In this issue

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 July 2, 2007 / 9 Tamuz, 5767


By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir

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Can I go back on my original agreement?

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: I agreed to use a certain service provider and even signed an agreement, but the agreement is not valid until I obtain some authorizations from the authorities, so I am technically able to withdraw. In the meantime I came across a better deal. Can I renege on the original agreement?

A: Jewish law, based on commandment and personal commitment, includes many obligations that are not enforceable. This is true even in business regulation. So even when an agreement is not enforceable, there may be an obligation to uphold it.

The extent of this obligation is discussed in the following Talmudic passage:

Rav Kahana was given a down payment for flax, and afterwards the price of flax rose. He came before Rav, who told him: What was paid for, you must deliver; but the rest is only words [a verbal assurance that you would provide it at the old price], and words don't render you untrustworthy. As Rav previously stated, "Words don't one untrustworthy." But Rabbi Yochanan said, "Words do make one untrustworthy."

The Talmud goes on to explain that the basis of their disagreement is the explanation of a Biblical verse. The Torah commands us to give a "righteous hin and a righteous eifah" (Leviticus 19:36) — that is, to give full measure to the customer in both liquid and dry measures. But the word hin also means "yes"; the implication is that a person's "yes" must be sincere. One view is that sincerity extends to keeping your word even when you have reconsidered; the other is that it only forbids dealing in bad faith, when there is no intention to keep the agreement even at the time it is made. (1)

The final ruling is that going back on your word simply due to reconsideration is considered untrustworthy dealing. However, if there is a substantive change in circumstances, then it may be permissible. Rav Yaakov Ben Asher, a very prominent medieval authority, writes: "It is appropriate for a person to keep his word even if there was no payment or binding agreement, and if either side reneges they are considered untrustworthy and the Sages disapprove of their actions. And the Baal HaMaor [an early medieval authority] wrote that this applies only at the old price, but if there is a change in price it is not considered untrustworthy." (2)

In practical terms, the real question is how large a change in circumstances is required to justify reneging. All agree that simple caprice is not a good enough reason to renege, even if the original agreement was in good faith; all would agree that a drastic change in circumstances can justify breaking a non-binding agreement. (Discussing which agreements are binding is far beyond the scope of this article; in our case the reader specified that the agreement is not binding.)

An additional consideration mentioned in the continuation of the Talmudic passage is that of reliance. The Talmud concludes that a person tends to rely on the promise of a small gift, but not on the promise of a large gift. Thus, a promise to make a small gift is binding. If the service provider incurred significant costs as a result of reasonable reliance on your agreement (for example, he assigned a worker to spend a substantial amount of time preparing your file) you should take this into account.

Jewish law, as well as common business sense, tell us that the technicalities of enforceability are not the only criterion for keeping agreements; our reputation for being honest and trustworthy, as an individual and as a people, are likewise important. At the same time, there are good reasons that law, Jewish as well as secular, acknowledges that some agreements are not binding. A person should never take his word lightly, and should always strive to uphold it. In cases where there is a significant change of circumstances before a commitment becomes binding, or in cases where little burden is placed on the other side, there is much less of an ethical problem in reneging on a non-binding agreement.

But when the change of circumstances is minor, or when the partner to the deal incurred costs as a result of reliance on your agreement, it would generally be considered both unethical and imprudent to renege on your agreement.

SOURCES: (1) Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 49a (2) Tur, Choshen Mishpat 204; see also the Shulchan Aruch and commentaries on this chapter.


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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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