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Hilchos Choshen Mishpat

Volume I : Number 35

Advising A Customer At The Expense Of A Merchant


Question:

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?


Answer:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.


Sources:

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 also forbidden.

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 from him.

Feedback is appreciated! It can be sent toatendler@torah.org.


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 and approval.

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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!

 






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