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How do the Halochos of Ona’ah (cheating) apply in business?

 

Question:

How do the Halochos of Ona’ah (cheating) apply in business?

I remember coming across the halacha that one is not allowed to sell something for more than its value or buy for under its value, and if it’s more than 1/6, the transaction can be canceled.

How does this apply in practical terms?

A pizza shop or a shoe store obviously get their goods for cheaper than they’re selling them for. How do they make a profit without committing Ona’ah?

Most industries have “brokers” who work in the industry, who between them have a certain set of prices for the products they sell, and then a “broker” can purchase the product at the broker’s price, and sell them to the “street” for higher. That’s how alot of businesses function.

Also, at times, a “broker” might be able to buy something from the “street” for cheap and sell it to brokers for broker’s prices.

Now, there MIGHT be some “street” people who, once in a while might be able to get access to broker’s prices but that’s not common.

So what do I have to watch out for if I am in such a business in order not to commit Ona’ah?

Also, if the industry brokers have only a price RANGE. Not an exact fixed price but a range, does that absolve one from any issues of Ona’ah?

 

Answer:

The prohibition of אונאה (cheating) is a prohibition on the seller and buyer. Most movable objects are subject to it, but there are exceptions. If the price is off by more than a sixth, the one who was “cheated” can go back on the sale (or even the other party may, according to some opinions). If it’s exactly a sixth, it has to be returned. If it’s less than a sixth it doesn’t, (but there is a discussion if it’s allowed to be done Lechatchila).

The price of an item is based on the standard retail price in the place you are. If someone stipulates how much he’s making, he’s not subject to אונאה, and then he can include in price other expenses incurred.

There is an argument amongst Poskim if it applies to things that do not have a set price.

How to measure the standard price is also a discussion in Poskim. Some of the options: A. according to most sellers, B. according to the medium price, C. the seller can base himself on the highest possible price, and the buyer on the lowest.

Today when the market is totally different than what it used to be, based on the availability of goods, how easily it is to bring goods from one place to another, the huge fluctuations of prices, and many other factors, there is a discussion of how it would apply. The consensus is that it would only apply to items that either have a government-controlled price (which can happen by staple items), or if there is a monopoly that is controlling the price in that area, or for that matter any item, that is being sold for an astronomical sum more than usual, or for an extremely low price. Anything which is certainly not within the range of the reasonable price is an issue of אונאה.

Another point is that if the price is more than usual, based on where it is being sold – a fancy area or store – or the brand it is (even if the quality is equal to other brands), then that also wouldn’t be an issue.

 

Sources:

אונאה בכלל – חו”מ סימן רכז. פחות משתות – ספיקו של הרא”ש, מובא שם סעיף ו. בדבר שאין לו שער – ב”י שם סימן ר”ט, וד”מ שם סק”א וש”ך וב”ח שם, מחנה אפרים מכירה והונאה סי’ כד, בית יצחק או”ח סי’ כח, וראה גם ערוה”ש סי’ רכז סעיף ז, אבל ראה מה שכותב שם סעיף ב.

כשאין השער ידוע – לדעת רוה״פ גם כשאין השער ידוע יש דין אונאה (ראה נו״כ השו״ע חו״מ רסי׳ רט. ועיי״ש בערך שי. אבל ראה בערוה״ש סרכ״ז ס״ז). ובאמת מקום לחלק בין הנדונים, שבדבר שיש פערים גדולים מאד בשוק י״ל דלכו״ע אי״ב דין אונאה. וראה שו״ת בי״צ או״ח סק״ח. שו״ת שבה״ל ח״ה סרי״ח. להורות נתן ח״ח חו״מ סקכ״ה ואילך.

במחיר נמוך מאד, או גבוה מאד, שבודאי אינו בכלל השער, מסתברא מילתא שלכו״ע י״ב גדר אונאה.

איך לקבוע שער השוק – פתחי חושן גניבה והונאה פרק י הע’ א ד”ה ולאידך.

בנוגע לזמננו ובחנויות יוקרתיות – ראה שם בפת”ח, ובקובץ משפטי ארץ חלק ג (עפרה תש״ע) דין אונאה בזמן הזה מש״כ הגרז״נ להחמיר גם בזמננו אם טווח המחיר היא יותר משתות. ובעל מנחת אשר כותב להקל כבפנים. וראה גם בספר ממון כשר, פרק ג הונאה.

 

 

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