains dayanim and has many projects on behalf of klal Yisrael, including its “Ask the Rabbi” service in conjunction with the OU. Rabbi Mann is a dayan at Eretz Hemdah, a senior member of the “Ask the Rabbi” project, and author of its “Living the Halachic Process” series. He is also a Ram at Yeshiva University’s Gruss Kollel in Israel.

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