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Purim – Everything reversed including Choshen Mishpat

Ve’na’hapoch Hu, the term used by the Megilla to describe the remarkable reversal of fortune that enabled the Jews to overcome their enemies, has become a favorite theme of Purim. In an interesting twist, it can even be used to describe a halacha of Choshen Mishpat, the laws dealing with monetary obligations and duties, that concerns Purim.

Chaim was a guest at Shimon’s Purim seuda.  During the party, Chaim, somewhat inebriated, began dancing and jumping on a table. Due to the fact that he was not in full control of his faculties, he slipped and fell on the table causing it damage. Although, at first glance, one is inclined to hold Chaim accountable for his actions, and as a result, would obligate him to compensate Shimon for the damage, remarkably, in this case there are grounds to release him from his responsibility.

The halachic issue that needs to be considered falls into the category of nezikin, damages. Chaim was a mazik which means that he, in person, damaged someone else’s property. Normally, a mazik must pay for the damage he does even if it was unintentional.

The Shulchan Aruch (CM 235) states that a person is not considered in control of himself while drunk (This has various implications, e.g. his transactions are invalid. The reason is that he is compared to someone who is mentally disabled). In Chaim’s case, this argument, that he is not responsible for his actions would not be valid for two reasons. A. Chaim was not “drunk as Lot”, which is the Talmudic benchmark for not being in control of oneself. Anyone less drunk than Lot (Avrohom’s nephew whose drunken state is recorded in the Torah) is considered fully responsible for all actions. B. The Yam shel Shlomo (BK 3.3) rules that even if one is as drunk as Lot he must pay for damages he does. Being as drunk as Lot only releases one from obligations to Hashem, but not for damages to people or property. Moreover, even on Purim one needs to pay for damages, because, one is not permitted to get so drunk. (The obligation to drink on Purim is limited to the quantity necessary to cause one to fall asleep.) Therefore the mere fact that Chaim was drunk would not release him from his status as mazik.

However there is a different reason why Chaim is not classified as a mazik and he isn’t liable for his damages. The Mishna (Succah 45a) mentions that the custom in the Beis Hamikdash on Hoshana Raba was that people, ecstatic with joy, would grab etrogim from children and eat them. Rashi explains that there was no issue of stealing, because, this was the custom. Tosafot adds that this custom likewise applies when people damage other people’s property as a result of frivolous behavior that frequently takes place during weddings. One may deduce from the Mishna that the perpetrators are not held responsible.

Some authorities rule that even in this situation one is liable for serious and extensive damages.

The Bet Yosef (OC 695) quotes a Trumat Hadeshen that the Bet Din had a custom of not hearing any complaints regarding the stealing of food on Purim. The Bet Yosef himself, qualifies this custom and rules that the custom no longer applies, and therefore there is no difference between Purim and other times. The Rema (OC 695) disagrees and rules that “one who causes damage to his friend on Purim is patur” i.e. he does not have to pay. The Magen Avraham, limits this rule to damage done while celebrating. Other authorities limit it to unintentional damages.

Applying this to our story would seem to indicate that Chaim is not liable for his damages.  The damage was neither large nor extensive, he didn’t do it intentionally, and it happened in the course of Purim festivities.

It is worth noting that the Aruch Hashulchan (OC 695) has a dissenting opinion. He maintains that the custom is no longer applicable, since we are not accustomed to reach such a level of joy.

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