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Din & Daf: The Multi-Dimensional History of Ona’a

Din & Daf: Conceptual Analysis of Halakha Through Case Study with Dr. Elana Stein Hain

The Multi-Dimensional History of אונאה!

Dr. Elana Stein Hain – dinanddaf@hadran.org.il

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The Gemara describes ona’at mammon as overcharging (or underpaying) for portable items. This seems far afield from the description of ona’ah in the Torah (Vayikra 25). What does the discrepancy between the two tell us about the various dimensions of ona’at mammon?

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  • משנה בבא מציעא ד:ג

הָאוֹנָאָה, אַרְבָּעָה כֶסֶף מֵעֶשְׂרִים וְאַרְבָּעָה כֶסֶף לַסֶּלַע, שְׁתוּת לַמִּקָּח. עַד מָתַי מֻתָּר לְהַחֲזִיר. עַד כְּדֵי שֶׁיַּרְאֶה לְתַגָּר אוֹ לִקְרוֹבוֹ. הוֹרָה רַבִּי טַרְפוֹן בְּלוֹד, הָאוֹנָאָה שְׁמֹנָה כֶסֶף לַסֶּלַע, שְׁלִישׁ לַמִּקָּח, וְשָׂמְחוּ תַגָּרֵי לוֹד. אָמַר לָהֶם, כָּל הַיּוֹם מֻתָּר לְהַחֲזִיר. אָמְרוּ לוֹ, יַנִּיחַ לָנוּ רַבִּי טַרְפוֹן בִּמְקוֹמֵנוּ, וְחָזְרוּ לְדִבְרֵי חֲכָמִים:

 Fraud [overreaching] is an overcharge of four pieces of silver out of twenty-four pieces of silver to the sela—(one-sixth of the purchase price). For how long is it permitted to retract [in the case of fraud]? So long as it takes to show [the article] to a merchant or a relative.” R. Tarfon gave instructions in Lud: “Fraud is an overcharge of eight pieces of sil ver to a sela—”one-third of the purchase price.” So the merchants of Lud rejoiced. He said to them, “All day long it is permitted to retract.” They said to him, “Let R. Tarfon leave us where we were.” And they reverted to conduct themselves in accord with the ruling of sages.

 

  • ויקרא כה:יד-יז

וְכִֽי־תִמְכְּר֤וּ מִמְכָּר֙ לַעֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ א֥וֹ קָנֹ֖ה מִיַּ֣ד עֲמִיתֶ֑ךָ אַל־תּוֹנ֖וּ אִ֥ישׁ אֶת־אָחִֽיו׃

When you sell property to your neighbor, or buy any from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another.

 

בְּמִסְפַּ֤ר שָׁנִים֙ אַחַ֣ר הַיּוֹבֵ֔ל תִּקְנֶ֖ה מֵאֵ֣ת עֲמִיתֶ֑ךָ בְּמִסְפַּ֥ר שְׁנֵֽי־תְבוּאֹ֖ת יִמְכׇּר־לָֽךְ׃

In buying from your neighbor, you shall deduct only for the number of years since the jubilee; and in selling to you, that person shall charge you only for the remaining crop years:

 

לְפִ֣י ׀ רֹ֣ב הַשָּׁנִ֗ים תַּרְבֶּה֙ מִקְנָת֔וֹ וּלְפִי֙ מְעֹ֣ט הַשָּׁנִ֔ים תַּמְעִ֖יט מִקְנָת֑וֹ כִּ֚י מִסְפַּ֣ר תְּבוּאֹ֔ת ה֥וּא מֹכֵ֖ר לָֽךְ׃

the more such years, the higher the price you pay; the fewer such years, the lower the price; for what is being sold to you is a number of harvests.

 

וְלֹ֤א תוֹנוּ֙ אִ֣ישׁ אֶת־עֲמִית֔וֹ וְיָרֵ֖אתָ מֵֽאֱ-לֹהֶ֑יךָ כִּ֛י אֲנִ֥י ה’ אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶֽם׃

Do not wrong one another, but fear your God; for I ה’ am your God.

