By Rabbi Daniel Travis
Efron replied to Avraham, telling him, “Listen my master; what is 400
shekels worth of land between you and me? Bury your dead.” (Bereshith
The 400-shekel sum that Efron mentioned to Avraham was much higher than
the actual value of the land. Nevertheless, Avraham did not bicker over
the price – he agreed immediately and paid Efron in full. Efron, however,
had originally promised that he would not charge Avraham for the land, but
would give it to him as a gift. He remains a symbol of one who backs down
on his word (1).
Raising the price of any item by more than a sixth of the going rate is
generally forbidden, especially if the item is something that is necessary
for physical or spiritual sustenance. The Gemara mentions in several
places that Shmuel was especially active in curtailing the practice of
price hiking. At one point, when people were selling wheat at an
unreasonably high price, Shmuel himself sold wheat at a low price (2).
When people raised the prices of hadassim (for the mitzvah of lulav), he
threatened that he would make a ruling permitting the use of a much less
expensive species (3).
The halachah states that if the price of fish that Jews buy for Shabboth
is raised unfairly, a beith din may step in and proclaim a boycott on the
product in order to force down the price (4). There are authorities who
rule that such a boycott may be enacted only if the price has been raised
by a third or more (5). Many disagree with this ruling though, reasoning
that poor people will be hurt by a price hike of even less than a third,
so even a smaller rise in prices is legitimate grounds for a boycott (6).
When fish salesmen in Vilna suddenly raised their prices, Rav Yechezkel
Feivel, the Rav of Vilna and author of Toldoth Adam put a ban on the
buying of fish. Two weeks later, the fish salesmen came to beg him to
rescind his ban, but he vehemently refused to do so until they would lower
their prices. He added that as long as the ban was in effect, even the
owners of the fish stores were forbidden to eat fish (7).
1. Ba’al HaTurim 23:16.
2. Bava Bathra 90b.
3. Sukkah 34b.
4. Pri Chadash and Tzemach Tzedek, cited in Be’er Hetev, Orach Chaim
5. Beith Hillel, Orach Chaim 242:2.
6. Pri Megadim and Eliyahu Rabbah, ibid.
7. Hizaharu BeMamon Chaverechem, pp. 228-9.
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org