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    Consumer protection – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. What does Judaism say about consumer protection?

    consumer protectionA. The general principle of Jewish ethics is both positive – “Love your fellow as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) – and negative – “Do not wrong one another” (Lev. 25:13-17). One of the major areas to which these principles apply is that of consumer protection, though the term itself is relatively recent.

    Already in the Torah we are warned to have correct weights and measures (Lev. 19:35, Deut. 25:15) and in expounding these verses the rabbis warn that anyone who transgresses these laws has committed a very severe sin. This applies to all types of commodity but especially to the staples like corn, wine and oil.

    The rabbis go into great detail about how to weigh or measure the goods (e.g. BM 6:6, BB 89b) and how to check for merchants who cut corners. The community appointed inspectors to keep an eye on business practices and, if necessary, to impose harsh sanctions. (Shulchan Aruch Ch.M 231).

    The concept of “caveat emptor” (“let the buyer beware”) was hardly known in Talmudic teaching; more important was the rule that the seller had to beware and not to take advantage of his customers (Maimonides, Laws of Selling 18; Shulchan Aruch Ch.M 228).

    Sellers were not permitted to mislead a purchaser by exaggerating the quality of the goods or brushing aside any known defects. Consumers are covered by the laws in Lev. 19 against harming even the (metaphorically) blind or deaf.

    Not only were the community courts charged with administering consumer protection measures, but anyone who transgressed the rules was answerable to Heaven (BM 4:1).

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