 

  • משנה בבא מציעא ד:ט

אֵלּוּ דְבָרִים שֶׁאֵין לָהֶם אוֹנָאָה. הָעֲבָדִים, וְהַשְּׁטָרוֹת, וְהַקַּרְקָעוֹת, וְהַהֶקְדֵּשׁוֹת. אֵין לָהֶן לֹא תַשְׁלוּמֵי כֶפֶל וְלֹא תַשְׁלוּמֵי אַרְבָּעָה וַחֲמִשָּׁה, שׁוֹמֵר חִנָּם אֵינוֹ נִשְׁבָּע, וְנוֹשֵׂא שָׂכָר אֵינוֹ מְשַׁלֵּם. רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן אוֹמֵר, קָדָשִׁים שֶׁהוּא חַיָּב בְּאַחֲרָיוּתָן, יֵשׁ לָהֶן אוֹנָאָה, וְשֶׁאֵינוֹ חַיָּב בְּאַחֲרָיוּתָן, אֵין לָהֶן אוֹנָאָה. רַבִּי יְהוּדָה אוֹמֵר, אַף הַמּוֹכֵר סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה, בְּהֵמָה וּמַרְגָּלִית, אֵין לָהֶם אוֹנָאָה. אָמְרוּ לוֹ, לֹא אָמְרוּ אֶלָּא אֶת אֵלּוּ:

These are matters which are not subject to a claim of fraud [on account of overcharge]: slaves, bills of indebtedness [which are discounted and sold], real estate, and that which has been consecrated… R. Judah says, “Also: He who sells a scroll of the Torah, a beast, or a pearl… “they are not subject to a claim of fraud by reason of overcharge.” They said to him, “They have specified only these.”

 

  • תוספתא בבא מציעא ג:כג

ר’ יהודה אומ’ ספר תורה, בהמה ומרגלית אין להן אונאה. ספר תורה, מפני שאין לו דמים, בהמה ומרגלית, מפני שרוצה לזווגן. אמרו לו והלא כל דבר רוצה לזווגו. ר’ יהודה בן בתירה או’ הסוס, והסיטום, והסייף, במלחמה אין להן אונאה.

  1. Judah says, “Also: He who sells a scroll of the Torah, a beast, or a pearl—they are not subject to a claim of fraud by reason of overcharge [m.[m. B. Mesi’a 4:9]—”A scroll of the Torah, because it is beyond price; “a beast or a pearl, because a person wants to buy them for a match with their counterpart [and therefore there is no limit to what he is going to be wiUing to pay].” They said to him, “But is it not so that every sort of object a man wants to match up with its pair?” R. Judah b. Petera says, “A horse, a battle-ax, and a good sword in time of war are not subject to a claim of fraud by reason of overcharge.”

 

  • רמב”ן ויקרא כה:יד

ואני חושב עוד סברא שודאי המאנה את חבירו לדעת עובר בלאו בין במטלטלים בין בקרקעות שבהן דיבר הכתוב אל תונו איש את אחיו במספר שנים אחר היובל שהוא מזהיר שיקנו וימכרו לפי השנים ולא יונו איש את אחיו אבל רבותינו חדשו באונאה תשלומים בשתות המקח וביטול מקח ביותר משתות ומזה בלבד מעטו הקרקעות לפי שהאונאה בהם אפילו ביתר משתות מחילה כמו שהיא מחילה במטלטלים בפחות משתות אע”פ שהוא אסור להונות כן לדעת אבל אין דרך בני אדם לבטל ממכרם מפני אונאה מועטת כזו ודרשו חכמים מפני שאמר הכתוב וכי תמכרו ממכר לעמיתך או קנה דבר הנקנה מיד ליד אל תונו איש את אחיו למדנו שיש באונאה דין מיוחד במטלטלים שאינו נוהג בקרקעות והוא חזרת הממון אבל אזהרת הלאו נוהגת בכולן ולכך אמר “וכי תמכרו ממכר” לשון רבים למוכר קרקעות ולמוכר מטלטלין “או קנה מיד עמיתך” היחיד מהם המוכר המטלטלין מיד ליד ואמר לכולן “אל תונו” וכיון שייחד והפריש המטלטלין ריבה בהן דין אונאה והיא בחזרת התשלומין 

 

