By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
Go to Amazon and you will see that you can check off buying only from women own businesses or minority owned businesses. Keeping Shabbos is a declaration to the world that we believe that Hashem created the world and that those who do good are rewarded and those who opt for evil are punished. And, believe it or not, there are halachos concerning our obligation to do our business with Shomrei Shabbos.
Buying From Shomrei Shabbos brethren demonstrates a concern for their welfare. The act of directing our purchases can also make a paradigm shift in our own psyche. It can affect who we are, making us into better people. When witnessing the impact that our own consumer choices can make, it is clear that we have to re-analayze our purchasing habits and bring them closer to home.
RAV YISROEL BELSKY’ ZATZAL’S SON’S WEDDING
Reb Tsemach Glenn relates that when one of his son’s got married, every single possible vendor and worker, m’choitev aitzecha ad sho’ev maimecha, was shomer shabbos. This is something that not everyone can do.
There is a Rashi (Vayikra 25:14) that sheds much light on this fascinating concept. He cites a Sifra (Parashas Behar, 3), one of the oldest commentaries on Sefer Vayikra: From where do we know that when one makes a purchase, he should purchase only from his fellow? The verse. Therefore, tells us “or when you purchase, from the hand of your fellow.”
While this Rashi tells us the existence of this mitzvah, it does not provide the why behind it. What might be the reasons for this mitzvah? A cursory examination will reveal three fundamental issues: (1) It is an expression of the mitzvah of Ve’ahavta lerei‘acha kamocha, loving thy neighbor as thyself; (2) It supports our own economy; and (3) it creates a stronger bond among our own citizenry.
NOT TO BE XENOPHOBIC TO OTHERS
This is not to say that we should entertain an antipathy or a xenophobic attitude toward foreigners. Our sages (Pesikta Sh’mos 20:23) tell us that all people were created in the image of Hashem and thus must be treated with respect and dignity. Indeed, we find in the Midrash Rabbah (Bamidbar 8:4) that Hashem tells Yehoshua concerning the Givonim that “if you distance those that are far, you will end up distancing those that are close.” Clearly we must be concerned about everyone. Notwithstanding these concepts, however, there is clearly an obligation to look out for one’s own first.
This mitzvah is cited by numerous halachic authorities: the Sefer HaChinuch (end of mitzvah #337), the Chofetz Chaim in Ahavas Chesed (5:7), the Rama in his Responsa (#10), and the Chasam Sopher (C.M. V #79), among many other authorities (Tashbatz Vol. III #151; Maharam Shick C.M. #31; Minchas Yitzchok III #129).
We will attempt here to discuss some of the issues that pertain to this important concept.
Logistical difficulties: What happens if, from a logistical perspective, we encounter difficulties? The mitzvah applies even if it is more difficult to make the purchase at an establishment owned by one’s fellow than at one owned by other vendors (Maharam Shick, C.M. #31). Thus, distance, a lack of adequate parking, and just general inconvenience are not factors that exempt one from the mitzvah.
Is price a factor? Okay, but what about price? Most authorities (Rama, Tashbatz, Chofetz Chaim) rule that the obligation to purchase from a fellow citizen exists even if his price for the item is higher than that of the other vendor1. There is a distinction, however, when there is a significant difference in the price.
When the price of the other vendors is significantly less, some authorities rule that there is no obligation to purchase from a fellow citizen2. Other authorities rule that even in such a case one must still purchase from his fellow citizen (Minchas Yitzchok’s reading of the Rama). Certainly if the fellow citizen is having difficulty making ends meet, all would agree that one must purchase from him even if there is a significant difference in price (Ahavas Chesed 6:10).
The question arises as to what exactly constitutes a “significant difference” in price. Dayan Weiss (129:5) explores the possibility that “significant” may be equivalent to the concept of “hefsed merubah”—“a large loss” found in the poskim regarding issur v’heter (certain kashrus issues). If so, there would be a distinction between someone who is wealthy and someone who is poor.
Another possible definition of “significant difference” is if the price is one-sixth more than the other vendor’s price (Responsa Nachalas Shiva #55, cited by Dayan Weiss 129:5). Finally, a third possibility is that the term varies from person to person.
Exclusion of price gouging: It should be noted that price gouging by the citizen-owned store is also forbidden, and if the citizen storeowner engages in this type of activity, shoppers may purchase at other vendors (Dayan Weiss 129:7). If the citizen storeowner is not engaging in price gouging, but merely cannot receive the price discounting from wholesalers that other vendors (such as foreign chain stores) can receive, then this does not constitute price gouging.
Occasional purchases: Some authorities (Responsa of Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, in T’shuvos VeHanhagos #805) have written that occasionally one may make purchases at other vendors, as long as one does not do so on a regular basis. This is further qualified to only include minor purchases. Major purchases must still be made at an establishment owned by one’s fellow citizen.
End consumers. Some authorities (Responsa Maharam Shick C.M. #31) have written that this obligation only applies to the end consumer. However, a person who has a business, where his livelihood is to resell items at a profit, may purchase from other vendors if their price is cheaper. It is meritorious, however, to purchase from his fellow citizens even in such a case.
Difference in quality of item: Others have written that if there is a difference in quality between items purchased from different vendors, then the concept does not apply, and one may purchase from other vendors (Nesiv Yosher 1:4, by Rabbi Yehudah Itach).
In conclusion, we can say that this is an area which has unfortunately been rather neglected. Often we may erroneously place our values of thriftiness and economic prudence above some of our other values. But this should not be. We must look toward our fellow citizens as if they are our brothers. If your own blood brother was an electrician, and you were in need of such a contractor, wouldn’t your father want you to conduct business with him instead of a stranger? In the merit of our observing this mitzvah may our nation be safe, strong, and dwell in peace.
- The Ramah and Tashbatz cite some proofs from the Talmud to prove their point. In Bava Metziah 71a we see that one is obliged to provide his fellow with an interest-free loan before he may loan his money to a stranger for interest. Similarly, we find in Pesachim 22a and in the first chapter of Tractate Avodah Zarah that one is obligated to give neveilah meat to a ger toshav rather than selling it to a stranger.
- The Chofetz Chaim rules this way in Ahavas Chesed 5:7 and this is the way that Dayan Weiss in Minchas Yitzchok reads the Tashbatz. It is interesting to note that the Chofetz Chaim seems to read the Rama in this manner, as well; however, the words of the Rama seem to clearly indicate otherwise. Dayan Weiss’s reading of the Rama (Minchas Yitzchok Vol. III 129:3) is that even if the price of the other vendors is significantly less than his fellow citizen’s price, he must still purchase at his fellow citizen’s establishment. It is possible that the Chofetz Chaim was referring to the view of the Tashbatz, who indicates that there is no obligation if there is a significant difference in price.