What does Judaism say about consumer rights

November 4, 2019 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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For the answer…ask the rabbi.

Rabbi Raymond Apple

OSTRICHES

Q. Here in outback Australia, the ostrich industry is thriving. Why is it that ostriches are not considered kosher?

A. The ostrich, the largest member of the bird kingdom, was well known in the time of the Bible.

Called in Hebrew “bat haya’anah”, “ya’en” or “kenaf r’nanim”, it inhabited deserted and lonely places and was known for its melancholy cry (“bat haya’anah” is literally “daughter of wailing”) and its speed.

It was not very intelligent: “God has deprived it of wisdom, neither has He imparted to it understanding” (Job 39:17).

It was cruel (“The daughter of My people has become cruel like the ostriches in the wilderness”: Echah 4:3), because it hurt its young and abandoned some of its eggs to be eaten by newly hatched chicks.

That it is not a kosher bird is explicitly stated in Lev. 11:16 and Deut. 14:15. All birds are kosher except 20 species, but as we cannot always identify the various species, Jews eat only those domesticated birds that are traditionally accepted as kosher, e.g. chickens, turkeys, etc.

Rabbinic literature contains references to the ostrich being bred as an ornamental bird and to vessels made from its eggshells. It was known to swallow anything, even a set of tefillin.

The ostrich played a large part in South African Jewish history from as early as 1880, when the ostrich feather industry began to flourish, especially in and around Oudtshoorn.

In their history of South African Jewry, Saron and Hotz point out that most of the Jews had never before seen an ostrich, even in a zoo, but they quickly saw the potentialities of the industry and not only did many make fortunes from feathers but they created a vibrant Jewish community.

CONVERTS & RIGHTEOUSNESS

Q. Why does the Siddur refer to “gerei hatzedek”, righteous converts? Are there any other kind?

A. In ancient times there were two categories of “gerim”, the “ger tzedek” – the “righteous” or full convert – and the “ger toshav” – the “resident alien” or partial convert.

The full convert chose to join the people of Israel and accept the Israelite God. The partial convert, living amongst Israelites, followed Jewish practices such as Pesach (Ex. 12:48), Yom Kippur (Lev. 16:29) and ritual purity (Num. 19:10).

The full convert joined the Jewish people out of belief and conviction. Isaiah (56:6) describes such a person as “one who joins himself to God”.

The term “ger tzedek”, “righteous convert”, indicates that full conversion is without ulterior motives.

Rabbinic literature is full of praise of such converts. The Midrash says: “Dearer to God is the proselyte who has come of his own accord than all the crowds of Israelites who stood before Mount Sinai… for the proselyte took the yoke of Heaven upon himself” (Tanchuma, Lech L’cha).

However, there are also negative views, presumably reflecting the fact that some converts defected from Judaism.

CONSUMER PROTECTION

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).

Rabbi Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Jewish religious issues. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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