  • BEN-ZION ROSENFELD and JOSEPH MENIRAV, FRAUD: FROM THE BIBLICAL BASIS TO GENERAL COMMERCIAL LAW IN ROMAN PALESTINE, Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic, and Roman Period , 2006, Vol. 37, No. 4 (2006), 606-7

  The difference in positions may be explained as arising from a difference in historical circumstances. The Biblical position arose within a tribal and conservative society, where personal real estate was the property of an individual, but considered as part of the possessions of the family or tribe. This meant that steps were taken to ensure that the land would remain in this framework, and would not be sold. Consequently, the sale of land was less widespread, and its value was likely to be more stable. The Bible also pins its price to jubilee, and the number of expected harvests of the field to be sold, on the understanding that the sale of land is not permanent; the land is to be returned to the original owners at the jubilee. This idea is the product of the tribal determination to preserve tribal possessions, as one of the means by which the tribal-agricultural society maintained internal stability. 

 

The sages, on the other hand, were active in an entirely different period in which tribalism did not feature. They lived within the structure of the Roman Empire, whose communications and commercial methods were far more advanced than those of previous societies24 In a world where commerce was relatively freer and more developed, the individual in Palestine was much less dependent on a restrictive tribal society. For this reason, the sale of land was far more widespread.

For this reason, it seems, the sages treated land as a unique item just like a pearl and a Torah scroll, having no fixed worth, and whose price varies in each specific case. The world of the sages was agricultural, and land was a central possession in the Jewish economy in Palestine in the Roman period, just as it was in the broader Roman society.2 Accordingly, sages assumed that someone about to sell his land would examine the transaction carefully, and would not be defrauded.

 

  • שמות כב:כ

וְגֵ֥ר לֹא־תוֹנֶ֖ה וְלֹ֣א תִלְחָצֶ֑נּוּ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃

You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

 

  • יחזקאל יח:ז

וְאִישׁ֙ לֹ֣א יוֹנֶ֔ה חֲבֹלָת֥וֹ חוֹב֙ יָשִׁ֔יב גְּזֵלָ֖ה לֹ֣א יִגְזֹ֑ל לַחְמוֹ֙ לְרָעֵ֣ב יִתֵּ֔ן וְעֵירֹ֖ם יְכַסֶּה־בָּֽגֶד׃

if he has wronged no one at all; if he has returned the debtor’s pledge to him and has taken nothing by robbery; if he has given bread to the hungry and clothed the naked;

 

ראו גם ויקרא יט:לג, דברים כג:יז, ישעיהו מט:כו, ירמיהו כב:ג, יחזקאל יח:יב, טז, כב:ז, כט, מה:ח, מו:יח,כ

 

Dr. Elana Stein Hain is the Rosh Beit Midrash and a senior research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. Passionate about bringing Torah into conversation with contemporary life, she teaches Talmud from the Balcony, an occasional learning seminar exposing the big ideas, questions, and issues motivating Talmudic discussions; she authored Circumventing the Law: Rabbinic Perspectives on Legal Loopholes and Integrity  which uses halakhic loopholes as a lens for understanding rabbinic views on law and ethics; and she co-hosts For Heaven’s Sake, a bi-weekly podcast with Donniel Hartman and Yossi Klein Halevi, exploring contemporary issues related to Israel and the Jewish world. Elana has also started TEXTing; a podcast where she and guest scholars study Torah texts that engage issues of the moment for the Jewish world. She lives in Manhattan with her beloved family.


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Dr. Elana Stein Hain

Dr. Elana Stein Hain is the Rosh Beit Midrash and a senior research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. Passionate about bringing Torah into conversation with contemporary life, she teaches Talmud from the Balcony, an occasional learning seminar exposing the big ideas, questions, and issues motivating talmudic discussions; she authored Circumventing the Law: Rabbinic Perspectives on Legal Loopholes and Integrity (pre-order discount code: PENN-ESHAIN30) which uses halakhic loopholes as a lens for understanding rabbinic views on law and ethics; and she co-hosts For Heaven’s Sake, a bi-weekly podcast with Donniel Hartman and Yossi Klein Halevi, exploring contemporary issues related to Israel and the Jewish world. In mid-January, Elana will be starting a new podcast called TEXTing, where she and guest scholars study Torah texts that engage issues of the moment for the Jewish world. She lives in Manhattan with her beloved family.
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