Hilchos Choshen Mishpat
Volume II : Number 2
"And The Winner Is ...???"
Reuven decided to enter a contest offered by a company in which anyone who
answers certain questions correctly is entered into a drawing to win $5000.
Since he was well known in his community, Reuven was not interested in
attracting attention to himself if he would be the winner, so he decided to
use Shimon's name on the entry, without Shimon's knowledge. Sure enough,
Shimon was very pleasantly surprised to receive notification from the
company that he had won $5000 in a contest that he hadn't even known that
he had entered!
Reuven is now claiming the prize from Shimon, arguing that he had only used
Shimon's name as a means of entering the contest, but had never intended to
relinquish the prize to him. He had been the one to come up with the
correct answers to the question, and the prize should be entirely his.
Shimon is arguing that he should be able to keep at least part of the prize
money. His Mazel (heavenly good fortune) must have also been a contributing
factor in this win. There had been others who had answered the questions
correctly but had not won the drawing!
Who is correct?
- A. In the situation described above, it seems that Reuven is correct and
has a right to claim the entire amount from Shimon.
- If Reuven would have sent in two entries, one under his own name and
one under Shimon's name, and Shimon's entry was the winning one, He would
be obligated to split the winning prize with Shimon.
- If the terms of the contest would be that any contestant that sends in
the correct answer receives a prize, Reuven would clearly be entitled to
the prize, no matter whose name he sent the entry in under.
- If Shimon had also entered the contest on his own, and now it is not
clear whether the entry that won was the one that Reuven had sent in with
Shimon's name on it, or Shimon's own entry, Reuven has no right at all to
demand any of the prize money, unless he can actually prove that it was
his entry that had won.
The Shulchan Oruch (Choshen Mishpat 183:6) teaches us the following
Halacha: If someone gives money to a friend and asks him to purchase an
item for him, and the friend succeeds in purchasing the item for less
than the purchaser would have had to pay for it, either because of his
persuasive powers or because of his close relationship to the seller, our
Rabbis have decreed that the buyer and the messenger should split the
money saved equally. This is because the sender and the messenger have
both contributed to this "profit", the buyer by providing the money for
the purchase, and the messenger by doing the "work" of convincing the
seller to sell it at a lower price, and they should therefore both be
considered partners in it.
However, the Hagaos Ashri (Kesubos 98b), and the Ketzos HaChoshen (183:8)
give a more esoteric reason as to why the Rabbis decreed that the profit
be split. Even without the argument that both buyer and messenger are
actual partners because of what each contributed to earning the profit,
the Mazel of both buyer and messenger played a role in earning the
profit, therefore it follows that the money should be divided among them.
According to the Hagaos Ashri and the Ketzos, one might argue that in our
case too, the prize money should be split. Although Shimon was unaware
that his name had been entered into the contest, he can argue that
evidently it was decreed in heaven that the win come through him. Just
look, there are others who sent in the correct answers, but their names
were not chosen in the drawing! Consequently, although Reuven should
receive part of the money because he was the one who actually made the
effort of answering the questions and submitting them, Shimon should also
be entitled to part of the money, since his Mazel was also a contributing
However, this analogy is not all that clear. In the case of the Shulchan
Oruch, both buyer and messenger clearly played active roles in earning
the profit, and therefore it can be argued that the Mazel of both
participants was involved. However, in the case of our question, although
Reuven was clearly an active participant in the process, what role can
Shimon claim to have? Perhaps his Mazel was not involved in the win at
all, he may have only become a participant because the company did not
have Reuven's true name and address, and the way to get the money to
Reuven was only by sending it to Shimon! In other words, Shimon's Mazel
may not have contributed to the win at all, his only contribution was
that his mail box was used to get Reuven the money that is rightfully
Therefore, since on the one hand it is clear that Reuven was a
contributing factor to the win, and on the other hand it is not at all
clear that Shimon contributed anything at all, we can not force Reuven to
share his prize with Shimon in the case of our question. However, if
Reuven had sent in an entry under his own name and another with Shimon's
name, he would be obligated to split the prize money with Shimon. He can
not argue that Shimon's Mazel may have played no role, because if Reuven
was destined to be the sole winner based on his own Mazel, then the entry
under his own name should have been the winning one! It would be totally
unnecessary that Shimon's mailbox be used as a means of getting the prize
money to Reuven!
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This week's class is based on a column by Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, who is an Av
Bais Din and Rosh Kollel in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. His
Column originally appears in Hebrew in Toda'ah, a weekly publication in
Jerusalem. It has been translated and reprinted here with his permission
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Please Note: The purpose of this column is to make people aware of Choshen Mishpat
situations that can arise at any time, and the Halachic concepts that may be used to resolve them. Each
individual situation must be resolved by an objective, competent Bais Din (or Rabbinic Arbitrator) in the
presence of all parties involved!