This past Sunday LNN Presented the following question from Dayan, Rabbi Shmuel Honigwachs.
My wife and I are making a wedding for our daughter. We’ve been busily making all the
arrangements, but settling on a color scheme for the gowns has turned out to be a bigger affair than
We thought that everybody had signed on to a pink theme, and we put down a deposit at Ruffles and Ribbons, a popular gown rental store, for a beautiful pink gown for my wife. It turns out that some family members viewed our initial agreement on pink as only tentative. They have since migrated to a sage green theme, which ultimately won out.
Ruffles and Ribbons doesn’t have an articulated policy for cancellations. When we tried to cancel our rental, the store’s owner, Mrs. Kranz, charged that we were costing her business because it would be too late to find someone else to rent it for the time we had scheduled. She wants us to reimburse her.
(The business and name is this article were changed for anonymity purposes)
We asked and you answered: If she doesn’t have an articulated policy for cancellations, then it should be whatever the general minhag hamakom is. If the cancellation was within that time frame, it is the loss of the store owner; if not, they should have to pay for the rental.
The Dayan’s answer: When a purchaser submits a partial payment for an acquisition that is still in the physical possession of the seller, if the payment was undertaken as part of what both parties see as a binding transaction, that payment constitutes a kinyan kesef (an acquisition effectuated by the transfer of money). According to Torah Law, such a kinyan is valid.
However, Chazal were concerned about leaving property in the possession of someone with limited responsibility for its welfare. What if a fire threatens to burn the purchaser’s store of grain, and the seller can’t be bothered to put it out? Accordingly, they invalidated the kinyan for all mitaltelin (items classified as “portable”).
In the case of a rental, this rationale for invalidating the kinyan doesn’t apply. Hence, the poskim have concluded that Torah Law, which affirms the kinyan, here remains in effect. Therefore, were the store to have a clear no-cancellations policy, Mrs. Kranz would be entitled to force you to follow through with your purchase, color-scheme woes notwithstanding. (If the deposit was by check, that would introduce a bit of a wrinkle, but that’s beyond the scope of this discussion).
Ruffles and Ribbons doesn’t have a clear policy. There is no unstated agreement that the deposit should constitute an irrevocable transaction. Either party has the right to cancel the rental (of course, if Mrs. Kranz were to cancel, she would have to return the deposit). It’s true that you may have inadvertently caused the store a loss. Backing out at the last minute and leaving the other party high and dry can be grounds for the aggrieved party to demand compensation. However, this isn’t applied in a case such as ours, where you only hampered someone’s property from earning a profit. Therefore, if you cancel, you lose only your deposit.
Since there is no explicit no-cancellations policy, you are allowed to cancel. You also aren’t liable for any loss of business that may result from your actions.
The Dayan’s Desk is a weekly series on LNN. The question is posted on Sundays at 9AM and answers on Thursdays at 8 PM. If you have a question for the Dayan that you would like to possibly be presented on LNN, please email us at [email protected]com
To see week 1 question and answer, Can I Keep My Friend’s Injury Compensation For Myself? click here.