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
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
: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain
April 14, 2014
Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time
: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic
: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships
: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin
: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate
: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure
April 11, 2014
Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden
: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does
: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer
: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You
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
: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau
: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease
April 8, 2014
Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease
Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear
April 4, 2014
A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children
Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet
Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds
Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves
April 2, 2014
Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?
Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities
It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene
Jewish World Review
Oct. 30, 2006
/ 8 Mar-Cheshvan, 5767
The whole truth
Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir
Even in the marketplace?
Q: The policy at our store is to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth. We tell customers when an article isn't suitable for their needs, and avoid encouraging them to spend beyond their means. But we never tell them that they could get something more suitable, or less expensive, at a competitor. Can I follow this policy?
A: In order to answer your question, we have to clarify a key distinction in Jewish business ethics: the difference between a seller and an adviser.
When you are a seller, everyone understands that your interest is to show the customer the ways in which your product can benefit him. That doesn't mean that anything goes; Jewish law categorically rejects the idea of caveat emptor, or "buyer beware." The seller is obligated to inform the shopper of any defects in the merchandise, and his answers to shopper questions must be truthful. It is forbidden to mislead even in a passive way for example, to take advantage of a customer's error in understanding what a product can do for him even if you didn't create the false impression yourself. (1)
However, there is no presumption that the seller is any way impartial or unbiased. The seller's job is to be an advocate for his product. Just like the other kind of advocate, a lawyer, he has to be honest but not impartial. It is the judge, in this case the customer, who is charged with making a wise and impartial assessment of the evidence.
This compares starkly with an adviser. When your job is to give advice, it is completely forbidden to show partiality to one side. The Torah commands, "Don't place an obstacle before the blind" (Leviticus 19:14). Rashi's commentary explains: don't give inappropriate advice to a blind that is, unknowing inquirer. "Don't tell him, 'Sell your field and buy a donkey,' when you are scheming to purchase it from him."
Rashi gives a specific example of bad advice, namely a conflict of interest. But any time advice is not truly impartial he violates this prohibition.
It follows that the policy you describe is a perfectly ethical one. But one pitfall must be avoided: salespeople must never give the impression that they are indeed acting as impartial advisers, rather than as interested advocates. Some salespeople adopt subtle ways of trying to convince the customer they are interested only in the customer's best interest. Using words like "I recommend" or "trust me" are danger signs. A salesperson is allowed to make pertinent and verifiable comparisons between his service and a competing one (more horsepower, longer warranty, etc.), but vague declarations of the superiority of your product or of the inferiority of the competitor, belong in the realm of judgment and are appropriate only for an adviser. Being friendly is certainly in order, but crass attempts at ingratiating yourself with the customer, emphasizing that you went to the same college, belonged to the same fraternity, attend the same house of worship, etc. are often meant to hint that you are "on the customer's side." This would obligate you to act in an impartial way a virtual impossibility for a salesperson.
Of course the worst infractions come when the "adviser" masquerade is not even so subtle. A few years ago there was a scandalous situation where some banks in Israel had a person whose official title was "investment adviser," but in fact the job was to try and promote the bank's own products. (This practice has now been outlawed and abandoned.)
So as long as your store has some product which meets the customer's needs, your salespeople are justified in explaining how your merchandise can help the customer. You have no obligation to point out that you are not offering the best deal. You just must be careful not to give the impression that you are being impartial and advising, for example by telling the customer that you are giving him "the best deal."
If your store is unable to provide anything to help a customer, it is my opinion that it is both good ethics and good business to steer him to another store, even a competing one, which can help him.
SOURCES: (1) Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 228
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes inspiring articles. Sign up for our daily update. It's free. Just click here.
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.
THE JEWISH ETHICIST, NOW IN BOOK FORM
You've enjoyed his columns on JWR for years. Now the Jewish Ethicist has culled his most intriguing and controversial offerings in book form.
Sales help fund JWR.
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