The Kim Li Concept

691. The Kim Li Concept

Two claimants, Rabbi A and Mr. B, appear before the Beis Din, arguing over a sum of money. The Beis Din listens to both sides and states, “We will follow majority of poskim on this issue. Rabbi A, despite the fact that the money was already transferred to your account, you must return it to Mr. B.”

“Wait” Rabbi A replies, “Commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch quote a minority opinion which would turn the case in my favor. Kim li (I am of this opinion)!”

Rabbi A went home with his assets intact.

In all money matters, the muchzak (the one with the money or property in their possession) is presumed to be the de facto owner. As the Mishnah states, “Hamotzi mechavero alav haraya” (the burden of proof is on the one who wants to take from another). When Beis Din evokes a halachic majority that points to the muchzak losing his claim, the muchzak may rely on a minority opinion to maintain ownership, with the words “Kim li!” The phrase kim li has been adapted as a general rule of the current owner’s advantage and may be used by the claimant even without comprehensive knowledge of the opinion he is presenting—and the erudite members of the Beis Din can even present it for him!

The concept of kim li has legal precedent going back to original halachic sources, but it gained popularity in recent generations, to the point that we find many more contemporary cases of kim li than historic ones. Many k’lalim (principles) of kim li are therefore found specifically in halachic works of Acharonim (latter-day authorities), authored as the need arose for compendiums on the topic.

There are clear parameters of when kim li may be applied—it is not an exercise in discovering a most obscure argument in favor of the muchzak; it must reference a position in the Shulchan Aruch, Rema or Nosei Keilim (lit. arms bearersthe foremost commentaries printed on the pages of Shulchan Aruch).

In addition to precedent, one of the limitations of kim li is that it can only be utilized in the absence of a minhag (custom) to follow a particular posek. For example, among Sephardim, kim li cannot be engaged to support a view directly opposed to Rav Yosef Karo, the Mechaber (Compiler of the Shulchan Aruch), who is traditionally their primary halachic authority. If both the Mechaber and the Rema (Rav Moshe Isserles, the Ashkenazic counterpart of the Sephardic Mechaber) are in clear agreement on a certain matter, kim li cannot be employed on that subject in any community.

Can a muchzak say, “Kim li that ‘kim li’ applies here!”? There is a debate among poskim if the dispensation of kim li can be used to settle an argument on whether the muchzak can claim kim li or not. The general principle in this and many such conundrums is, “Hakol l’fi re’os einei hadayan” (everything [is determined] according to the judge’s point of view)—we rely on the one with objective authority and the extensive knowledge of the k’lalim set forth by earlier poskim.

(Some of the applications of kim li in previous discussions: Halachah #636 on the authority of a mara d’asra; Halachah #663 on a bar-mitzvah’s right to his gifts; Halachah #678 on keeping a repaid but previously forgiven loan.)

Practical Halacha: One minute a day. By Horav Yosef Yeshaya Braun, shlita, Mara D'asra and member of the Badatz of Crown Heights.