Weights and Measures

From writings of Harav Chaim Kohn shlita
Simonim:
Year:
Date:
Sectionnum:
N/A
5779
20.02.2019
#448

Weights and Measures #1

Q:  What are the parameters of the requirement for proper weights and measures? What are the associated mitzvos and prohibitions?

A: The Torah demands proper weights and measures in sefer Vayikra (19:35-36) and again in sefer Devarim (25:13-16). In both places it associates with this requirement a prohibition against using deceitful measures and also a positive command to use proper ones. This requirement covers all aspects of measuring: length, weight and volume; dry measures and liquid measures. There is a blessing of lengthy days on the Land for one who observes it.

In addition, one who uses defective measures violates the prohibition against theft (Tur, C.M. #231).

The Gemara (B.B. 92b) further derives that it is prohibited to make or maintain a deficient measure, as it says: “You should not have in your pocket a stone and a stone,” even if not used. There is also a communal obligation to oversee correct measures (C.M. 231:2-3).

B’ezras Hashem, we will discuss details of these laws in the coming articles.

footnotes:
N/A
From writings of Harav Chaim Kohn shlita
Simonim:
Year:
Date:
Sectionnum:
N/A
5779
27.02.2019
#449

Household Measures and Toys

Q:  Can I keep inaccurate weights and measures for household use or as toys for children to play with?

A: We learned last week that it is prohibited to maintain inaccurate weights and measures. According to many authorities, the Biblical prohibition applies only when they are maintained with deceitful commercial intent, but the Sages prohibit it even when they are not used for measuring, but for another purpose, lest someone inadvertently use them commercially (Minchas Chinuch 602:2).

Nonetheless, if commercial practice prohibits using measures not labeled as certified, it is permitted to maintain uncertified inaccurate measures, since they cannot be used to measure commercially (C.M. 231:3).

Even where the commercial practice does not demand certification labels, some allow the person himself to mark the inaccurate measures as such, so that there is no concern that he will use them commercially. Furthermore, they limit the prohibition to measures that could occasionally be used commercially, but one is not prohibited to maintain household measures that are approximate and never used commercially (Kesef Hakodashim 231:3; Minchas Shlomo 2:100(4)

footnotes:
N/A
From writings of Harav Chaim Kohn shlita
Simonim:
Year:
Date:
Sectionnum:
N/A
5779
6.03.2019
#450

Maintaining Accuracy

Q: What is the store owner’s responsibility to maintain accurate measures?

A: Weights, measures and scales must be kept accurate. Weights should not be made of materials that can rust and wear away. Nonetheless, Aruch Hashulchan writes that the common practice nowadays is to make them of metal (C.M. and Aruch Hashulchan 231:10).

Weights and scales need to be kept clean of residue that can alter the reading, and adjusted as needed with legal-for-trade calibration, according to the nature and frequency of usage. Similarly, they should be protected from elements that impair accuracy, such as electrical shock and moisture (C.M. 231:7,11).

Beis din is required to appoint inspectors to check the accuracy of measures and scales, and to fine those who have inaccurate ones. Nowadays, the government supervises this. Its rules are binding on account of dina d’malchusa, since these rules are necessary for proper functioning of society. If the law prohibits using uncertified measures, it is prohibited also halachically (C.M. 231:2; Rema 369:11; Aruch Hashulchan 231:4).

footnotes:
N/A
From writings of Harav Chaim Kohn shlita
Simonim:
Year:
Date:
Sectionnum:
N/A
5779
14.03.2019
#451

Application of the Halachah to Non-Jews

Q:  Does the prohibition against using inaccurate measures apply also to non-Jews?

A: This prohibition applies also when measuring to non-Jews. While onaah (unfair pricing) does not apply to gentiles, because there the customer is aware of the price that he is being charged, in this case the non-Jew relies on the store owner to measure, so that cheating him is considered theft (C.M. and Sma 231:1).

Similarly, a non-Jew is obligated to use accurate measures, since measuring inaccurately is included in the prohibition against gezel — theft, which is one of the sheva mitzvos bnei Noach (Minchas Chinuch 258:3).

Chazal emphasize that it is almost impossible to properly make restitution for theft through inaccurate measures, since it involves stealing from the public, and the store owner cannot know from whom he stole and how much.

