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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

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Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

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April 14, 2014

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Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

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April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

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April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

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Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

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Jewish World Review Dec. 4, 2006 / 13 Kislev, 5767

Garage sale gem

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir


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Taking unfair advantage of the ignorant seller


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: I often scour garage sales, flea markets, local auctions and the like for bargain prices on rare and valuable collectibles. Often I acquire an item for $20 which is listed in price guides as worth thousands of dollars. Am I taking unfair advantage of the ignorant seller?


A: Your question is a good one because Jewish law insists that fair business practices are incumbent on buyers as well as sellers. The Torah tells us: "When you make a sale to your fellow, or buy from your fellow, don't oppress each man his brother". (Leviticus 19:14.) The context makes clear that the prohibition is on charging an unfair price; calling this practice "oppression" (Hebrew onaah) instead of deprivation shows that the Torah's emphasis is less on the monetary loss, and more on the aspect of the degradation of human relations as one person takes advantage of another. We see that this verse mentions both selling and buying, thus it applies equally to sellers who gouge prices and to buyers who mislead unwitting sellers into offering a bargain price.


However, the Talmud makes clear that the normative price which would define over- or under-charging is only an accepted and widespread market price. A good whose price is determined by private bargains between buyer and seller has no single defined price, and thus the onaah prohibition does not apply to collectibles. The price guides for most of these goods is only that: a general guide presenting the compiler's best guess as to what experienced collectors are paying for such a good. One such guide even warns that the actual price of an item is determined by the mood of the buyer and the seller at the time of the trade!


An additional lenient consideration is that to some extent a "collectible value" is priced into the flea market price. The price is a little higher than the "junk price" to factor in the chance that the item has exceptional value. Furthermore, in your case even if the seller knew with certainty that the catalog price was many times higher it is not clear that they would hold out for a higher price. Liquidity in collectibles is not so great, and obtaining even something near the catalog price could require a substantial amount of effort and time, with a risk that in the end no high-end buyer could be found. In many instances the seller would be happy to sell you the merchandise for a low price anyway.


However, there is an additional, more subtle distinction. Rabbi Yaakov Bloi of Jerusalem discusses your exact situation and explains that the problem is not the price, but rather the essence of the transaction. A collector's item, explains Rabbi Bloi, is really a completely different item from an aging piece of equipment. Imagine that you went to a garage sale and someone offered to sell you an old camera for twenty dollars. Examining the item, you realize it is not a camera at all — it is a slide viewer. Irrespective of price, he never intended to sell a slide viewer. Thus before buying you would to tell the seller: "You should know that this item is not a camera at all!"


Likewise, a collector's item listed in a catalogue is not "just a camera". Therefore, the buyer should inform the seller: "You should know that this item is a collectible." You are not obligated to inform the seller of the catalog price, because the laws of undercharging don't apply. As we explained above, the seller is not able to just turn around and find a ready buyer at, or even near, the catalog price. But the essence of a valid sale is a "meeting of the minds", and this can not take place if the seller doesn't even know what it is he is selling. Odds and ends sold at garage sales and local auctions don't have a uniform market price, and so the Torah verse forbidding unfair pricing does not apply to them. However, an item which is of sufficient interest to be included in a published price guide is in an entirely new category; thus, the seller should be informed that his trash is a collector's treasure.


SOURCES: Rabbi Yaakov Bloi, Pischei Choshen, volume 4, chapter 10, note 25; Rabbi Aaron Levine, Case Studies in Jewish Business Ethics pg. 153-156

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JWR contributor Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, formerly of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration, is Research Director of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, Jerusalem College of Technology. To comment or pose a question, please click here.

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Previously:

By taking my relative in, am I helping or making the situation worse?
Public Service or Public Relations?
Do professionals need to strive for complete objectivity?
Does future reward make ethical behavior selfish?
The whole truth — Even in the marketplace?
Judaism and the afterlife: Reincarnation, heaven and hell
The Jewish belief in resurrection of the dead affects how will live in the here and now
Ethical guidelines on what to say and what's proper to keep to yourself
Is it wrong to get credit for something you didn't do?
Ethics and sportsmanship
The ethics of forwarding email
Must a supplier honor a discount offered by a rogue sales representative?
Should I boycott my daughter's fashion show?
Should you respond to all those annoying email pop-up requests?
Do I have to reimburse someone who tried to do me a favor?
Seeking credit card debt settlement
Can I threaten to spread the word about someone who cheated me?
How can the terminally ill tap into their life insurance?
Is there value in an unhappy marriage?
Where does the Almighty fit into your corporation's mission statement?
Does an expert witness have to be impartial?
Should I give recognition to a modest man who did a great deed?
In representing my firm, can I tell a white lie?
Defrauding insurance to save a life
Can top level management unilaterally give away money to corporate dollars to charity?
Loans to Family Members
How much worker supervision is too much?
Should I turn in a colleague for inappropriate acts?
Priority in charitable giving
Trolls and ogres
How many hours of work is too many?
Can I promote my product by having it unobtrusively written into a story?
He's not heavy he's my brother
All's fair in war?, II
All's fair in war?
Girth vs. worth
Is it proper to tax bequests?
Ethics of Being Overweight
Penalized for working swiftly
When is it a bluff?
'Rate and switch'
My paycheck is late!
Should schools cater to an elite?
All's fair in love?
Comfort and Competition
Do I need the caller's permission to put a call on the speakerphone?
Overtime for lost time
Is it unethical to play suppliers against each other to get the lowest bid possible?
Do family members have precedence in charity allotments?
What the world of business can teach us about our annual process of repentance and renewal
Are religious leaders subject to criticism?
Vindictive Vendor: How can I punish an abusive competitor?
Blogging Ethics: Is the blogger responsible for defamatory posts?







© 2005, The Jewish Ethicist is produced by the JCT Center for Business Ethics