Sunday, January 14, 2007


Real Judeo-Christian Morality

According to the "Religious Right" we are a "Judeo-Christian" country and our laws should reflect that. Now, whether there can even be such a thing as "Christian law" is a matter of debate, but there certainly is "Jewish law". And, in large part our country's laws do correspond with Jewish law: while we allow people to eat pork (which is not forbidden to non-Jews according to Jewish law) and even allow blood-sausages (which are forbidden to all according to some interpretations of Jewish law), e.g. our uniform commercial code is remarkably similar to Talmudic discourse on the subject. But does this mean that our laws are Jewish (or ought to be Jewish) in origin (btw, what about the Muslim origins of our laws? Polish nobles were active in shaping our notions of secular liberty, which nobility had a strong Islamic, through the Lipka Tartars, component: pace Prager, Goode, et al., our system is not so much Judeo-Christian as Judeo-Islamic) or do the similarities merely reflect a lack of diverse possibilities in legal systems capable of regulating commercial transactions in a reasonable manner? As a matter of ethnic pride, I'd like to think the former, but in reality it's probably the latter.

Interestingly, in a few key areas our laws do not reflect Biblical principles. For example, our anti-usury laws are too weak (under Biblical law, interest is not allowed, but Talmudically loans are technically investments whose profits are regulated), our bankruptcy laws are not friendly enough and we don't have strong legal protections against price fraud. So how come the same people who are so up in arms about gay marriage (which may be ok in terms of Biblical law after all) and abortion (which the Bible does not prohibit) are not up in arms about our lack of anti-price fraud laws? Judaic law (and hence, I would presume, the Judeo-Christian tradition whose morality the religious right claims our nation ought to follow) considers that any sale of items at prices 16.7% above or below market value can be made void if either the seller or buyer complains within 24 hours. I imagine, in fact, given their association with the "free market" loving Republican Party, those same people who are so up in arms about abortion and "the gay agenda" would oppose such regulations concerning price fraud.

So what gives? The Religious Right advances an agenda contrary to Biblical principles, but claims they are fighting for Judeo-Christian morality? I wonder what the feller they call "the Son of God" would say about that? I reckon he'd have some choice words about these kinds of people ...

And considering this week's Prophetic reading, Isaiah (an appropriate Prophet from which to read corresponding to the Exodus, considering the Prophetic tradition of emphasizing the Exodus, which reflected the geopolitical situation of the time in Judea and the Prophetic arguments against aligning with Egypt) would have some choice words, I'd reckon as well ...

Does it actually say 16.7% in the Bible? And does that mean that according to Jewish Law you are not allowed to take a 20 percent postage mark-up when you sell something on eBay? Does that mean that if I mail something with a regular stamdp to a buyer I can only charge 7 cents, but not 8 cents?
It's not in the Bible. It's in Talmud. Bava Metziah. Chapter 50 or thereabouts.

The law is that if you sell something to the buyer and the price is more than 1/6th the market price, the buyer has 24 hours to complain about it, and if s/he does, the sale is void. Similarly, if someone offers to buy something off of you and you sell it to them, and find out and complain within 24 hours that (and here there is some disagreement amongst the Rabbis) the market price was either greater by 1/6th (according to some) or the price you got was less than 5/6th the market price, the sale is void.

I think (although I'd take all of this discussion from here on out with a grain of salt, 'cause I'm no Talmid Chachem) the price would be associated with the transaction as a whole, and not a part of it, so even if you make a cent profit on the stamp, it still wouldn't render the transaction voidable, 'cause the total mark-up would be less than 16.7%. Also, if it's standard practice on e-bay to charge 8 cents for postage which costs you 7 cents, then the market price would be 8 cents rather than 7 cents, so you are really charging market price, anyway, by charging 8 cents.

Of course, making a profit on shipping and handling always seemed an odd, although common, procedure to me. Given how detailed the Talmud is, I wouldn't be surprised if the Talmud has regulations to the effect of "if you are selling X, you have to make your profit on X, not only selling associated service Y": e.g. I wouldn't be too surprised if there is something in Talmud that would essentially forbid rental car companies from making a net profit (or at least limitting the profit made) off of selling LDWs or insurance.

Of course, the argument from the "Judeo-Christian" crowd would be we accept the "Boble" but not that crazy Talmud stuff. But then they should drop the "Judeo" part, eh? Also, to say you accept the Biblical law but completely ignore Talmud would be like saying "I accept American law" but to completely ignore 200+ years of jurisprudence. Which, of course, that large part of the demi-theocratic crowd which overlaps the "strict constructionist" crowd, generally does ... so they are at least coherent in their silliness! ;)
Well heres another one.. A lot of the ultra orthodox have their eBay sales auctions end on Friday so the sellers don't indirectly make any money over Shabbat.

According to Rabbi Nate however, what is a way a person increases a huge net worth? By an increase in real estate value. So a chusid homeowner in Boro Park or Lakewood would theortetically become richer if a non-Jew bought a comparable house in his town for a large amount of money which would then drive up the price of his own home. (Real estate closings are usually not done on Shabbat unless its late on a Friday afternoon.. but what happens if its on a Yom Tov? )

Hmmm.. what do you say to that one?
PS.. I left a couple of words out... the point is what happens if a comparable home is sold on Shabbat or Yom Tov?
I dunno ... our synagogue's Talmud study group hasn't gotten to that part of the Talmud yet. I do know that real estate transactions are exempt from the particular price fraud ordinances of which I was speaking before ... the law only applies to things, e.g., you could bring to a market and for which hence there is a well defined market price: for things for which every item is different such that it becomes a matter of an actual appraisal to determine the price, rather than the market saying "cows are worth $5000 a head today", the particular laws of price fraud do not apply (although maybe others do?).
It's not in the Bible. It's in Talmud. Bava Metziah. Chapter 50 or thereabouts.

Oy vey. I'm tze-drayt regarding the cite here (yes, rhyme intended). It's Chapter 4, part 50, or however it's called.
Forget the marking up.. this was more about making money or Shabbat or a Yom Tov... (I changed the subject, didnt I?) I mean if you cant sell on eBay on Shabbat... how do you account for increasing your financial portfolio when a neighboring home is sold on a Shabbat.. technically they are making money on Shabbat just like Shabbat ebay bidders. Gevalt, where do I come up with this mashugas?
Gevalt, where do I come up with this mashugas? - Nate

If up with this Meshugas you can keep coming, I Rabbi you should have been, nu?

Anyway, my guess about such things is that if it would have the same effect on your finances if the sale happened on Sunday rather than Saturday, you are not necessarily benefitting per se from a lack of Shabbos observance by someone, so it would be ok. Of course, you could make the same argument about the e-bay account being open on Sat. ... how would it be different if the bid occured on Sun. rather than Sat.?
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