Hilchos Choshen Mishpat
Volume I : Number 35
Advising A Customer At The Expense Of A Merchant
Reuven was shopping in a book store, and met his friend Shimon. Reuven
noticed that Shimon was about to purchase an item that was available for
less money at another book store nearby. Is Reuven permitted to point out
to Shimon that he could save himself some money by purchasing the book at
the competing store?
- If the store that they are in is selling the item for 16% more than
other stores in the area, or if Reuven knows that the quality of the item
in this store is not quite what the merchant claims that it is, it is a
Mitzvah to advise Shimon to purchase the item in the other store.
If the difference in price is less than 16%, and Reuven does not think
that Shimon is being taken advantage of in any way, he would not be
allowed to advise him to purchase at the competing store, unless Shimon
is a relative of Reuven. However, if Shimon were to seek his advice
whether or not to buy the item, Reuven is permitted to inform him that it
is available for less at the other store.
If Shimon has not yet entered the store, or even if he has entered but
has not yet decided to purchase the item in that store, it is permitted
to inform him that another store generally has cheaper prices. However,
care must be taken that nothing that reflects badly on the owner of the
first store be said, as this would be Loshon Hara.
The Tur (Choshen Mishpat 378) writes "Just as it is forbidden to steal
your friend's money, so too it is forbidden to damage him and cause a
loss of money in any way, even if you are not benefitting from his loss
at all." It is clear from this statement that causing a person a loss of
money is a Torah prohibition, just as theft is. The Gemara in Bava Basra
(22b) states that this Torah prohibition extends even to cases of damage
via Gramma (indirect cause). We must therefore conclude that, although
there are cases of damage that a Bais Din may not force the damager to
pay for, e.g. Gramma, there is still an absolute Torah prohibition not to
inflict such damages, and the damager has an obligation to compensate for
the damages B'Dinei Shamayim (In the heavenly court).
The examples of Gramma cited in the Talmud Bavli, are generally cases
that a person indirectly causes damage to property already in the
possession of it's owner. For example, the Gemara in Bava Kamma (55b -
56a) discusses a situation where a person breaks down the door of his
friend's barn, indirectly causing that his animals escape and be lost to
their owner. The Talmud Yerushalmi introduces that even if your action
causes someone a loss of potential profit, this is also Gramma that is
forbidden by the Torah and a person has an obligation to pay for this
B'Dinei Shamayim. An example of this would be if a person would picket
another person's store and block access to other customers, causing them
to seek their purchases elsewhere. Since, as a result of his actions, the
store owner will not profit what he would have if not for this action,
the "striker" has an obligation B'Dinei Shamayim to reimburse the store
owner for the loss that he indirectly caused. (Obviously, this is if he
is picketing for personal reasons. There are cases in which such action
would be permitted, for example if he is doing so to protect the public
from being taken advantage of by the store owner.) The words of the
Talmud Yerushalmi are quoted as the Halacha by all of the Poskim.
The Torah commands us to do our utmost that our friend not incur a loss
of money. This is included in the Mitzvos of Hashavas Aveidah (Returning
A Lost Item) and V'Ahavta L'Rayacha Kamocha (Love Your Friend As
Yourself). However, if I will be saving one person money at the expense
of someone else, there is no such Mitzvah. Why should one person's gain
take precedence over another person's gain? Additionally, there is a
prohibition involved here, since, as we stated above, just as actively
damaging property is forbidden, causing a loss of potential profit is
Therefore, if someone has decided to purchase an item in a certain store,
it is forbidden to damage this potential source of income of the store
keeper by advising the customer that the item is available somewhere else
for less. However, if the customer is a relative, it is permitted. This
is because we have a special obligation to assist close relatives, based
on the Possuk (Yeshaya 58:8) of "MiBesarcha Lo Tisalem", You Shall Not
Withhold From Your Flesh (Kin).
However, if the seller has presented the item to the customer in a
fraudulent manner, either by hiding defects, or by overcharging by more
than 16% over the going market rate for this item, it is a Mitzvah to
warn the consumer that he is being taken advantage of. This is discussed
at length in the Sefer Chofetz Chaim, Hilchos Rechilus 9:10. Also, if the
customer has not yet decided where he would buy the item, or if he
approaches you for advice, this can not be considered a "loss of profit"
to the merchant, since there was no decision made to purchase the item
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This week's class is based on a column by Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, who is an Av
Bais Din and Rosh Kollel in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. His
Column originally appears in Hebrew in Toda'ah, a weekly publication in
Jerusalem. It has been translated and reprinted here with his permission
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Please Note: The purpose of this column is to make people aware of Choshen Mishpat
situations that can arise at any time, and the Halachic concepts that may be used to resolve them. Each
individual situation must be resolved by an objective, competent Bais Din (or Rabbinic Arbitrator) in the
presence of all parties involved!