59 - Misleading Others Part 2

The issur of g'naivas da'as applies to monetary matters, such as deceiving someone in a business exchange by concealing a defect in the item being sold.

We are stretching in ahavas yisrael together to create z’chuyos for K’lal Yisrael in these urgent times.


Last week’s stretch of the week was:  Give over all important factors about a monetary issue to those involved.

Please allow ONE person to share her experience with this exercise for ONE minute.

Taking A Deeper Look - Lesson #59


PART 2 - Monetary Issues


The issur of g’naivas da’as applies to monetary matters, such as deceiving someone in a business exchange by concealing a defect in the item being sold.  This is true even in a case where the final price is not more than the accepted price for a defective item.  Other examples of g’naivas da’as related to monetary fraud include selling, even to a non-Jew, non-kosher meat with the implication that it is kosher and splitting up the two trips of a round-trip ticket between two people, without the consent of the company that issues it.  Some g’naivas da’as cases include gezel, stealing, as well.

Marketing tactics are geared toward touting the virtues of a product and downplaying the disadvantages, in a manner that may at times border closely on deceiving the buyer.  Long before consumerism was a household word, halacha gave us guidelines on avoiding misleading advertising and sales.  We are not permitted to dress up merchandise so as to give the wrong impression of its quality or condition.  We are not allowed to conceal any defect that most people would care about.

A storekeeper may give out treats to children to encourage them to frequent the store, and may lower his prices to attract customers.  He may not advertise that his prices are lower than other stores’ when they are not.  Nor may he claim that items are on sale when in fact he raised the ticket prices and then “reduced” them to the original cost.  As to claiming that “for you I will give such and such a price”, when he actually offers the same or lower price to any customer, this is a questionable practice.  The halacha may depend on how prevalent these practices are and how seriously consumers take them.

While we are not allowed to pawn off old items as new, we are allowed to paint new items and enhance old ones, even though this will raise their value, because it is accepted practice to pay extra for beauty.  There is no deceitful act or concealing of a defect, so we are allowed to paint a car or a house that is for sale.

A greengrocer may not mix lower-quality with higher quality produce in order to sell them all as top quality.  If it is known that there is a variety of qualities of produce, and it is up to the customer to pick out the better ones, the proprietor can mix them together, as long as he does not represent them all as being high quality.

In short, a person engaged in business should make sure that his word can be relied on and that he does not misrepresent his merchandise in even the smallest degree.

(Excerpts from The Code of Jewish Conduct by Rabbi Yitzchok Silver)

Story(based on a true story)

After ten years, we were finally making aliya-it felt like a celebration.  We planned and did our pilot trip, and along the way, everything actually became manageable.   One of the hardest parts became selling our house.  It was a buyer’s market, and our wonderful home was well-used, having developed quirks over the years that we had learned to live with.

As we worked with the realtor, we listed all of the important things:  bathrooms, bedrooms, eat-in-kitchen.  Our kitchen table could only seat four because there was only space for it if it was against the wall, but the realtor reassured us that if you can sit and eat, you can list it as an eat-in.  And if a room has a closet and a door, it can be a bedroom-if not, it’s a den.   

Our central air conditioning system came and went.  It was ancient, and had to be fixed regularly.  We had thought about replacing it, but it wasn’t worth it since we were leaving.  After much consideration, we decided to just price the house as if it didn’t have central air.  But the question was, how do we list it?  Do we write “central air” if it would go out at least three times a summer, always at the worst times when you can’t get a repairman in?  The realtor said we could-it was there, and not non-functional.

We weren’t so sure.  We thought about saying it had a central-air system, and if someone asked how old it was, we would tell them, and only if they asked how well it worked would we go into the whole situation.  It felt strange, though.  If we were buying a house in an area that had hot summers like our town did, that information would be really important.  Even though the buyers would be getting a price that assumed there was no AC system, they wouldn’t realize that they had to budget for an overhaul pretty soon. 

But we also knew that our house would be really hard to sell.  A similar house down the block from us had been on the market for five months already, and they had an extra bedroom.  Plus, there were a few other issues with our house that we were also trying to decide what to say about.  The radiator in one of the bedrooms leaked a little, and every few years we had to plaster and repaint a certain spot of the living room ceiling.  Did we have to tell about that?  We had no idea.

In the end, we spoke to our rav, and he guided us.  He explained that we didn’t need to reveal every tiny defect, but we needed to be clear about the facts regarding anything the average buyer would want to know.  We could, however, explain true facts by coupling them with other true facts that made things look good for us.  So we decided to tell potential buyers that the AC system was on the older side and might need to be replaced and that we had priced the house accordingly, but that since the ducts and things were all there already, much of the work had been done and the buyer would be in better shape than with a house where he would have to start from scratch.  We would then explain about a particular virtue of our house.

In the end, it sold, though it was later than when we had wanted and for less.  But it was HaShem’s plan for the new owners to get our house, and this was the way it happened for them.  We ourselves had only been able to afford that house ten years earlier because it was priced to reflect a shortcoming we were willing to pay to fix.  And as former buyers, we remembered the fear of not getting what you were expecting.  We were happy with the way things went, and had piece of mind as we moved on to our next stage.

Discussion Question Options:

In what situations might we be tempted to conceal a defect in something?  When might we rationalize that it is allowed?

How might community standards and practices affect our decisions in these cases?

In what cases might it be allowed to conceal problems, and how can we teach ourselves to be honest in assessing when it is really okay and when we want it to be okay?

Stretch of the Week:

Give over all important factors about a monetary issue to those involved.


Stretch Of The Week