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According to Jewish law, is a verbal agreement binding?

by Rabbi Moshe Miller

  

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Question:

I verbally agreed to rent an apartment for a short period. Now I cannot due to several factors. Am I obligated to pay for the month I agreed to even though I will not be living there?
 

Answer:

Without actually ruling in your case (which would be unfair, since a ruling can only be given in the presence of both litigants) I can give you the two sides of the issue.
 
On the one hand the verse states, “You shall observe and carry out whatever comes from your lips.”1 So if you make an agreement you should keep it. Indeed the Talmud declares that the first question a person is asked in the hereafter at the final judgment is: “Have you been honest in your [business] dealings?”2

The Talmud declares that the first question a person is asked in the hereafter at the final judgment is: “Have you been honest in your [business] dealings?”
On the other hand, the law is that verbal contracts are not binding.3 However, the Talmud,4 and Maimonides,5 and Shulchan Aruch6 decry a person who doesn’t keep verbal agreements as lacking faith.
 
Another aspect that needs to be looked as is whether you agreed conditionally – in which case the previous comment does not apply.

Footnotes

  • 1. Deuteronomy 23:24.
  • 2. Shabbat 31a.
  • 3. Bava Metzia 48a; Maimonides Hilchot Mechira 1:1; Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat s. 204:7.
  • 4. ibid. 49a.
  • 5. ibid 7:9.
  • 6. ibid.

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Talmud
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Maimonides
Moses son of Maimon, born in Spain in 1135, died in Egypt in 1204. Noted philosopher and authority on Jewish law. Also was an accomplished physician and was the personal doctor for members of the Egyptian royalty. Interred in Tiberius, Israel.