Reuven learned the skill of making Batim (leather housings) for Tefillin
as an apprentice for a skilled Batim Macher (Yiddish for Batim maker).
They agreed that while Reuven was learning the skill he would not have to
pay tuition, nor would he be employed by anyone else, and after mastering
the skill he would continue to work for his teacher for four years for a
specific salary. They also agreed that during this time, Reuven would not
be permitted to make Batim in his own home for personal sale, without
express permission from the Batim Macher.
Unfortunately, one year into Reuven's employment, the Batim Macher and
Reuven found that they could not work together, and Reuven was dismissed
from the job. The Batim Macher is now claiming that Reuven should -
A. Pay tuition for the time that he spent teaching Reuven the trade,
since he only agreed to teach Reuven for free on the assumption that
Reuven would work for him for four years, which would have generated a
profit that would have covered the cost of teaching Reuven. He is now
unable to recoup this money.
B. Reuven should not be permitted to work for others in this trade or
open his own shop until the completion of the four years, as they had
Reuven, on the other hand, is claiming that since he is willing to
continue to be employed by the Batim Macher and is being dismissed
involuntarily, the entire agreement should be null and void. He never
would have agreed if he would have realized that for three years he would
be unable to work in the trade that he had spent so much time learning!
Who is correct?
A. Reuven must pay the full amount of tuition that a person would
normally expect to pay to learn this trade. He has no other obligations
to the Batim Macher. (1)
B. When determining the amount owed for tuition, we must take into
consideration Reuven's talents and mental abilities to determine how much
actual teaching effort was invested into him. Additionally, the quality of
the work that he was taught, and the salary that he received during the
year that he was working, are factors that should be considered.
C. After paying his teacher the full amount of what is owed, Reuven may
work for others in the field, or open his own Batim making business. This
is because Reuven was dismissed from his job involuntarily.
D. If Reuven would have quit working voluntarily, he would not be
permitted to work for others or open his own business without permission
from his teacher. If he were to do so, Bais Din would have to determine
how much a person would pay not to have this additional competition to
his business, and Reuven would be obligated to pay that amount to his
teacher, in addition to the cost of his tuition.
E. These Halachos obviously apply to other such business or skilled
(1) Although ordinarily there is no Halachic ramification if a person
pledges to his friend not to do something, i.e. there is no breach of
contract involved if he changes his mind and decides to do it (even
according to the opinion that if someone says that he will give something
to a person he must do so, see Choshen Mishpat 245:1), in our case, where
the commitment was made to someone who taught him a skill, such a pledge
is Halachically effective for the following two reasons:
A. His pledge not to compete is considered to be part of the tuition
payment that he has obligated himself in, and not a mere verbal pledge
not to do something. If not for this pledge, the teacher would have
demanded a higher monetary payment for teaching the skill. (This is
stated in the Teshuvos Chassam Sofer, Yoreh De'ah Siman 9).
B. The Teshuvos Maharik (Shoresh 181, Anaf 2) states that this commitment
is similar to that of a guarantor on a loan (Arev), just as there is a
similar arrangement between business partners. In other words, the
student is agreeing that in exchange for the benefit that he will be
receiving by learning a trade from this teacher, despite the fact that
the teacher and student will not be able to work in a productive manner
during this initial time period, he obligates himself to work only for
the teacher for four years. This type of obligation is effective, just as
a guarantor can obligate himself to protect a lender from any risk taken
in a loan.
Therefore, if the student would voluntarily stop working for his teacher,
he would be obligated to pay the full tuition that would ordinarily be
paid for learning such a skill. Additionally, he would not be allowed to
work for the competition or open his own business because of the
commitment that he has made, and because of the prohibition to be a
"Mechusar Amanah" - lacking integrity.
However, if the student was involuntarily dismissed, although he must pay
the tuition for the training that he has benefitted, which in any case he
would have had to pay someone else to learn this trade, he has no
obligation to abide by the non-competition agreement. The teacher himself
voided this agreement by not employing the student for four years.
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!