What happens when a good deal ends up a bad deal?

September 2, 2019 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
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Ask the rabbi.

MISREPRESENTATION IN BUSINESS

Rabbi Raymond Apple

Q. What is the Jewish perspective on a business exaggerating or misrepresenting its worth both in terms of its good will and the service or product it provides?

A. There are several leading Jewish researchers and writers on business ethics such as Dr Meir Tamari and Rabbi Aaron Levine. Their work makes an important contribution to the re-shaping of business practice in the light of a series of business scandals over the past two decades or so.

Aaron Levine offers a study of the Jewish concept of “g’nevat da’at” – literally, “stealing one’s mind”.

“G’nevat da’at” prohibits the creation of a false impression. An example in the Mishnah is the practice of painting or polishing old utensils in order to pass them off as new (Bava Metzia 4:12).

In modern terms, “g’nevat da’at” is seen in unwarranted estimates of the good will of a business by misrepresenting the quality of customer service, the superiority of the work force or the size of the client base.

Whether such misrepresentation brings financial benefit is not the point: what is morally wrong is wrong regardless of whether you make money from it.

Misleading advertising is also a form of “g’nevat da’at”: by putting one over a potential customer one is “stealing their mind”.

The subject is carefully analysed in Levine’s “Economics and Jewish Law: Halakhic Perspectives”, 1987, and “Free Enterprise and Jewish Law: Aspects of Jewish Business Ethics”, 1980.

BLOWING THE SHOFAR DURING ELLUL

The month of Ellul is proceeding on its course. In a few weeks it will bring us to Rosh HaShanah.

In the meantime it warns us to make the most of the brief period that is left in the year.

One of the most vivid ways in which the warning is conveyed is by blowing the shofar every weekday morning (in some places in the evening too – Shul. Ar., OC 581:1 and the Rema’s note).

The practice derives from Moses ascending the mountain for a second time on Rosh Chodesh Ellul and leaving instructions for the shofar to be blown in the Israelite camp in his absence to remind the people not to sin again.

In a classical passage Maimonides explains the shofar on Rosh HaShanah as a wake-up call – a thought that applies during Ellul too.

If we leave the shofar to Rosh HaShanah we may be overburdening the day, and we need to get ourselves ready in advance.

The goal is summed up in the letters of Ellul – alef-lamed-vav-lamed, the initials of “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li”, “I am my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine” (Shir HaShirim 6:3).

Like an engaged couple who announce their love in the lead-up to their marriage, we should use Ellul to announce our love for God and His for us.

FEATHERS ON KOSHER CHICKEN

Q. When I buy a kosher chicken there are sometimes still traces of feathers. Why can’t the chickens be plucked better?

A. If plucked in warm water the feathers would come out more easily, but this would create a kashrut problem.

As there is still blood in the body of the bird before the regulation soaking, salting and rinsing, using warm water for plucking would be like cooking the bird in its blood.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.

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