Ethics

For the week ending 20 October 2007 / 8 Heshvan 5768

Who Gets the Prize?

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: I recently bought a few raffle tickets for the lottery of a charitable organization. Some time later I met a friend whom I invited to share in this mitzvah by buying one of the raffle tickets from me. His raffle ticket turned out to be the winner of the grand prize of an expensive automobile. Upon investigation I discovered that the drawing of the winning raffle ticket had taken place before I had sold it to my friend so that the sale was made on a mistaken premise since I never would have sold a raffle ticket that won such a prize. What do our authorities say about a case like this?

Answer: A somewhat similar case is found in the Talmud (Ketubot 97a). In the Babylonian city of Nehardoa there was such a sudden severe shortage of bread that many people sold their homes in order to purchase grain. It subsequently became known that at the time of the sale some ships loaded with grain and headed for the city had been held up by the swelling waters of the river. Those who sold their homes claimed that had they known that there was such imminent relief from their famine they would never have sold their homes. When the case came before Rabbi Nachman he ruled in their favor and nullified the sales that were based on false premises.

Although this Talmudic ruling would seem to indicate that the sale of the winning raffle ticket was null and void, it should be noted that a case exactly like yours once came before one of the great halachic authorities of a previous generation, Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Schwadron, the rav of the European community of Brezhan. He distinguished between the case in the Talmud and the one of the raffle ticket. There was no way that the people who sold their homes could have become aware of the imminent arrival of the grain-bearing ships, and the sale was therefore made on false premises. In the case of the raffle ticket, however, it was very possible for the seller to find out if his raffle ticket won the prize before selling it and if he failed to do so it was an indication that he was selling the raffle ticket under all circumstances so that the sale was a valid one.

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