Heidi and Mendy – the Lomdus
Making the best of a bad situation is almost a capsule summary of galus history. One tool that we have used effectively is turning every new challenge into a forum for Torah discussion. The Heidi and Mendy debacle should be no different. We can rescue something of importance from the many hours of speculation and conversation by turning to the halachic issues that have come up.
A commenter (who shall remain nameless) wrote in about his abiding displeasure with the entire affair, even after the emergence of the “two Georgie” explanation. If they spent $3000 for the sheitel, but were able to replace it for $1500, was it not immoral and wrong to sue for $3000? After all, it only cost them $1500 to undo the damage!
Not necessarily. We can ponder the nature of restitution for damage. Must a damager replace the damaged object, or merely restore it? If the former, then the damager owes the monetary worth of the object, regardless of whether its owner might be able to acquire it for less money through some special connection. If the latter, then it only took $1500 to restore the damaged object by purchasing a replacement.
I am not going to change our policy of avoiding complex halachic reasoning on a blog. I will only point out that both possibilities can be defended in the sources, and list the marei mekomos for readers to explore the sugya on their own:
Machaneh Ephraim, Nizkei Mammon, #1
Avnei Milu’im 114:1
Imrei Binah, Choshen Mishpat #40 s.v. ve’ra’isi
While those additional sources might make for good pilpul in the Beis Medrish on a theoretical level, one might also need to speculate as to the Halachic channels through which the appropriate restitution is made to God’s Name.
[YA- Spending time on a fascinating sugya in Choshen Mishpat sounds like a better investment of time. Didn’t the gemara in Yoma say that effectively there is no restitution within a person’s lifetime for chilul Hashem?]
With all due respect, Rabbi Adlerstein, it sounds like you missed the point of the criticism. The question was not whether they had a right to extract payment for their monetary loss, but whether they should have gone through the whole prcoess to begin with. There is Din and there is Lifnim Mishuras Hadin. It’s not whether they had a right – of course they did – but whether they showed proper judgement (It’s the old line about the Fifth Chelek of Shulchan Aruch). And that’s not to mention a lack of Hatzneah Leches prevalent in our community or an appaling sense of entitlement.
I actually think you make things worse by pointing to Halachic sources because you allow people to use these as shields for bad behavior when they should only be used by competent Dayanim in a Beis Din that know when and how to apply the different opinions.
[Nope. I think you missed the point. I actually have harsher words than you for people who take chances with chilul Hashem by putting themselves in a public spotlight that may not treat them – and the Torah – so charitably. The point, however, was that the rest of us should at least develop some curiosity for the real Torah issues that are brought to our awareness by the stories we read. (I remember decades ago when a couple on a date was left stranded on a chairlift at a park in upstate NY, and the woman jumped, and then sued the State, arguing that they caused her injuries because the laws of yichud forced her to jump. Whatever really was on her mind was irrelevant. Bochrim in the beis medrash used the opportunity to learn a bit about yichud, about yehareg v’al ya’vor, and their intersection.) Yidden raised the issue of how much a person would be entitled to in court. We’ve established apparently that in secular court one can lay claim to the full value of the damaged article, regardless of a lesser replacement price to the owner. Is this true in halacha? The answer is that it is probably a machloker between several Rishonim. That machlokes was introduced as a moment of pure limud Torah – not a limud zechus for the next couple on a reality show.]
Still, I think there’s something not-so-nice about suing the cleaners for a mistake which they, the plaintiffs, made – allowing the sheitl to get thrown in with the laundry. Even if, technically speaking from the perspectives of American law and halacha, they had a case, in my mind, at least לפום ריהטא, the mentschlich thing would be to say “kappara,” be moichel the dry cleaners, and be grateful that they have children who make life complicated (and expensive).
[YA – I do not know of any argument to tell a person that he/she should be mevater on an actionable claim in beis din if they choose to pursue it. They can exercise a prerogative to perhaps be mekadesh shem Shomayim by smiling at the cleaners and telling them to forget about it, but no one can demand of someone to drop a legitimate claim to compensation. We have a gemara and Shulchan Aruch to tell us what a legitimate claim is. See Shut Chavos Yair #213 that a person whose pursual of his legitimate grievance in court may lead to reprisals against the entire community still cannot be told to drop his claim!]
It is very kind of you to post sources for one who wishes to examine what Halachah has to say on this matter. However, it seems to me that most of those opining on this subject aren’t all that concerned nor are they likely to research it. A better idea, in my humble opinion, would be to spare this poor couple the shame and embarrassment of further discussing this matter altogether. All the points that will be made have been made and now we can stop piling on the shame that they must endure from all the comments. I don’t know them personally, but a close friend of mine does, and he shared with me that they are mortified by what’s been written and said about them. A mistake surely they made, but do they deserve all this?
U.S. law allows for the recovery of the product damaged, even if the replacement product cost less.
“Making the best of a bad situation is almost a capsule summary of galus history”
R. Tzvi Hirsch Weinreb, in this week’s Jewish Press, writes, “The Jewish people have survived because of their ability to remain full of hope under the direst of circumstances. We are the only nation whose anthem not only carries the theme of hope but is entitled “Hope” – Hatikvah”. He writes that this is a necessary requirement of leadership, inspiring hope, and “point[ing] out the very many positives in our current conditions”. In the same article, he also criticizes the opposite, providing a false rosy picture (“Jewish leaders today tend to be more conscious of their successes than of their failures”).
R. Weinreb’s article seems original to me, because he outlines his roadmap in pedagogic form (three ‘C’s and three ‘D’s), discusses attitudes that can be changed, and discusses requirements of both leaders and followers. Whether his plans, when practically dealing with any issue, will be overly-ambitious and whether they will be accepted or not, I don’t know, but one can certainly hope 🙂
David, I disagree that they should have been “mochel” the damage. The judge would have awarded them damages had the receipt been correct, so clearly their claim for damages was legit.
At a certain point I was struck by the contrast between the reactions of (religious) Jews who saw it on YouTube who took the accusations quite seriously versus the regular viewership. For your average non-Jewish watcher it was just more of the show’s usual entertainment.
While I wouldn’t negate the sensitivity of many Rabbanim to the potential chilul Hashem, I wish the broader Orthodox Jewish community could accept a message like “be careful this kind of thing can bring a chilul Hashem.” Instead it seems the only way we would apply this story regarding our own future actions is when they call out accusations from the rooftops.