Reuven was taking a bus from his home in Jerusalem to the Kotel. Since it was at a time that the buses are usually full, his friend Shimon, who planned to get on the same bus at a later stop, requested that Reuven reserve a seat on the bus next to him.
Is Reuven – who has only paid for one seat – permitted to prevent other passengers from sitting next to him so that Shimon will have a seat?
- Unless Reuven has already paid for his friend’s seat, it is absolutely forbidden for him to prevent others from sitting there.
- It is permitted for a person to save a place for his friend as long as there are still available seats for other paying passengers to sit on.
- A person is also permitted to give up his own seat for his friend, even though others who have paid for a seat got onto the bus before the friend.
- If the bus is being provided as a courtesy by an individual or organization, and there is no fare being charged, there is a disagreement among the Rishonim whether or not a person may reserve an additional seat at the expense of others. Therefore, this should not be done.
The Gemara in Bava Metzia (10b) states that if someone were to attempt to take possession of something for his friend at the expense of others, the friend does not acquire it. This means that if Reuven were to borrow money from Shimon and Yehuda, and only has enough money to repay one of them, and Levi would come and grab the money from Reuven on behalf of his friend Shimon, that money does not Halachically belong to Shimon, and must be returned to Reuven. Although generally we say “Zochin L’Odam Shelo B’Fonov” – that a person may acquire something on behalf of his friend even without his friend’s knowledge, this is only if it is not at the expense of others (Mokom SheChav L’Acheirim). Since in this case Levi is taking the money on behalf of Shimon but at the expense of Yehuda, Shimon has no right to this money based on Levi’s act. However, if Shimon would be the only debtor, then Levi’s act would be effective and the money would now be Shimon’s, as is stated in the Rishonim on the Gemara there, and in the Shulchan Oruch (Choshen Mishpat 105:90).
The conclusion of the above stated Gemara is that Levi can even acquire a lost article (that has been rendered ownerless) for Shimon even though this would seem to be at “the expense of others”, i.e. other finders that may be interested in keeping this item. The Rishonim disagree as to why this is so. Tosafos (Bava Metziah 10b D’H A”R Yochanan) state that since Levi has every right to acquire this item for himself, he can also acquire it for his friend (Migu D’Zachi L’Nafshei Zacha Nami L’Chavrei), even though others may lose out by his doing so. The Ramban states that this situation can not be considered at “the expense of others”. Only if money is actually owed to someone, as in a case of loans or damages, do we say that a person who is not directly related to the transaction may not acquire an item or money for one party at the expense of another. In the case of a lost, ownerless, item, since there is no specific person that has a claim on this item, we don’t consider this “at the expense of others”.
It seems that we can apply the above principles to our question about reserving a seat for your friend on the bus. If there are other seats available, this is clearly not “at the expense of others”, since they can sit elsewhere. Additionally, you would be permitted to give your friend your own seat, even if there are no seats available for those that got on the bus before him, because of the principle stated in Tosafos (Migu D’Zachi L’Nafshei Zachi Nami L’Chavrei).
However if there are no more seats available on the bus, and reserving a seat for your friend will come at the expense of other passengers that have come before your friend, if the bus is being provided as a courtesy, this can be compared to an ownerless, lost article in which case Tosafos and the Ramban differ. According to the Ramban, this is not at the expense of others, since no one has paid for the second seat, and it can be “acquired” for the friend. According to Tosafos, since every passenger only has the right to one seat, you could not acquire this seat for yourself, and therefore it can not be acquired for your friend either since it is at the expense of others. In this situation a person should be concerned about the position of Tosafos and not save the extra seat for his friend.
If the passengers are paying for the right to travel on the bus, once another passenger has paid his fare, he has acquired the right to use a seat. Although when purchasing something, merely paying for it is not enough to make it yours, we require an actual act of acquisition (such as lifting it, using it, etc.), when renting movable objects (Mitaltelin) merely paying for it does give you the right to it, as is stated in the Shulchan Oruch (Choshen Mishpat 198:6). Therefore, reserving the seat for your friend would be considered at the “expense of others” even according to the Ramban.
Placing your personal possessions on the seat is considered “grabbing it” (Tefisa), as we see that it works to acquire an item, as is stated in the Nesivos (340), that using something in this manner is a valid acquisition.
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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!