The Challenge of Wealth
By Dr. Meir Tamari
RESPONSA for the week of BECHUKOSAI-- IYAR,23-28 .
In order to demonstrate the work of the halakhic system and its moral
considerations regarding a variety of issues in business and economics, I'm
going to present a number of responsa drawn from the literature. These
represent questions addressed either by laymen or by rabbis or communities
to rabbinical authorities and their answers. They cover a period of close
to 2000 years and reflect Jewish life in all the countries of the Diaspora.
Even though the answers may vary and conflict with each other so that one
cannot draw behavioral conclusions from them, they demonstrate Jewish
thinking and values in this field.
I have chosen the subject of competition in all its forms. At first I will
deal with competition through free entry that will be spread over a number
The right to the free entry has to be considered in the light of a number
of conflicting property rights. These involve questions of economic
efficiency as well as moral dilemmas. The veteran entrepreneur in an area
or specific trade or industry has made an investment in time, capital or
effort and wishes to safeguard that investment. Employees and often, whole
communities too, desire to guard their economic stakes that may be
threatened by the entry of newcomers. On the other hand the interest of the
community and of society is best served by competition that will bring it
the benefits of better prices or of new products. Insisting on the rights
of an entrepreneur or employees to prevent the entry of others, subjects
society to economic stagnation, inefficiency and non-growth. Furthermore,
the other entrepreneurs may have a desire and ability to enter a certain
area or industry. We would deny them the freedom to use their property as
they wish, if we maintained the right of the veterans.
The first responsum we will deal with concerns the Holder of monopoly
rights. Until modern times almost all European economic activity was
conducted under such rights, granted by the lay or ecclesiastical
authorities. Settlement in the New World and the Far East was carried out
by chartered companies, natural resources were exploited under license, and
banking and major marketing operated under charters. All of them granted
their holders monopoly rights. This was true also of the Jewish economies
in those countries. In Ashkenaz these were known as Arunda while in
Sephardic countries it was called Marufya literally 'a friend' who was
cultivated. This referred to the money or effort devoted to obtaining such
rights. The legal and moral issue was the safeguarding of those rights,
without prejudicing the rights of others to earn a livelihood. The
question was addressed to Rabbi Joel Sirkis (The Bach)(Poland, 1561 -1640).
RESPONSA HABACH, 60.
It is well known that in all the communities of Lithuania there is an
enactment regarding the renting of the Arunda. Thereby it has been agreed
upon that whoever holds this right to the license for three years or has a
letter of authority for three years even if they did not use it yet, no one
has the authority to encroach on this right all the days of his life and
they may not hire his Arunda or offer a higher rent for it. This has been
the practice for many years that the
veteran holder has this right even after the death of the original grantor.
This is because of the damage that is done through the competitive raising
of the rents of the Arunda of wine shops or inns [a major Jewish industry
at that time], in that way depriving others of their livelihood and
destroying themselves in the process.[An indication of the limited economic
possibilities facing them].
Now the ruler of Lithuania has died and the community of Brisk has come to
demand that the Arunda of brandy and of milling shall be taken away from
the tenants and given back to the communal authorities who had originally
sub-leased it to the present holders in return for a fee in addition to
that paid to the ruler. The kehillah wishes to use the license for the
benefit of the community and claims that it had only leased it until then.
The holders of the license claim that this contravenes the laws of
Lithuania and that the kehillah lost all its rights by demanding an
additional payment for the license.
It has long been the practice that those who were elected to represent the
community are able to make enactments in the community, even such as cause
a loss to one party or a profit to another, and to attach property. Those
enactments that have been passed regarding the Arunda, only apply
concerning individuals and not between the individuals and the community.
It is logical that the restrictions should not apply against the community,
because how should we protect the interests of three individuals [in this
case] against the welfare of the whole community.
We should realize that satisfying the needs of the community is a mitzvah
that is capable even of setting aside oaths according to the will of the
majority. Even if we are to regard earning a livelihood by an individual as
a mitzvah as the Bet Yosef does [Yoreh Deah, Section 228], nevertheless,
the Shulchan Arukh rules that there is no mitzvah greater than the public
livelihood. It is far better that the community distribute the license to a
large number of people and thus give them a livelihood, than that this
possibility should be restricted to benefit a few.
Furthermore, all the enactments regarding Arunda are written in the
singular. Even if the ancients in previous generations [as claimed by the
holders of the Arunda], placed obligations on the community regarding the
Arunda to benefit individuals, such enactments are void and obligate no one.
Since there are no enactments against the community it is forbidden for the
present holders of the license to apply for its renewal. This would have
been true even when the previous ruler was still alive and it is even more
so now that a new ruler has taken over. The money that the community took
did not in any way detract from this right, as it was introduced only to
provide protection from holders of the license who would be violent or
Now that it is necessary to obtain a new license, that should be held by
the community. The majority has precedence over a minority and is the
straight and good thing to do. It is no different from the law of the
adjoining neighbor, who always has the right of first refusal in cases of
the sale of real estate.
The laws of Lithuania in this respect are destructive rather than helpful
and therefore cannot be used for protection.
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Project Genesis, Inc.
Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.