Furthermore, Sefer Hachinuch (#258) writes that one violates this prohibition even with a value less than a perutah, unlike in other monetary matters. Minchas Chinuch disagrees, but concedes that it is still not allowed, like any other chatzi shiur (partial amount) (Aruch Hashulchan 231:19; Pischei Choshen, Geneivah 14:1-3).

footnotes:
N/A
From writings of Harav Chaim Kohn shlita
Simonim:
Year:
Date:
Sectionnum:
N/A
5779
20.03.2019
#452

Mechilah (Forgoing) and Calibration Tolerances

Q:  Does it suffice that measures are within calibration tolerances established by the government, even if not totally accurate?

A: Tosefta (B.B. 5:4) teaches that one should not say when measuring, “Forgo me this small amount,” since the accuracy of measures is not dependent on people — Hashem’s Name is on them.

Some explain that it is prohibited to measure inaccurately even if the customer forgoes, since this could lead to cheating others who might think that local commercial practice is to measure with an incomplete measure (Rashbam, B.B. 89a; Sma 231:14).

Some add that although the Torah demands “full and just” measures, the accuracy is determined by the consent of the community, varying with time and place (Maharam Shick C.M. #30).

Based on this, if the commercial practice allows variances within established calibration tolerances, mechilah is allowed. Similarly, on Yom Tov — when the Sages prohibited measuring accurately — it is permissible to measure roughly, since it is known that on Yom Tov the measuring is not accurate (C.M. 231:8; Mishnah Berurah 323:6).

footnotes:
N/A
Rabbi Chaim Kohn
Simonim:
Year:
Date:
Sectionnum:
N/A
5779
27.03.2019
#453

Weighing Extra (Hachraah)

Q: I heard that the seller should add a little “bonus” when weighing (hachraah). Could you please explain?

A: The Gemara (B.B. 88b) teaches that, when weighing, the seller should add of his own and give the customer extra. Therefore, he should tilt the scale slightly to the customer’s advantage. Alternatively, after level weighing, he should add a little to the customer’s purchase (C.M. 231:14).

Maharam Shick (C.M. #30) discusses whether the purpose of hachraah is to give the customer a “bonus,” or to be extra careful not to cheat him, in case there is some inaccuracy in the scale or in eyeballing level measure.

This mitzvah does not apply when selling to a non-Jew. We may not cheat him, but are not required to give him extra. Similarly, a non-Jew is not required to give extra when selling (Minchas Chinuch 259:1).

Halachah specifies the degree of tilt. There is a dispute whether these details are from the Torah or the Sages (Pischei Choshen, Geneivah 14:9[21]).

Nonetheless, many justify the practice not to add extra nowadays. Be”H, we will discuss this aspect next week.

footnotes:
N/A
From writings of Harav Chaim Kohn shlita
Simonim:
Year:
Date:
Sectionnum:
N/A
5779
4.04.2019
#454

Electronic Scales

Q: Is there a need for adding a little “bonus” (hachraah) when weighing with an electronic scale?

A: We mentioned last week that the seller should tilt the scale slightly to the customer’s benefit (hachraah) or add a little sechorah.

Some justify the practice nowadays not to add. They maintain that where the practice is not to add, everyone is mochel and buys with this understanding, so that hachraah is not required, since the main purpose of hachraah is to avoid cheating the buyer. Nonetheless, they conclude that a G-d-fearing person should add something (Maharam Shick, C.M. #30).

Some point out that electronic scales automatically calculate the price based on the weight and don’t allow adding to the scale, negating hachraah. They suggest that the seller can set the empty scale to a slight minus or lower the price slightly, so that hachraah is factored in. Furthermore, according to the aforementioned Maharim Shick, hachraah is not required when this is the common practice (Pischei Choshen, Geneivah 14:[22]).

footnotes:
N/A
From writings of Harav Chaim Kohn shlita
Simonim:
Year:
Date:
Sectionnum:
N/A
5779
10.04.2019
#455

Mark-Up and Profit Limits

Q: In certain industries, the mark-up can reach 300 percent. Is there any profit limit in Halachah?

