Shimon is traveling from Israel to the USA for a short trip. Reuven, who lives in Israel, asks Shimon to buy a camera for him in the US. He later changes his mind after Shimon has already bought it, and decides that he doesn’t want it. What are his obligations?
There are several possible scenarios, each with its own Halachah.
1. Let us first discuss a case in which Reuven sent money with Shimon, instructing him to buy the camera for him in the US. When Shimon buys the camera with Reuven’s money, he is actually buying it on behalf of Reuven. Once Shimon takes the camera into his possession, from that moment on it belongs to Reuven. Even if Reuven doesn’t want it any more, it still belongs to him (unless of course he gives it away).
This works both ways. Once Shimon has acquired the camera for Reuven, he cannot change his mind and decide to keep it for himself without Reuven’s approval, because it already belongs to Reuven.
What happens if the camera gets lost or damaged before Shimon manages to get it to Reuven?
In our scenario Shimon has the status of an unpaid guardian of the camera, and so if the loss or damage was caused by his negligence he would have to pay Reuven for the loss. If he was not negligent but the camera nonetheless got stolen or otherwise damaged, Shimon would have no obligation towards Reuven.
2. Let us now consider a case in which Reuven didn’t send any money with Shimon, but asked Shimon to lay out the money for him to buy the camera. Again, from the moment that Shimon takes the camera into his possession, it belongs to Reuven. The money that Shimon laid out will be considered a loan to Reuven, and Reuven must repay this money to Shimon. Again, it’s too late for Reuven to change his mind.
Even if the camera gets lost or damaged (in circumstances in which Shimon, as an unpaid guardian, would be exempt from liability), Reuven would still owe the money to Shimon. It was Reuven’s camera that was damaged, and the loan from Shimon still stands.
Even if Reuven changed his mind before the purchase took place, if he didn’t inform Shimon about his change of mind he cannot retract; he will still owe the money to Shimon. The reason for this is that by asking Shimon to lay out money for him, he is in effect guaranteeing Shimon that he will get his money back (Nesivos Hamishpot 182:3). [It would appear, however, that under such circumstances the camera would not actually belong to Reuven, because if it is clear before the sale that he doesn’t want it (even if Shimon and the seller are unaware that he has retracted) he cannot be forced to acquire something that he does not want. This leads to an interesting set-up – in effect the camera actually still belongs to the seller, because neither Reuven nor Shimon wanted to acquire it for themselves. But again, if for any reason Shimon cannot retrieve his money either from the store or by selling the camera to someone else, Reuven would have to reimburse him for the money laid out – though of course in that case he could insist that Shimon give him the camera.]
3. There is another possible situation. Reuven doesn’t instruct Shimon to buy the camera on his behalf, but instead says to Shimon, “Buy a camera and I’ll buy it off you.”
In this case the camera at the time of purchase actually belongs to Shimon. Reuven does not owe any money yet, but he has an obligation to buy the camera from Shimon. If he refuses to do so, he must make up any losses to Shimon, since Shimon relied on him and laid out his own money on the assurance that Reuven will reimburse him. Thus, if Shimon can sell the camera to someone else for the same price, he will incur no loss. If however, he can only sell it to someone else for a price lower than the price of purchase, Reuven will have to make up the difference to him.
In this scenario, if the camera gets lost or spoiled, Shimon will have to suffer the loss. Reuven’s liability is limited to the obligation to buy it from Shimon, but if for whatever reason Shimon cannot produce it for him, Reuven has no further responsibility.
Rabbi Yehonoson Dovid Hool is a member of the Kollel Choshen Mishpat – Institute for Dayanim, Jerusalem, Israel, and its affiliated Beis Din, “Nesivos Chaim.”
This series is intended to give general guidelines only; since every circumstance is unique, actual cases should be referred to a Dayan or Beis Din.
The Institute for Dayanim is pleased to answer queries from the general public regarding monetary and business halachah, and to offer advice regarding the drafting of halachically valid contracts, wills etc.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.