In a recent Canadian court ruling, it was determined that a thumbs-up emoji in a text message exchange can be considered a legally binding contractual agreement. What is the perspective of Jewish law on such an issue?

🍷Marking Barrels of Wine

In Jewish law, the transfer of property is traditionally carried out through specific actions called kinyanim (acquisitions). The Talmud describes varying kinyanim for different types of transfers. For example, real estate is generally transferred through payment or contract, and movable property is transferred by lifting or moving it.

Kinyanim can also be used to formalize an agreement or obligation.

The Talmud discusses the practice of marking a barrel of wine. Known as a situmta, this mark signifies that the merchandise has been sold. Even though the ordinary kinyanim of moving the barrel or (paying cash) are not performed, placing a situmta, along with similar common commercial practices, are also valid methods of transfer.1

🤝Shaking on It

The Code of Jewish Law codifies this common custom of a situmta as a bonafide kinyan.2

After all, the purpose of a kinyan is to express intent and decision (gemirut daat). While Torah law provides certain actions that signify this intention, any action that society recognizes as expressing this intention also qualifies as a kinyan and is entirely sufficient.

Other forms of kinyan along the lines of situmta are shaking hands, wishing l’chaim over a cup of spirits, or declaring mazal u’brachah (“fortune and blessing”), as is common in the diamond industry.3

👍 Thumbs-Up Emoji

If a thumbs-up emoji becomes recognized by society as a common way to signify agreement and acceptance, then it holds the weight of a situmta and would be considered binding according to Jewish law.