Ethics

For the week ending 12 December 2009 / 24 Kislev 5770

A Chanukah Lamp in the Street

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: If I place my Chanukah lamp outside the entrance to my home as is preferred by halacha am I responsible for any damage resulting from a fire caused by a vehicle passing by and colliding with the lamp?

Answer: Your question is the subject of a debate between Rabbi Yehuda and other Sages (Bava Kama). The subject there is a shopkeeper who placed his Chanukah lamp outside his shop in the public thoroughfare. A camel loaded with flax passed by, its load caught on fire from the lamp and caused a conflagration that destroyed a building. Rabbi Yehuda's position is that while the shopkeeper would be held responsible in ordinary circumstances, he is free of responsibility when he places his lamp in the street in order to fulfill a mitzvah. He is, however, overruled by the majority of the Sages because he still had the responsibility of guarding his lamp to assure that it would cause no damage. (See Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 518:12).

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