Today is “Black Friday,” the day on which retailers across America try to assure their profits for the year by offering outrageous sales. Each store tries to outsell its competitors, whether by offering the lowest price or by opening at the earliest hour. Under such pressured circumstances, as the crowds “stampede through,” one must certainly keep in mind the Roman warning of Caveat Emptor, let the buyer beware.

In honor of this mercantile tradition, Jewish Treats presents a few ideas of Jewish law applicable to a day of sales:

1) Honest Weights And Measures: “You shall do no injustice in judgment, in length, in weight, or in measure” (Leviticus 19:35). Although many products today are not sold by measurements, this important halacha can be understood as an injunction for retailer honesty – to sell exactly what has been advertised.

2) Intention To Buy: “A person may not oppress (or mislead) his friend” (Leviticus 25:17). In the Talmud, this verse is connected to the following statement: “One must not ask another, ‘What is the price of this article?’ if there is no intention to buy” (Baba Metzia 58b). Going into a store and asking the sales clerk about a product when you have no intention of making a purchase, or you intend to purchase the same item from another retailer, gives the clerk the false hope of a sale. Additionally, it steals the time of the sale’s clerk, and perhaps, that of other waiting customers. However, if one is even remotely contemplating purchasing the product from the store, the inquiry is permitted.

3) Pricing Power: Jewish law generally allows a retailer free rein when it comes to pricing. However, the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law) notes that pricing that varies by more than 1/6th of the going market price is considered unfair, and both the seller and the buyer have the right to annul the sale.

Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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