Rabbi Natan entered the ninth grade classroom, and placed his briefcase on the desk. He was about to begin his lesson, when he was struck by the state of the classroom. Books were stacked haphazardly on the radiators. Pencil cases were lying, half open, on the floor. Coats, stretched out in heaps on the floor, glanced lazily at the hooks above them, the coats apparently too weary to have gone that far up the wall. Simply put, the room was a mess.
“Boys, we need our classroom to be a positive learning environment,” Rabbi Natan began. “We need to be able to focus on what we’re learning, and have an atmosphere which demonstrates that we respect ourselves, and the classroom which is our home for most of our waking hours. Before we start class, I need all of you to clean up.”
The boys got to their feet, eager to have a brief diversion from educational activities, and began to put their belongings in the appropriate places. Yossi, one of the boys in the class, did his part. As he picked up the wad of crumpled paper next to his seat, he noticed, to his horror, that his cellphone lay on his desk, in plain view of the teacher. Cellphones weren’t allowed on the school premises, much less in the classroom, and if the teacher saw it, it was bad news for Yossi.
Yossi quickly shoved his phone under his pencil case, which lay on the corner of his desk. He glanced at the teacher, and breathed a sigh of relief. All clear. He would just have to wait for an opportune moment to sneak the phone back in his bag.
The teacher scanned the room. “Good job boys. You cleaned up a lot. But the desks are completely out of order. All of you, push your desks into place.”
“It’s not our job to move the furniture here” whined Ari. “We can’t start moving all the desks!”
“We just worked hard cleaning the whole room” moaned David. “We shouldn’t have to also move the desks!”
“Boy’s, this is ridiculous!” Rabbi Natan retorted, angrily. “It’s not that hard to move a desk!” And with that, the teacher shoved Yossi’s desk toward the wall.
The desk hit the wall with a loud thud. Yossi watched in shock, as the objects that graced his desk were unceremoniously thrown to the floor. He crouched down to assess the damage. No! It couldn’t be!
“My phone!” Yossi screamed. “You broke it! Now you have to pay for a new one!”
“But that phone should never have been brought to this classroom, in the first place” retorted the teacher. “I can’t be held responsible for breaking something which shouldn’t have been there!”
Who is right? Is the teacher obligated to compensate Yossi for breaking his phone, or is the teacher absolved from paying, because he had no way to know that there was a cellphone there?
Answer of Rabbi Dov Lior, shlita:
Ostensibly, it would seem that the teacher is not obligated to reimburse Yossi, because he was not allowed to bring his phone into class, in the first place. This is termed “knisa b’lo reshut” (entry without permission). If someone brings his possessions into the domain of another, without permission, and the owner of the domain accidentally breaks the object, he is not obligated to pay for the damage caused. (Chush Mishpat, siman 378, se’if 6)
However, in our case, the teacher is obligated to pay for the damage. This is because he should have been more careful. His behavior falls under the category of “unintentional, which is nearly intentional.” Even though the phone was hidden, when the teacher moved the desk, he should have been more careful to move the desk gently, so that nothing would fall off of it. (Rabbi Lior adds, citing Tosafot Bava Kama, that a person should be even more careful not to cause damage to others’ possessions, than he is to avoid having his own property damaged.)
Summary: Even though Yossi was not allowed to bring his phone into the classroom, because the teacher should have been more careful, he is, nonetheless, obligated to pay.