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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

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

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

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

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

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

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

April 8, 2014

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

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review December 3, 2007 / 22 Kislev 5768

Promising prospect

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir


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Avoid promises that stretch your capabilities


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: We're an innovative technology company. Virtually all our contracts are for products that don't yet exist. The nature of our business is that we can never be 100% sure that the product will be viable. We like to sign a contract only when we're virtually certain that we have the capability to deliver, but sometimes we try to be ambitious. How far can we stretch our promises?


A:There's a clear difference between promising someone a shipment from your warehouse, or even something that's currently rolling off your assembly line, and promising someone a new and untried product. The sages of the Talmud were so concerned about this distinction that they ruled, "A person cannot acquire something that does not exist". (1). For example, if a person sells "whatever fruit my tree produces this season", or sells his right to some court claim (in legal language "subrogation"), the sale is not enforceable. The reason is that this is considered too iffy a proposition for the purchaser to rely on, and for the court to enforce.


However, the fact that the sale is not enforceable doesn't mean that it lacks significance. If the seller promises to sell something he doesn't have but afterwards manages to acquire the object of sale, it is assumed that his acquisition was intended to fulfill his promise to sell, and the original sale becomes valid. (2)


Post-Talmudic authorities inferred from this situation that when there is sufficient reliance, such a sale is binding. For example, Rabbi Israel Isserlin, a prominent early Medieval authority, considered the case of someone who promised a customer a pearl -- a very rare find in Europe in those times. The seller had more difficulty than he expected obtaining a pearl, and he thought that perhaps he was exempt because after all "a person cannot acquire something that does not exist" or something not in the ready possession of the seller. Rabbi Isserlis ruled that the seller cannot renege and must make extraordinary exertions to fulfill his obligation, given that the ordinary exertions he anticipated turned out to be insufficient. (3)


One prominent authority sums up the principle as follows: If a person simply offers to sell something he doesn't have, it is understood that the buyer is aware that the offer may never materialize. But if the seller makes a specific promise to acquire the object, or if the buyer does not know that the seller doesn't have it, then the buyer is justified in relying on the sale and thus the seller is bound by the deal. (4)


This would apply to your situation. Very often an established firm makes a token order from a new supplier just to see how things turn out. If the service is satisfactory they may then start to increase the order. This is the traditional case of "something not in existence". The contract is not meaningless, and should certainly not be entered into frivolously, but the reliance is minimal and it is understood that the seller may be stretching his abilities somewhat.


But if you are preparing a major order which the customer needs for his own product, and you guarantee delivery, a much higher standard is needed. You should be able to clearly see how each stage of the production will be carried out, leaving room for some surprises. If there are any doubts, you must be open with the customer before signing on the bottom line.


It's good to be ambitious in business. As Robert Browning wrote, "a man's reach should exceed his grasp or what's a heaven for?" But ambition is not a substitute for reliability. Be ambitious when you make internal promises like sales targets or R&D goals. When you deal with customers, you must be businesslike and realistic.

SOURCES: (1) Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 33b (2) Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 16a (3) Responsa Trumas HaDeshen 320 (4) Taz commentary to Choshen Mishpat 208:1

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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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