Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Parshat Behar, 2nd Portion (Leviticus 25:14-25:18), May 5, 2014

There are a number of issues to this reading for me.

“And when you make a sale to your fellow Jew or make a purchase from the hand of your fellow Jew, you shall not wrong one another.” —Leviticus 25:14

The Reform Torah is more generous, saying “When you sell property to your neighbor, or buy any from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another.” —Leviticus 25:14

There are two views of capitalism. In one, it is a win-win situation; and in the other, in order for one to win, the other needs to lose. I prefer the former scenario. In terms of wronging one another, we don't want to misrepresent the product. If we know that people have been injured because of a problem with the item, we need to tell them. If the buyer knows that we are selling the item too cheaply, we should probably tell him. Or do we take the maxim, “let the buyer beware” be our guide?

These are not just ethical guidelines, but a means toward insuring continuing patronage. If you get a bad tank of gas from Costco you won't buy gas there. They might have earned a little more by diluting their gas with water, but in the long run, they will be broke.

Why does the Torah only talk here about transactions with fellow Jews. Is it ok to wrong someone who is not a fellow Jew? Would you, as a non-Jew, trust a Jew who was just told to treat other Jews right? I'm glad that the Reform Torah substitutes “neighbor” for “fellow Jew.”

“According to the number of years after the Jubilee, you shall purchase from your fellow Jew; according to the number of years of crops, he shall sell to you.”

We learn here that we should charge according to the number of years before the land will be returned to you. This seems to be particularly confusing if the land is sold a number of times in the 50 years before the Jubilee.

Hillel said that these rules should not be followed, declaring that a rabbi can trump G_d. Others say that these laws only cover private transactions, and therefore people should work through a public court so they are not bound.

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