An Israeli Jew, who had a watermelon stand in Southern Israel, was forced to abandon his stand for a few minutes when the “Red Alert” siren blasted through the air. Upon his return, he saw that shards of the Iron Dome rocket have destroyed his watermelons, leaving the marketplace area all colored in “Red Alert”…
The Jew, who lost his supply, took a walk to the Iron Dome center down the block, and demanded a meeting with the supervisor. “Since you intercepted the Hamas rocket over my stand, and all my watermelons were destroyed” he said, “you must pay me for all the damage I incurred, for if you would have not intercepted the Hamas rocket, it would have fallen elsewhere and my watermelons would have been safe.”
The shocked supervisor responded: “Go to the government agency and file a claim, the law has a provision to pay for such damages.”
However the Jew wasn’t satisfied: “For me to receive compensation I have to prove that I am a legal business, and although I have been here for 10 years, I didn’t get a chance to take care of the paperwork, because I was busy building my house.”
The engineer overheard the conversation and chimed in: “I guess now we have to start intercepting rockets only over legal businesses…”
A few hours later, the engineer decided to spend his lunch break in a local Shul, where he met a learned Rabbi, and together they discussed the new Halachic dilemma, and these were the Rabbi’s words:
The Gemara in Baba Kama (117a) teaches us, that someone who is occupied with saving Jewish lives, and during the life-saving action he destroyed objects of a third party, he is not liable to pay damages. The Rambam explains the reasoning (Hilchos Chovel 8:7) that the sages were worried that if he were liable – people would not rush to help someone in need. Additionally, the Chidushei Anshei Shem in Baba Kama (Rif 44a) establishes that the Jew need not pay damages even if he could have taken a different route without destroying those objects. Hence, the claim of the watermelon owner is void.” He concluded.
The engineer rushed back to the Iron Dome station and summoned the ‘watermelon Jew’ to tell him the Halachic analysis.
The next morning, the Jew arrived with a fresh shipment of cold watermelons to distribute to the soldiers manning the Iron Dome stand, hoping to see his payment; however he was in for a surprise when he heard the Halachic decision.
However, he was was not fazed, and he responded: “I guess you are right; but the obligation to pay me for my watermelons lies with the owner of the house that was spared, for the Shulchan Aruch states (Choshen Mishpat 380:3) that one who saves his own property while causing damage to another, is liable for the damage caused.”
The engineer returned to the Shul to discuss the new development with the Rabbi, and was told: “The Aruch HaShulchan rules (380:7) in a similar case, that Beis Din cannot demand payment from the person who was saving his property, for he didn’t do direct damage, rather it was indirectly, without his intervention.”
The ‘Watermelon Jew’ was a real nudge, and after hearing that his newest argument failed, he kept on harassing the Iron Dome officers for his money; one of the engineers, who is a mathematician in his spare time, calculated the trajectory of the Hamas rocket, and was able to determine exactly which house would have been hit. He proceeded to send the following letter to the owner of the house:
“The Hamas rocket which was launched yesterday was supposed to land on your house. This structure was illegally built, without any permits. If your home would not be built there, we would have no reason to intercept the Hamas rocket, for it would have landed in an empty terrain.
Since you built your house in said location, against the law, you have forced us to launch an intercepting Iron Dome rocket, which carries a price tag of $50,000. Therefore, please remit payment of $50,000 to the IDF within 72 hours. This is based on the words of the Rosh (Sanhedrin 8b) who states that whomever was saved by someone else, must pay him back all the expenses incurred to save him.”
The ‘Watermelon Jew’ was at his stand when his wife brought him this letter, and he fainted on the spot. An ambulance which sped to save him caused damage to a parked car en route to the watermelon stand.
While recovering in the hospital, this Jew receives a letter from the owner of said car, demanding he pay the damages. This time around he knew that the ambulance driver is not liable, for he was busy saving lives (based on a ruling in Shut Shevet HaLevi 9:293), and he himself is also free from any liability, as stated in the Aruch HaShulchan quoted earlier.
A few days later, he made a Seudas Hoda’ah in his (illegal) home, with his family, friends, and Iron Dome operators. He began his speech by saying: “I now know the Halachos of damages quite well, however I would have preferred to know them without such a headache…”
Based on an article published two weeks ago in the weekly “Halacha B’Givah” publication.