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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

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

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

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Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

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

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

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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

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

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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

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

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

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April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

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Jewish World Review Sept. 19, 2005 / 15 Elul, 5765

Vindictive Vendor

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir

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How can I punish an abusive competitor?

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: I have a competitor who is intentionally sabotaging my business relationships. How can I get back at him? For instance, he misled one of his clients regarding his background; can I let the client know?

A: It's certainly regrettable that your competitor is sabotaging your business. While Jewish law acknowledges the right of firms to compete fairly for customer business, this is meant to be done positively by improving prices and service, not negatively by actively interfering with competitors. (1)

However, I don't recommend "getting back at him." There are two reasons: one ethical, and one practical.

The ethical reason is that vindictiveness is one of the most dangerous qualities. The Torah warns us, "Don't take vengeance and don't bear a grudge" (Leviticus 19:18). The great Medieval commentary on the commandments, Sefer Hachinuch, writes: "This commandment brings great benefit to quiet feuds and to remove enmity from people." If you have a legitimate claim, you should refer it to adjudication, and if you don't, then it would be unfair for you to punish your competitor.

The practical reason is that based on my experience, sniping among competitors is highly damaging to business. This is the ultimate kind of negative competition, or "race to the bottom." In a prolonged price war both competitors may be weakened, but at least the consumer benefits. But in a smirch war, the reputations of both firms become tarnished and the discouraged consumer loses out, too.

For the same reason, disclosing your competitor's conflict of interest is a real problem. In general, we must be very careful of making damaging statements about others; this is learned from the Torah's admonishment, "Don't go about as a talebearer among your people" (Leviticus 19:16).

However, there is an exception: when the revelation is needed to save someone else from harm, it is permissible. The very same verse concludes: "Don't stand idly by the blood of your fellow" - don't evade responsibility, rather take steps to protect him, as you would want him to do for you. The Sefer Hachinuch explains that the mandate is "not to go and tell someone, 'Such a person said such and such about you,' unless his intention is to prevent damage or quiet a dispute."

So we see that this permission has its own caveat: there must be pure intentions. If your intention is solely to protect the client from harm, then your act is not one of slander but rather one of kindness; the negative message is an unfortunate but quite necessary by-product. But if your entire intention is to punish your competitor, we can hardly excuse it by calling it an "act of kindness" towards the client.

What do we do in this case? The Chafetz Chaim, the classic Jewish work on avoiding slander, tells us that when we have the obligation to reveal but we have vindictive motives, we should try to focus and refine our motives and then make the revelation to the potential victim. (2)

But this advice is not really germane to your situation. For one thing, some vague "misleading of background" doesn't sound to me like a clear and present danger to the client. But even more fundamentally, it's not really realistic to think that business competitors can bad-mouth each other without vindictive motivations. In fact, the Chafetz Chaim himself writes that we should never even ask one tradesman about another competing one, since the competitive urge is so great that this is virtually an incitement to slander. (3)

When a competitor is fighting dirty, you have a number of options. You are of course allowed to contact customers and emphasize the value of your services, and defend them against any unjust charges. Certainly you may avail yourself of any legitimate avenues for legal redress. Often it is helpful to contact the competitor and confront him with the immense potential for mutual damage of a sniping war among business rivals.

However, descending to his level and trying to snipe back is not an ethical response and in addition is almost certain to alienate the consumer.

SOURCES: (1) Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 60a. (2) Chafetz Chaim II 9:3, note 3. (3) Chafetz Chaim I 4:11 in footnote, see also I 10:11.

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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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