Is This Decision Final?

Question

The residents’ meeting was called for 8.30 on Tuesday
evening. Only eleven out of the twenty-four apartment owners showed up.
Nevertheless, Sender, the present house committee chairman, proceeded with
the meeting. On the agenda was (a) electing a new house committee and (b)
repairs and improvements to the building. After some discussion, a vote
was taken on these two issues. Three new committee members were elected
and it was decided to charge each apartment owner 350 shekels for painting
the hallway and erecting a fence round the communal garden. Sender posted
up a notice informing all residents of these decisions. However, a few of
them argued that these decisions were invalid, since they had been taken
when only a minority of the residents were present. Is there any substance
to their claim?


Answer

A hefty tax had been levied on the
Jewish community of Pressburg. The city elders called a meeting of all
members of the community on how to divide the tax burden. Notices were
posted all over town, informing them of the time and place of the meeting.
Although the attendance was poor, the meeting went ahead. It was decided
to set up a committee of nine, consisting of three wealthy Jews, three of
the middle-class and three of the poor, who would decide how much each
member had to contribute. Some members of the community later objected,
arguing that since only a minority of members had been present at the
meeting, the decisions reached were invalid. The Chasam Sofer was asked to
adjudicate in this matter (Responsa, Choshen Mishpot 116). He upheld the
decisions of the meeting for the following reason: The time and place of
the meeting had been publicized all over town and in good time. It was
therefore safe to assume that all community members knew about it.
Nevertheless, a large proportion decided not to attend. This had the
effect of leaving the decision-making process in the hands of those who
did attend. They were now deemed to be the representatives of the absent
majority, who had tacitly agreed to be bound by the majority decision of
the meeting. It therefore follows that if the time and place had not been
properly advertised, any decision reached by the meeting would have been
invalid. For example, if only a few notices had been hung up, they had
been posted an hour before the meeting or they were not easily noticeable,
these would all have served as reasons for non-attendance. 

The same
principle applies to our case. If the notices announcing the meeting had
been hung in prominent positions at all the entrances to the building and
in good time, those who did not attend are still bound by the decisions
reached. Since they knew about the meeting, why did they not attend? If
many of them had other commitments that evening, why did they not inform
Sender of this fact? Had a majority of residents notified the
organizer of a meeting that they were unable to attend, he would have been
obligated to reschedule it. (It is unreasonable to expect a meeting to be
scheduled for a time when all can attend. Since each person is
engaged in his own activities, the best one can hope for is that the time
arranged suits the majority. See Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpot
II, 20). Their silence is tantamount to tacit approval that a majority
decision of those actually attending the meeting will be binding upon
them. On the other hand, if the time and place of the meeting had not been
properly advertised, any decision taken by those attending – even if it
was unanimous – is invalid. (Sometimes the constitution of a particular
organization requires that a quorum be present when decisions are taken.
Rav Moshe Feinstein, o.b.m., [Igros Moshe, as above] writes
that this quorum must be physically present at the meeting. Letters, etc.
are not acceptable.)