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.