July 20, 2024
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The Case of the Smashed Glass Entry Door

He was a ninth grader, from a nice family. He was studious and his teachers felt that he was well-mannered as well. For some reason, however, he kicked the door in the school building—to keep it open, in all probability. Unfortunately, the door broke.

It was a glass door, and it spontaneously shattered completely. The young man felt badly and informed the menahel immediately. He took full responsibility.

The Menahel responded, “I am very sorry, but this is mammon hekdesh. I cannot just let it go. You must pay for its replacement, and the cost is slightly over $1,000.” The boy took responsibility and for the next two years, every penny that he made he brought to the yeshiva to pay back. He did not tell his parents, so as not to put additional financial pressure on them. His parents were both in the field of Jewish education.

What is the Halacha?

Of course, if this question comes up, one must ask his own rav and not rely on this article, but what is the halacha? Is the yeshiva in its full rights in demanding full payment from the student? Does the menahel not have the right to forego the damage?

The General Halacha

The general halacha found in Shulchan Aruch (Choshain Mishpat 421:3 and Siman 278) is that if someone damages another, even if it is not done on purpose (shogaig) and even if it was not his fault at all (an onais) he is obligated to pay.

The Gemara in Gittin (49a), however, cites an exposition; a drasha: “shor ray’ay’hu, velo shor shel hekdesh.” The Torah specifically states that damage must be paid when damage is done to the ox of his peer, and not when it is done to an ox that was donated to the Temple. This Gemara thus actually states that the one who does such damage is technically exempt. However, the Baalei Tosfos on that Gemara write that m’derabanan, by Rabbinic decree, there is an obligation to pay. There are other Rishonim who have different approaches, but it seems that this is the essential view, l’Halacha.

Does the Rosh Yeshiva Not Have a Right to Be Mochel?

Before the second World War, Rav Elchonon Wasserman, hy”d was visiting America and had made the acquaintance of R’ Shraga Feivel Mendelevitch ob”m. R’ Shraga Feivel had posed to Rav Elchonon a question regarding long hair [bluris] that the bochurim at the time sported. The Mishna Brurah (27:15) seems to be very stringent about the matter.

Rav Elchonon Wasserman responded that a yeshiva must be careful not to turn off the bochurim and advised R’ Shraga Feivel not to make an issue of it. Although this incident is illustrative, it seems that just as a rosh yeshiva has certain leeway to give gifts from a yeshiva to donors, even though it is mammon hekdesh, by the same token he should be able to have similar leeway in whether to force someone to pay for something that happened inadvertently. It would seem that this is the rationale of the Steipler in the following incident.

Yeshiva Be’er Yaakov Incident

Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro (1917-2006), zt”l was the rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Be’er Yaakov and a student of Rav Elchonon Wasserman. A student in Rabbi Shapiro’s yeshiva had lit candles on a wooden table and the table caught fire. Subsequently, four rooms in the yeshiva completely burned down.

When that student told Rav Shapiro about it, Rav Shapiro told him that, in the future, when the bochur has money, he must pay back the yeshiva. The bochur approached the Steipler Gaon who responded that the rosh hayeshiva must be mochel. When Rav Shapiro heard the Steipler’s ruling he responded, “While I don’t necessarily agree, since the Steipler said so, he must listen to what he says.” (See Brischa Yintzoru p. 81).

In a footnote contained within a sefer entitled, Toras HaYeshiva, chapter 21 (p. 282), the author Rav Meir Pinchasi is unsure as to whether or not a rosh yeshiva has a right to forego the damage payments that a talmid may be obligated to pay.

However, the sefer entitled, Teshuva HaGrach, Vol. II p. 889, written by Rabbi Aharon Ben Yaakov HaLevi Grenedish, the author cites Rav Chaim Kanievsky, zt”l as ruling that—a rosh yeshiva is permitted to forego an obligation to pay when yeshiva students break a bookcase in the yeshiva. It seems clear that a glass door would be no different. It is interesting to note that his father, the Steipler, ruled in the previous case that the rosh yeshiva must forgo the payment, whereas in the latter case. It seems it is optional.

This author believes that Rav Chaim’s position and that of his father, the Steipler, can be backed up by the Rambam’s ruling in Hilchos Tefillah 11:20, that a shul’s gabbai’s can sell it or even give it as a matana. The point is that the Rambam seems to be giving more leeway to the gabbaim which would include the hanhallah of the yeshiva.

On the other hand, it could very well be that the menahel is trying to impart a lesson to the student to be more careful.

Is it the Door or the Building?

A number of rabbonim have suggested that since the door is attached to the building, we should look at the loss of value of the entire building which is negligible. However, the Chazon Ish Bava Kamma 6:3 writes that we only look at the entire building when the building is for sale, but otherwise, it is of replacement value. The Nesivus in the Biurim (#2) indicates quite the opposite. However, the poskim that this writer has consulted over the years said that this view has been dismissed by normative halachic practice.

The author can be reached at [email protected].

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