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Mechusar Amanah

Note: this post contains no original ideas, nor even any attempts at originality. Instead, it's simply my way of making sense of a complicated issue.

While we've seen the concept of מחוסר אמנה in the פוסקים for two weeks already, yesterday was the first time we started looking into the גמרא. In brief, מחוסר אמנה is when two people reach a verbal agreement, and all the terms are agreed upon, but no money has been transfered (and obviously no קניין has been made). If one of them backs out at that point, he has done a Bad Thing™.

However, sometimes, there may seem to be legitimate reasons to renege on an agreement. For example, if the price of an items rises, a seller may wish to back out of a commitment to sell for X, and sell it to someone else for a higher price, Y. Alternatively, a worker who was hired as a קבלן and who is not billing for materials may no longer wish to take a job if his desired price offer was based on a lower material cost than what is available in the market today.

There's another type of immoral behavior mentioned below called "מי שפרע". In this case, a קניין כסף was made on מטלטלין, but there was no קניין משיכה. If either party backs out at this point, the wronged party can bring the offender to בית דין, where he's threatened (or cursed, hinted at below) that:

מי שפרע מאנשי דור המבול ומאנשי דור הפלגה ומאנשי סדום ועמורה וממצרים שטבעו בים, הוא ייפרע ממי שאינו עומד בדיבורו

He [Hashem] who extracted judgment from the generation of the Flood, and the generation of the Tower of Bavel and the men of Sodom and Gemorroh, and drowned the Egyptions in the Sea; He will collect from one who doesn't stand by his word.

Yikes.

Regarding מחוסר אמנה, the first source for these הלכות is the גמרא in בבא מציעא on page 48b:

דר' חייא בר יוסף יהבו ליה זוזי אמלחה לסוף אייקר מלחא אתא לקמיה דרבי יוחנן אמר ליה זיל הב להו ואי לא קביל עליך מי שפרע ואי אמרת אודועי מודעינן ליה רבי חייא בר יוסף בר אודיעי הוא ואלא מאי מילט לייטינן ליה רבי חייא בר יוסף אתי לקבולי עליה לטותא דרבנן אלא רבי חייא בר יוסף ערבון הוא דיהבי ליה הוא סבר כנגדו קונה ואמר ליה ר' יוחנן כנגד כולו הוא קונה

The context is an attempt to determine whether a מי שפרע is a curse or a statement of fact. The story is brought down that ר' חייא בר יוסף was once payed for part of a large order of salt. Before he received the entire paying, the price went up. רבי יוחנן told him that he has to finish the sale (with the original buyer, at the original amount), and he cannot back out of the deal with the buyer and find a new buyer at the higher price (and if he does, he has to accept a מי שפרע).

Based on this, the גמרא attempts to prove that מי שפרע cannot be a way of informing the person, since obviously ר' חייא בר יוסף knew about מי שפרע! The גמרא challenges this by saying that ר' חייא בר יוסף also wouldn't have accepted a curse! Instead, the גמרא concludes, the discussion with רבי יוחנן was regarding whether the down payment is considered to apply to the entire sale, or only "כנגדו", meaning that it only operates on it's value's worth, and the rest of the sale only has "דברים" (and is therefore a case of מחוסר אמנה and not מי שפרע). In this case, רבי יוחנן holds that the entire sale is connected to this payment, and thus a failure to complete it would merit a מי שפרע. According to ר' חייא בר יוסף's opinion, the money only creates an obligation vis-a-vis the corresponding amount of salt, and the rest is just דברים.

From the fact that ר' חייא בר יוסף didn't see anything wrong with backing out of the second part of the sale, according to his opinion, it seems that דברים, in a case of a price change, does not carry the stigma (indeed, prohibition, as we'll see later) of a מחוסר אמנה.

The next source is קידושין on page 8a.

בני רב הונא בר אבין זבין ההיא אמתא בפריטי לא הוו בהדייהו אותיבי נסכא עליה לסוף אייקר אמתא אתו לקמיה דרבי אמי אמר להו פריטי אין כאן נסכא אין כאן

Here, the sons of רב הונא בר אבין wanted to buy a maidservent, but they had insufficient cash. Instead, the left an item as a משכון. By the time they returned with the money, they maidservent was worth more, and the owner wanted to void the transaction and sell it to someone else for a higher price. רבי אמי ruled that since there was no transaction yet, it's not a case of מי שפרע, and the seller can retract. As in the first case, there appears to be no concern about a possible מחוסר .אמנה

On the other hand, we have the גמרא in בבא מציעא on page 49a:

רב כהנא יהבו ליה זוזי אכיתנא לסוף אייקר כיתנא אתא לקמיה דרב אמר ליה במאי דנקיטת זוזי הב להו ואידך דברים נינהו ודברים אין בהן בשום מחיסרי אמנה דאיתמר דברים רב אמר אין בהן משום מחיסרי אמנה ורבי יוחנן אמר יש בהם משום מחיסרי אמנה מיתבי רבי יוסי ברבי יהודה אומר מה תלמוד לומר הין צדק והלא הין בכלל איפה היה אלא לומר לך שיהא הן שלך צדק ולאו שלך צדק אמר אביי ההוא שלא ידבר אחד בפה ואחד בלב

רב כהנא received partial payment for some flax, which subsequently appreciate in value. רב ruled that he has to sell the amount corresponding to the original payment, but the rest is just "דברים", and דברים has no מחיסרי אמנה. We bring a ברייתא which states clearly that in a case of דברים alone, רב holds that there's no מחיסרי אמנה and רבי יוחנן holds there is a problem of מחיסרי אמנה. We then challenge it from רבי יוסי ברבי יהודה's reading of the phrase "הין צדק", which he views as superfluous (since we already know that the איפה measurement must be accurate), and therefore he uses this phrase to teach that there is מחיסרי אמנה by דברים (because let "הן שלך צדק ולאו שלך צדק"). However, אביי rejects this, and holds that it teaches that one must only say what they mean at that moment, but one may change their mind.

In these last two rulings, we don't mention anything about a change in the market price. However, רש"י has a very strange comment:

שלא ידבר אחד בפה: בשעה שהוא אומר הדבור לא יהא בדעתו לשנות אבל אם נשנתנה השער לאחר זמן והוא חוזר בו לפי שינוי השאר אין כאן חשרון אמנה

According to רש"י, even according to אביי, one may only retract if the market price changes! This is also implicit in the גמרא itself (at least according to רבי יוחנן, since there's no qualification on his ruling in the ברייתא)

To be continued...

3 Responses to “Mechusar Amanah”

  1. Rav says:

    Apparent typo. It should read:
    From the fact that ר' חייא בר יוסף didn't see anything wrong

  2. […] we discussed three סוגיות dealing with מחוסר אמנה. In this post, we'll discuss the הלכה למעשה, and try and explain all three sources […]

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