Question: A car seller agreed over the phone to sell to Mr. A a car for 5000 dollars. Mr. A will come to buy the car in the afternoon. At noon Mr. B comes and offers 6000 dollars for the car. Can the seller sell the car to Mr. B since no papers were signed with Mr. A?
According to Jewish Law, the seller has to sell the car for Mr. A because he has already given his word, and a Jew is committed to keep his word. However, if the seller sells the car to Mr. B, Mr. A cannot formally sue the seller. In other words, a rabbinical court will not be able to demand the seller to act upon his word. In Jewish Law for a transaction to be legally binding, there must be some formal act called qinyan (a legal act of acquisition) between the seller and the buyer. The qinyan might be performed in different ways, for example, a written commitment.
Our rabbis explain, however, that even is the seller cannot be sued, this seller is now considered by the Tora mechusar amana: a person who lacks credibility, i.e., a dishonest businessman.
What if other factors are part of the equation, for example, if at noon the prices of the car changed? According to some rabbis the seller still has to keep his word and sell the car to Mr. A at the agreed price (Rambam, Shulchan 'arukh). Other rabbis hold that in those circumstances the seller might rightfully withhold the sell (Rosh, Rama).
Only, when there was no clear commitment between the seller and the buyer, for example, if Mr. A said: "I will try to come this afternoon...", or if Mr. A did not arrive at the time he promised, then all agree that the seller can rightfully sell the car to Mr. B.
(Adapted from penine halakha, liqutim, 49-50)
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