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Retroactive Billing for Services

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At a family gathering, several adult children discussed their elderly mother’s failing health and the need to provide her with full-time nursing care.  Moshe, one of the siblings, offered to take care of their mother so she moved in with Moshe and his family.  With Moshe’s family’s devotion and dedication, the grandmother lived happily for five more years until she passed away.

After the Shiva, the siblings discussed the division of the inheritance.  Moshe requested to be reimbursed for his “mother-care” expenses before the shares of inheritance were computed.

Moshe supported his position with an interesting Medrash[1] which states,  “Avrohom Ovinu provided hospitality for everyone.  After they finished eating, he charged them inflated prices for their meals.  He claimed that since food was scarce in the desert, his high prices were justified.  However, he waived the charge if they said grace after the meal and praised the Creator for the food.  Thus, to avoid the charge, all the guests were compelled to praise the Creator.”  We may deduce from this Medrash that it is acceptable to charge for hospitality without prior agreement from the guest[2].

The siblings were shocked to hear Moshe’s claim.  They had assumed that since Moshe had never mentioned reimbursement, he had paid the expenses for their mother’s care without any expectation of reimbursement.  They suspected that Moshe had not intended to be reimbursed initially and that he was making the claim in order to gain a greater share of the inheritance.

The Position of the Terumas HaDeshen

Rabbi Samuel Vital,[3] the son of the celebrated Kabbalist R’ Chaim Vital, in a responsum from 1655, outlines the basic Halachic approach to this matter.  He follows the landmark ruling of the late medieval halachist, R’ Israel Isserlein (1390-1460), author of the classic Terumas HaDeshen.

The Terumas HaDeshen[4] states:

ומצאתי שפסק מהרי”ח בשם רבינו אפרים: מי שאמר לחבירו אכול עמי ואכל עמו חייב לשלם לו דמי מזונו, משבור את כדי וקרע כסותי דחייב אע”פ שמותר לו לשבור.

“…Rabeinu Efrayim (-1175) [ruled that] someone who tells his friend, ‘Dine with me,’ and [upon the invitation, the guest] eats with him, he [the guest] is obligated to pay for his meal…”

At first glance, this ruling appears to lack a firm basis.  Where does Torah law obligate a guest to pay when he merely accepted his host’s invitation!? Certainly, he could not be obligated to reimburse the host for the cost of the food, since every purchase (reimbursement) is based on some prior agreement by the parties on the terms.[5] Similarly, he could not be obligated for damaging the food by eating it, since the owner personally invited his eating.[6]

The K’tsos HaChoshen (R’ Arye Leib Heller, 1745-1812) suggests the charge is based on the concept of “נהנה”- – “benefit” or “pleasure.”  When one derives pleasure or benefit from someone else’s property, he becomes obligated to pay the owner for that benefit.[7]

The Position of the Bach

One might argue that even though a basis for a charge exists, when a host offers, “Eat with me,” the host intends no charge.  We may assume the host is being “מוחל” (excusing) the charge.  But Rabeinu Efrayim maintains that the host’s invitation to eat does not automatically include a מחילה (waiver), i.e. the host does not yield the right to charge for his guest’sהנאה  (benefit).  He proves this from the Talmudic ruling  [Bava Kama 93A]:

קרע את כסותי שבר את כדי – חייב, ע”מ לפטור- פטור.

“[If one tells another:] ‘Tear my garment, break my vessel’ [and he tears the garment or breaks the vessel], he is obligated [to pay].  [If one tells another, ‘Tear my garment, break my vessel] on the condition [that you are] not liable, [and he tears the garment or breaks the vessel, then he is] not liable.”

The duality in the original case of Siblings v. Moshe is also apparent here.  The owner’s offer invites only the tearing activity.  It does not waive payment.[8]

The Bach, (R’ Yoel Sirkis, 1561-1640), contends that other Poskim disagree with the ruling of the Terumas HaDeshen.  The Bach bases his argument on a ruling of the Tashbats (R’ Shimon Doran 1381-1444) which is cited by the Ramo (R’ Moshe Isserles 1525-1575) in חו”מ סי’ שסג  סעי’ י’ The Ramo states:

האומר לחבירו: דור בחצרי, אין צריך ליתן לו שכר

[When] one tells his friend, “Live on my premises,” [the guest] does not have to pay him rent.

The Bach understands this statement to be in direct conflict with the above ruling of the Terumas HaDeshen. According to the Tashbats, we may assume that an owner’s offer to use his possession means without a charge.[9] Therefore, the Bach concludes that this is a matter of ספיקא דדינא (uncertain law) and, therefore, one may not be מוציא ממון (may not require payment from the defendant, here, the siblings).

