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Does My Friend Need to Replace My Damaged Cookbook?

Does My Friend Need to Replace My Damaged Cookbook?



A close friend and I are always borrowing things from each other, from clothes to books to household items.

My friend recently borrowed a brand-new cookbook that I just bought. She was about to return it when she noticed that the pages were filled with smears from trying her hand at the recipes. I told her it is inevitable during regular use for it to get dirty, and that none of my older cookbooks have remained in pristine condition. She is insisting, however, on buying me a new book.

While her gesture is very sweet (and probably reflective of why we remain such close friends!), I was just wondering what her Her gesture is very sweetactual obligations would be according to Jewish law.


In general, the loan of an object is very similar to the loan of money. Even if the borrower loses the money he borrowed due to no fault of his own, he must still repay every cent that he or she borrowed. When borrowing an object, the borrower assumes the same type of responsibility—except in two scenarios, which will be described later.1

When the damaged item is still usable, one is not obligated to replace the item with a brand-new object. Rather, the owner keeps the damaged item, and the borrower has to pay only the difference between how much it was worth before and after the damage.2

When calculating the item’s worth prior to the damages, you have to calculate how much this used item was actually worth—based on its condition, length of time owned and used, etc.—not how much a new one would cost in the store.3

However, as mentioned, there are two exceptions to the rule:

● A case where the “the owner is with him.” If the lender was working with the borrower at the time of the lending, the borrower is absolved from paying for any damage.4

There are two exceptions to the rule

● A case where “the loaned animal died because of the work.” In other words, the object was damaged during the course of work.

In your case, the second exception may apply. There are two opinions about this second exemption:

A) As long as the damage occurred while using the object in the normal fashion during the time it was intended to be used, the borrower is exempt.

The rationale: The owner understands that by lending his object, even if it is only used in the normal fashion, he is exposing the object to a greater risk of it being damaged. Therefore, the owner accepts that the borrower will not be liable for any damage that occurs with normal usage.5

B) The exemption applies only to damages that occur from the normal wear and tear of the borrowed item itself. Thus, if an external factor caused the damage during normal usage, the borrower would be obligated to pay.

The rationale: The reason for the exemption in a case where “the loaned animal died because of the work” is that the owner shares some degree of responsibility for lending an item that is not completely fit for use. Due to this act of negligence, the owner assumes responsibility for any damage caused by the work itself. This responsibility, however, obviously does not extend to any damages caused by external factors.6

According to the first opinion, as long your friend used the cookbook in the normal fashion, she would be exempt from paying for the damages to your cookbook. As you said yourself, “it is inevitable during regular use for it to get dirty.”

However, according to the second opinion, it would depend on how exactly the cookbook became damaged.

Presuming, as you say, that the natural consequence of lending a cookbook is for it to be dirtied, and it got dirty while your friend was using it with her dirtied hands, then you are viewed as being “negligent” in lending the cookbook, and your friend would not be obligated to pay.7

The natural consequence of lending a cookbook is for it to be dirtied

However, if some of the ingredients sitting on the counter accidentally spilled onto the pages of the cookbook, but not through the process of cooking, then your friend would be obligated to pay for the damages, since they were caused by external factors.

Most halachic authorities follow the second opinion, that one is exempt only for normal wear and tear.8 Accordingly, depending on how it got dirtied, your friend may be obligated to pay for the damages to your cookbook.

Of course, this all presumes that an expected consequence of lending a cookbook is for it to become dirty. However, if that is not the case, or for example the book was lent to be looked at but not used for cooking, then according to all opinions, the borrower would be obligated to pay—although, as mentioned above, she would not necessarily have to buy you a brand-new book.

Exodus 22:13; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 340:1.
Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 403:1.
For more on this, see Mishpetei Torah, vol. 1, ch. 24.
Exodus 22:13–14. Some explain that the reason for this exemption is because when the owner is employed by the borrower, the borrower assumes that the owner is taking care of his own item. See Chinuch, mitzvah 60.
Rabbi Meir ha-Levi (Rameh), cited in Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 340:3.
Commentary of Ramban to Talmud, Bava Metzia 96b, s.v. ha de-amrinan, cited in the gloss of Rema to Shulchan Aruch loc. cit.
This would seem similar to the case in which one borrowed a cat to chase mice, but instead the mice ate the cat. In that case, even the second opinion agrees that the borrower is not obligated to pay: see Shulchan Aruch loc. cit., and Shach there sec. 6.

Although in this case it is the person who dirtied the book with her use, which may seem similar to the case of weapons lent to be used in warfare. If the weapons were taken away by the opponent, the second opinion (according to Shach) holds that the borrower is obligated to pay, since the person did not fight well. Although lending something to be used in warfare exposes the tools to greater risk, the lender was not negligent, since in normal use it is possible to be victorious. However, in our case, if the natural consequence of lending a cookbook is for it to be dirtied, then the lender is indeed considered negligent, since the purpose for which it was lent is the cause of the damage (as with the cat and the mice). So, even according to the second opinion, she would not be liable to pay.
See Shach, Ba’er Heitev, Gra and Netivot ha-Mishpat to Shulchan Aruch loc. cit.
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Lisa Providence, RI November 26, 2014

Do It Yourself Usually, most people don't take responsibility for damaging other people's belongings - I speak from experience - and if you want something done, you need to do it yourself. Reply

Jerry M K Minneapolis via November 21, 2014

Borrower Assumes Responsibility I have to agree with Fruma from Delray Beach, FL.

The borrower has an absolute responsibility to return any item exactly the way she received it. Since she messed up the book, she is responsible to buy a new one so that her friend gets back the book in perfect condition.

There are too many instances where I believe Jewish Law tries to compromise rather than answer in either black or white, so to speak. This is one of them where damaging someone else's property cannot be less than 100% the responsibility of the party that caused the damage.


Anonymous via January 10, 2014

lending and borrowing One must determine if a person or a thing is more important. I have a house full of nice things. Should it burn down and I and my family escape, I am grateful. The rest is just stuff. To me that is the essence. THe sander or the cookbook may be a little the worse for wear, but if this is the basis for letting go of a friend, then there are more serious issues. Reply

Fruma Delray Beach, FL January 8, 2014

Due diligence Most of us would expect a borrowed item to be returned in the same state it was in when it was borrowed. If I borrowed a new book and then messed it up I would go buy another and never tell the friend it was a replacement, just return a clean new book like the one I had borrowed. The mess is the result of carelessness on the part of the borrower--there are standard, simple ways of keeping a cookbook clean, like putting clear plastic wrap across the open pages. Whatever Jewish law says, returning property damaged saves a little money but probably loses the friendship. Certainly I'd never lend that slob anything again. Reply

Margaret Holmes January 7, 2014

Borrowed cookbook. I found your comments very interesting as I am in a similar predicament. I borrowed a hand held sander to do the top of a table. It was lent with extra sandpaper and I've had it for some time. My neighbour has not asked for it back as yet, but I feel because I hav'nt stored it carefully during the time I've had it and it's now looking a bit tatty, I feel obligated to buy her a new one to replace it. I would also feel the same if I had borrowed a recipe book and it got a bit dirty from spilt food. My mother told us as children not to borrow, but if we did, as in library books or school books etc, they were to be treated very carefully. Reply

Anonymous January 7, 2014

My practice has been to never lend money or any thing else to a "friend" if you want to continue tobe friends. Reply

Ilana January 7, 2014

So interesting and so practical This is the type of thing that happens all the time, I am so glad that the issue was adrressed so clearly.
Thanks. Reply

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