Set in Stone?
Chasdei Yisrael’s dedicated volunteers provided food baskets and clothing for the needy, rides to the hospital, and meals for new mothers. Given all of their noble, vital work, the organization definitely qualified as a worthy cause. However, given the great number of other charities in the area, Chasdei Yisrael’s potential donors weren’t always sufficiently motivated to donate.
And so, the board of Chasdei Yisrael planned a campaign. An elaborate Chinese auction would be held. Posters and advertisements were soon seen around the neighborhood, advertising the good cause, the great auction and the grand prize: a beautiful diamond necklace, valued at 10,000 shekel.
Raffi, a local resident, took part in the auction. Of course, Chasdei Yisrael was such an important part of his community that it was certainly worth contributing to the cause. And, well, someone had to win…
The day of the auction drawing, Rafi received a call.
“Hello, I’m calling you from Chasdei Yisrael to inform you that you’ve won the grand prize: a new diamond necklace!”
Raffi jumped into his car, and raced over to Chasdei Yisrael’s office. He couldn’t believe it! A diamond necklace! Within minutes, Raffi was at his friend Baruch’s house, showing Baruch his new acquisition. Baruch had some experience in the jewelry business, and began examining the necklace, with interest.
“This is beautiful, Raffi!” Baruch enthused. “I’d say it’s worth about 7000 shekel!”
“Whaaat!” screamed Raffi. “Those cheaters. Chasdei Yisrael said the necklace is worth 10,000 shekel. They owe me another three thousand!”
Raffi ran out of Baruch’s house, necklace in hand. He drove across town, and barged into the office of the director of Chasdei Yisrael.
“You cheated me!” Raffi seethed indignantly. “You said this necklace was worth 10,000 shekel, and my friend in the jewelry business said it’s only worth 7000. You owe me another 3000 shekel!”
The director attempted to calm Raffi. “Sir, I’m also surprised that the necklace is valued at 7000 shekel. However, in actuality, our organization did not assess the value of the necklace. A respected jeweler donated the necklace, and told us that the value is 10,000 shekel. Therefore, that is the value we advertised. Of course, we would never intentionally deceive the public. If the jeweler had told us a lower value, that’s what we would have advertised. Although I understand that you are upset, I don’t believe that you’re entitled to additional compensation. Ultimately, the goal of this auction was to provide food, clothing, and other services to those who need them. You donated for the purpose of giving to charity. Certainly, under those conditions, the exact value of the prize isn’t relevant!”
Who is correct? Is Chasdei Yisrael obligated to pay Raffi, or are they not required to give him anything in addition to the necklace which he won?
Answer of Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, shlita:
The director’s argument, that the goal of Raffi’s donation was to give charity, and therefore Raffi shouldn’t be so exacting about the value of the prize, is not correct. They must stand by their word, and give a prize valued at the amount advertised.
However, in our case, the organization is not required to pay the 3000 shekel difference. This is because the prize is a piece of jewelry. Regarding jewelry, there is no exact value. It is reasonable to find a 3000 shekel difference between two appraisals for the same piece. Therefore, in this specific case, the charity has no obligation to compensate Raffi for the difference. The jewelry store, as well, has no moral obligation to compensate Raffi, because the jeweler can argue that he, in fact, values the necklace at 10,000 shekel.
On the other hand, if the case concerned an item with a set value, the organization would be required to pay Raffi the difference in value. (Nonetheless, for a variety of reasons, it is not clear that a Jewish court of law could compel the organization to pay, in such a case. See Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, siman 207, se’if 13.) The store owner, in turn, would be obligated to compensate the charity, in order to fulfill the promise the store owner made.
In summary: Because the necklace doesn’t have a set value, Chasdei Yisrael does not have to pay Raffi the difference.