Many Achronim, though, point out that if the Bach‘s argument is correct, the Ramo contradicts himself.  In סי’ רמו סעי’ יז, the Ramo rules like the Terumas HaDeshen whereas in סי’ שסג סעי’ י’, he brings theTashbats.[10]

They suggest[11] that the case of the Tashbats is a situation where the person using the premises has an alternative, e.g. he owns his own apartment (גברא דלא עביד למיגר).  They apply the approach of the K’tsos HaChoshen, that the basis for requiring the user to pay is the benefit received.  Therefore, in this situation, where the user has no substantial gain, there is no basis for a charge.

With this approach, the ruling of the Terumas HaDeshen remains uncontested and applies whenever the user derives benefit.[12]

Charging guests nowadays

The Terumas HaDeshen attaches a crucial condition.  He rules that when the host clearly did not intend to charge the guest at the outset, the guest has no obligation to pay for his meal[13] This condition is critical nowadays.  Since we do not customarily bill guests for their consumption, all hosts are assumed to be מוחל” (excuse)” the charge.  Therefore, guests do not have to pay.


We return to Rabbi Vital’s question.  Rabbi Vital concluded that it was highly unlikely that the son originally intended to charge his mother for food and accommodations.  He ruled that even without this argument since there exists a possibility that the mother paid him before she died, his claim would remain aספק  (an uncertainty).  Therefore, unless the son (Moshe) is מוחזק (has possession of capital from the inheritance), Beis Din would not beמוציא   (require that the siblings reimburse him).

Before upholding Moshe’s claim for reimbursement in our initial case, a Beis Din would need to evaluate 1) the circumstances,[14] 2) the relationship between Moshe and his mother, 3) the relationship between the mother and the other siblings, and 4) the kinds of expenses and the magnitude of those expenses that Moshe paid for the mother’s care.[15]

[1] Braishis Rabba 54/6

[2] עיי’ תוס’ שנץ סוטה י: שהביא מדרש הנ”ל, ועיי’ מנחת קנאות ומנחה חרבה שם, וע”ע פרשת דרכים דרך צדקה דרוש יז ד”ה ונראה.

[3] שו”ת באר מים חיים סימן ל”ג

[4] סי’ שיז

[5] See שו”ע חו”מ קפט סעי’ א

[6] See קצות החושן סי’ רמו סק”א, who proves that an owner cannot charge for damages he allowed to happen.

[7] This is based on Bava Kama 20B .

[8] This would seem to contradict footnote 4 since the owner allowed the damage to take place. The reason it is not a contradiction is that the present case is dealing with someone who is responsible to watch the object. He is only freed from his responsibility by a specific statement by the owner that he may tear the object and he will not be liable.

[9] וכך הוא שיטת המהר”ל מפראג בתוך תשובות הב”ח סי’ קיז, דאף בזה נהנה וזה חסר אך אם חסר עפ”י ציווי הבעלים פטור הנהנה מלשלם. וכן המל”מ בפרשת דרכים דרך צדקה דרוש יז ד”ה ונראה עיי”ש.

[10] וכך העיר בש”ך רמו סק”ט, ובט”ז רמו סעי’ יז

[11] הש”ך בנקוה”כ יו”ד סי’ קסו, ביאור הגר”א שסג סקל”א, קצוה”ח רמו סק”ב

[12] והכי כנראה נקטינן להלכה, עיי’ ט”ז רמו סעי’ יז, ב”ש סי’ ע’ סקכ”ח, וכן משמע מכל האחרונים הנ”ל, ועיי’ פסקי דין הרבניים ח”ח עמוד 326.

[13] In circumstancesמצוה of , such as taking care of orphans and the like, there is additional reason to believe that he intended to provide the care for free. עיי’ תשו’ הרי”ף הובא בספר התרומות ח”ב שער ס”ה פרק ב’, ובתשו’ נוב”י תניינא סי’ ל”ד הובא בפתחי תשובה רמו, ג ועיי”ש עוד בפ”ת.  Taking care of a mother certainly involves the Mitzva of כיבוד אב ואם  (honoring parents) so that argument would be applicable in our case.

[14] עיי’ בפסקי דין הרבניים שם עמו’ 332

[15] One may assume that Moshe may not charge for the mother’s food and accommodations and that Moshe expects his siblings to share the larger expenses like medical care.

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