A: Chazal instituted a 1/6 profit margin for basic food items such as wine, oil and flour, bread and meat. This means a 20-percent mark-up, 1/6 profit from the final price. The base cost for calculating the 1/6 profit margin includes the seller’s expenses and consideration for his time as a simple worker (C.M. 231:20; Aruch Hashulchan 231:20; Shulchan Aruch Harav, Hil. Middos #17).

Nonetheless, in places where beis din does not have authority to control the market, and others sell at a higher profit margin, whether non-Jews or Jews who flout the halachic obligation, the individual Jewish seller is not required to limit his profit margin. Furthermore, if the market value rose significantly, one is allowed to sell at the current market price (Sma 231:38; Pischei Choshen, Geneivah 14:11).

Some write that the mark-up for other food items such as spices, is limited to 100 percent. (Sma 231:36).

footnotes:
N/A
From writings of Harav Chaim Kohn shlita
Simonim:
Year:
Date:
Sectionnum:
N/A
5779
17.04.2019
#456

Pesach

Q: Am I allowed to measure the Kiddush cup or weigh the matzah and maror on Seder night?

A: Chazal prohibit measuring accurately or weighing on Shabbos and Yom Tov, even for household use, since this is a manner of commercial practice (O.C. 323:1; 500:2; 506:1).

Nonetheless, they permit measuring for the purpose of a mitzvah. For example, one is allowed to measure a mikveh, or to take measurements of a sick person (O.C. 306:7).

Thus, it is permissible to measure the size of the Kiddush cup or to weigh the shiurim of matzah and maror on Seder night, especially with a household scale (Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 29:40; Halichos Shlomo, Pesach 9:7).

However, one should preferably not wait until Yom Tov but measure beforehand, or else approximate. Furthermore, even if it is necessary to weigh on Yom Tov, one should preferably avoid using weights, instead weighing against a utensil with a known weight (Kaf Hachaim 306:63; Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 29:[103]).

Of course, one may not use an electronic scale for weighing on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

footnotes:
N/A
From writings of Harav Chaim Kohn shlita
Simonim:
Year:
Date:
Sectionnum:
N/A
5779
2.05.2019
#457

Hoarding

Q: In certain industries, the mark-up can reach 300 percent. Is there any profit limit in halachah?

A: It is prohibited to acquire and hoard large quantities of basic produce in Eretz Yisrael or in a place that is predominantly Jewish, since this significantly reduces the supply and inflates the price. However, a person is allowed to withhold and hoard what he grows and sell it at high market time. In a time of famine, a person may not hoard more than his household needs for a year, even of his own produce (C.M. 231:24-25; Pischei Choshen, Geneivah 14:13).

Similarly, beis din can punish and fine those who inflate prices beyond the normal market range, such as a cartel (C.M. 231:21).

A person who hoards or inflates prices in a prohibited manner is tantamount to one who lends with interest, since he violates “vechai achicha imach” (Sma 231:43).

If fish sellers raise their prices significantly, beis din can decree that the community not buy fish for Shabbos for a number of weeks until the price returns to normal (Mishnah Berurah 242:2).

footnotes:
N/A
From writings of Harav Chaim Kohn shlita
Simonim:
Year:
Date:
Sectionnum:
N/A
5779
8.05.2019
#458

Undercutting the Market

Q: A new superstore opened in our neighborhood, selling well below the prices of all other stores in the area. Is undercutting the market viewed positively in halachah?

A: In general, one who sells below the market rate is viewed positively, since this will lead other sellers to lower prices, and reduce the market rate for consumers (C.M. 228:18).

However, some authorities limit this to foodstuffs, which are essential for consumers, whereas for other commodities they maintain that it ruins the market and causes losses to owners of smaller store (Erech Shai 156:5; Aruch Hashulchan 228:14). Others, though, certainly do not differentiate if the other sellers can compete with these lower prices (Chochmas Shlomo 228:18; Pischei Choshen, Geneivah 14:14).

Nonetheless, many authorities prohibit predatory pricing, when the goal is to eliminate competition by selling at a price that others cannot compete with and that cannot be economically justified, sometimes even at a loss. This causes great loss to other store owners, and also raises concern that after eliminating competition, prices will be raised again (Hilchos Mishpat 228:18).

footnotes:
N/A