Last time we looked at how modern ethical business questions can be solved using traditional Jewish principles. How would you deal with these quandaries? Here’s your chance to be the (Jewish) judge.
1. A friend invited you as his guest to a fundraising dinner. A year later, you receive a bill because your erstwhile friend reneged on paying. Are you on the hook?
2. A nearby house is for sale. You’d like to sell your similar house and want to know how much they’re asking. Can you pose as a potential buyer and ask?
3. A bachelor hires the services of a professional matchmaker. He goes out with a recommended woman, but things don’t click. He does think she would be perfect for a friend of his. He’s right. Who gets the fee – the professional matchmaker or bachelor number one?
4. A bird-lover set up feeding stations and resting places for birds in his yard. The neighbours complain that the flocks of birds dirty their adjacent properties, make excessive noise and ruin their gardens. Do they have legal recourse?
5. A woman runs a playgroup in her basement. One day, a child finds a pair of scissors and proceeds to cut holes in a friend’s shirt. Can the parents demand payment from the teacher?
6. You lent your neighbour money. He honestly does not have funds to repay you, but he has a house, a car, furniture and clothing. Is he obligated to sell personal assets to repay the loan?
7. You’ve applied for a job. So has someone who is quite destitute. Should you back out and allow a needy person to take the job instead of you?
8. Someone pledges $300 to your charity, but gives you a cheque for $360. Do you have to contact him to confirm he intended to do so?
9. You bought a printer that carries a manufacturer’s one-year warranty. When you plugged it in, it did not work at all. The store insists that you ship the printer to the manufacturer for replacement. Can you demand that the store exchange it?
10. You’re thirsty. Can you help yourself to a very pricey hotel room beverage and replace it later with the same drink, which you buy for less?
Here are the recommended answers. Click on the links for the complete responses and Jewish sources. Keep in mind that, like many things in law and Halachah, it may be possible to find an argument to support a contrary view.
1. No. It is true that a beneficiary must pay for whatever benefit he receives, even if it was not authorized. But in this case, there was an understanding between diner and the organization that the diner was not going to pay for the meal. Consequently, the organization may not charge him for his meal even though his “friend” was negligent in paying his commitments.
2. No. It is prohibited by the Torah to ask someone who is interested in selling or leasing something, how much he or she is charging for that item, if the person asking has no interest in purchasing the item and is only interested in knowing the price for other reasons. A person who does ask in the manner stated above transgresses the prohibition of (Leviticus 25:17) “V'lo sono ish ess amiso – And a man may not oppress [by misleading] his friend.” If you were to inform the merchant or salesman at the beginning of the conversation that you are only calling to price an item but have no intention to purchase it, it would be permitted.
3. Bachelor number 1. The matchmaker is permitted to stipulate to a client that if the information provided to the client results in any match at all, the matchmaker or agent will receive the entire fee. However, this must be made conditional before the information is provided.
4. Yes. Beyond the responsibility not to do actual damage, a person is responsible not to do things on his property that will adversely impact his neighbours’ property in a direct manner. This applies not only to monetary damage; our sages also instituted various neighbourly rights relating to privacy, noise, smell, air, light and dampness. Even if the person is willing to pay should damage occur, he is not allowed to create the potential damage.
5. No. Although a teacher should certainly make an effort to protect her students’ belongings, there is no indication that she accepts the liability of being a “shomer” (guardian) upon herself. Her primary focus is to teach the children and not to pay such close attention to their belongings. Additionally, parents are aware of the likelihood that the clothing their children wear to school may get ruined.
6. Possibly. In principle, a person is required to repay his loan even from personal assets. However, the Torah teaches that we allow the person to retain a certain minimum amount for his own support. A person would be obligated to sell his house in order to repay his loan, even if the loan is relatively small compared to the value of the house. However, if he can rent the house, he might not be required to sell it, but can repay from the rental income.
7. It would be a nice gesture but no. The Talmud says it is praiseworthy to give someone who is poor precedence in obtaining a benefit. “A poor person who is seeking after a piece of bread and someone else comes along and takes it,… that person is considered wicked.” (Kiddushin, 59a) However, you usually can’t be certain that person will get the job if you pull out. The bottom line: you are under no ethical obligation to drop your candidacy on behalf of someone who seems more needy. But it would be a thoughtful act IF it seems likely the job would go to them.
8. No. In monetary cases, the obligation is on the owner of the money to exercise caution. Consequently, the recipient has no obligation to confirm with the other party since one may presume that it was given intentionally as a gift. Nevertheless, when there are grounds to suspect that the other party may have made a mistake, it is considered a pious act to confirm that the other party did not err.
9. Yes. Although the seller of your printer also bought the printer in a closed box and had no way of knowing about the defect, he is still responsible to sell working items to his customers. Therefore, since the printer did not work at all and was defective from the start, the sale is void and the seller has to exchange it or refund the money. This would apply even if the seller would be unable to reclaim the money from his supplier, such as if the supplier went out of business.
10. No. It is prohibited to steal with the intent to repay the owner. Accordingly, since the hotel intends to make money by selling beverages and has determined that guests will be willing to pay the inflated amount due to the convenience of having cold drinks available in their rooms, it is clear that they would not permit you to take a bottle to drink and replace it with another one, since that prevents them from making their intended profit. (Interestingly, the action seems to be permissible if the thirsty patron is unaware of the halachic principles involved!)
So how did you do?
0-3 Correct Don’t quit your day job.
4-6 Correct You understand a bissel about Jewish ethics.
7-8 Correct Here comes the judge.
9-10 Correct You’re a modern-day Solomon!