Q. What does Judaism say about consumer protection?
A. The general principle of Jewish ethics is both positive – “Love your fellow as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) – and negative – “Do not wrong one another” (Lev. 25:13-17). One of the major areas to which these principles apply is that of consumer protection, though the term itself is relatively recent.
Already in the Torah we are warned to have correct weights and measures (Lev. 19:35, Deut. 25:15) and in expounding these verses the rabbis warn that anyone who transgresses these laws has committed a very severe sin. This applies to all types of commodity but especially to the staples like corn, wine and oil.
The rabbis go into great detail about how to weigh or measure the goods (e.g. BM 6:6, BB 89b) and how to check for merchants who cut corners. The community appointed inspectors to keep an eye on business practices and, if necessary, to impose harsh sanctions. (Shulchan Aruch Ch.M 231).
The concept of “caveat emptor” (“let the buyer beware”) was hardly known in Talmudic teaching; more important was the rule that the seller had to beware and not to take advantage of his customers (Maimonides, Laws of Selling 18; Shulchan Aruch Ch.M 228).
Sellers were not permitted to mislead a purchaser by exaggerating the quality of the goods or brushing aside any known defects. Consumers are covered by the laws in Lev. 19 against harming even the (metaphorically) blind or deaf.
Not only were the community courts charged with administering consumer protection measures, but anyone who transgressed the rules was answerable to Heaven (BM 4:1).
CHILDREN SITTING SHIVAH.
Q. Does a child under Bar- or Bat-Mitzvah age have to sit shivah if, God forbid, a close relative passes away?
A. The custom is that they do not sit shivah. Shivah is not only in order to honour and commemorate the departed, but also to arouse the mourners to repentance for any sins they may have committed. Since children under Bar- and Bat-Mitzvah are not yet of an age to be responsible for their sins, the obligation of sitting shivah can not be imposed upon them. However, they should still cut “k’ri’ah” (i.e. make a tear in their garments) and curtail their normal activities.
A MONTH BEFORE PESACH.
“Don’t remind me!” I said the other day to someone who told me, “Pesach is just around the corner!”
Actually I was wrong to respond as I did. There is an important tradition that thirty days before the festival people should already be asking questions about the theory and practice of Pesach.
At the same time the Pesach spring cleaning has been under way in some houses since before Purim, and the shopping expeditions are not far off. Of course the bookshops are busy arranging their displays of Haggadot and Pesach plates, and the publishers have probably produced new editions of the Haggadah in the hope of attracting those who are looking for a new format and new ideas.
So are these comments merely journalistic reportage describing the onset of the increasingly frantic activity of the coming month?
Not entirely; symbolically they are a reminder that any important moment in life needs to be prepared for. Marriage is top of the list; it is nothing short of amazing how many couples go into marriage without adequate preparation.
Every life-cycle event likewise, even the end of life. “Prepare to meet your God, O Israel”, says the prophet (Amos 4:12). If this applies to death, it also applies to life.
There are two views as to how a human has a God-experience. One is that it bursts upon you when you least expect it, the other that you can make yourself receptive in advance and can, as it were, set up the shidduch. Both views have validity.
On the Amos principle, a person can go seeking God and find Him nearer than they thought.