Payment For “Services”

Question

Adam is trying to sell his house to Noach. Noach wants to purchase the house, but the
two are unable to agree on the price. Adam wants $250,000, while Noach holds that the
property is not worth more than $200,000. They agree to call in Lemech, an expert
assessor. Whatever value he puts on the property will be acceptable to both of them,
Lemech comes to view the property. When he is on his way back to his car, Adam takes him
aside and promises him an extra $1000 if he values the house according to his wishes!
Lemech writes the valuation according to Adam’s requirements, and the sale goes
ahead.

As the next Rosh Hashanah approaches, Adam has regrets about what he did. He knows that
Noach was bidding a fair price. He decides to repent and return the overcharge to Noach.
But what about the assessor? When Lemech originally came to him for payment, he refused to
give him any money. "I only pay for accurate valuations!" he cheekily said! Now
that Adam is in a repentant frame of mind, he wishes to know whether he should pay Lemech
what he promised. Does he have to pay him?


Answer

In the Shulchan Oruch, Choshen Mishpot (9:1) we are told that a dayan (rabbinical
court judge) must take great care not to take any type of bribe, even to render correct
decisions. If he did accept a bribe, he must return the money if asked to do so. (If not
asked to do so, we assume that whoever gave the bribe foregoes his right to have his money
returned, since he originally gave it of his own free will – Nesivos, Note 2).
The same rule applies if one Jew paid interest on a loan received from another Jew. This
illegal interest must be returned on demand. The Nesivos (Note 1) discusses what
the law would be if someone hired false witnesses to testify on his behalf. Would they be
obligated to return their "fee" on the demand of the hirer? Surprisingly, he
concluded that they do not have to give the money back even if this is demanded!

This case is different from the judge who took a bribe or a lender who took interest on
a loan. In those two cases the Torah explicitly forbids the taking of such money –
"You must not pervert judgment, etc. and you must not take a bribe, etc."
(Devarim 16:19); "Do not take interest of any kind, etc." (Vayikra
25:36). When it comes to false testimony, the Torah forbids the act, but does not
devote a specific prohibition to taking money for such forbidden action. Even though these
false witnesses are guilty of a very severe crime, as far as their financial relationship
to their "employer" is concerned, they have completed the task they were asked
to perform. He is therefore obligated to pay them the agreed fee! The Nesivos brings
proof to his opinion from Tractate Rosh Hashanah (22b). A heretical group, known as
the Bytussim, attempted to send false witness so that the Rabbis should sanctify
the New Moon on the wrong day. A good Jew volunteered to go and testify on their behalf.
He obviously made the Rabbis aware of the plot and thus thwarted their plans. The Rabbis
told him that he could keep the money the Bytussim had given him as a fee for his services
but only as a gift. Rashi explains that the Rabbis have the power to fine those who sent
him and give it to whom they wish (hefker Beis Din hefker). The Nesivos deduces
that the reason why this person would otherwise have no legal entitlement to retain his
fee is because he did not fulfill his mission. Had he actually given false testimony,
Heaven forbid, he would have had a legal right to the fee, since he completed the
"job"!

THEREFORE, in our question at hand, Adam must pay Lemech, the crooked
assessor, the fee that he promised him, since he completed the task for which he was
employed. He must also ask him for forgiveness for not having paid him on time. Obviously,
the assessor must also ask Noach for forgiveness for having enabled Adam to cheat him.
THEREFORE, in our question at hand, Adam must pay Lemech, the crooked
assessor, the fee that he promised him, since he completed the task for which he was
employed. He must also ask him for forgiveness for not having paid him on time. Obviously,
the assessor must also ask Noach for forgiveness for having enabled Adam to cheat him.