Friday, June 6, 2014

Fact-Checking the Torah -- Leviticus 25:17

Your assignment for this week was Leviticus 25:17, which I think wraps up financial problems that Jewish law had to deal with.
You shall not wrong your people and fear your Gd for I am the Lord your Gd.
The legal term for this kind of wrongdoing is onaah and it basically equates to the modern notion of fraud.  The Talmudic definition is:
Selling merchandise at one sixth more than the market price.
Paying one sixth less than the market price for merchandise.
Using as a coin worth one sixth less than its face value.
I think the scenario of the “market price” is this.  This comes from Proverbs 31:10-31, the praise of the valorous woman.  Remember that her activity freed her husband to sit in the gate.  Not because he was lazy.  What happened at the gates was that carts of produce came in from the fields, and the town elders could see how much there was and set prices accordingly.  Here in the town gates, the husband became known socially, legally, politically and economically, all of which could help out his family and eventually raise him to a high position.
Anyway once the produce was set out, the housewives or their servants could go out and buy the day’s needs for food or for storage.  When it was brought home, the wife or the man of the house could check whether the price seemed right and if not, she or he would go to the elders and complain about it.
At night, anybody who didn’t live in that town would set out for home so as to get to their own town before the gates closed for the night.  Once the seller left for home, the gates of the buyer’s town closed, and the buyer could no longer claim onaah.  Since this was at night, and a new day on the Jewish calendar begins at night, the day is over, and Talmud says one only has the day of purchase (before night) to claim onaah.
The person who didn’t examine purchases immediately therefore might have to live with the deal struck.  Modern law calls this “sleeping on his rights”, laches.
Of course since the elders and experts are sitting at the gates of the town, a buyer can go to them before making the purchase and get their opinion.  And of course since they are sitting out in public, they are available to witness fights, stop them, warn the batterer about the trouble he is preparing for himself, and eventually be in a position to try him for murder.
Now that I’ve defined the important terms in Jewish finance, let’s go on to a famous issue in Jewish history, pawning goods as collateral for loans.  For next time read Exodus 22:24-26, Leviticus 25:35, Deuteronomy 24:6 and Deuteronomy 24:11-13.
© Patricia Jo Heil, 2013-2018 All Rights Reserved

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