Volume 15 Number 83
                       Produced: Tue Oct 18 23:53:10 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Comment re Divorce/Shidduchim
         [Zvi Weiss]
         [Meylech Viswanath ]
ona'ah responses, part 2
         [Seth Weissman]
         [David Steinberg]
Women and Apologetics
         [Marc Shapiro]


From: Zvi Weiss <weissz@...>
Date: Wed, 12 Oct 1994 15:31:11 -0400
Subject: Comment re Divorce/Shidduchim

Shaul Wallach often cites solid source material for his analysis... My
problem is that I (and this may be just me) detect a tone of
condescension/intolerance/implied mocking...Perhaps it comes from being
in B'nei B'rak and not actually exposed to the "outside world" about
which he comments....  When ANONYMOUS points out the disadvantages of a
"traditional frum" woman who marries right out of HS or Seminary, Shaul
does not even acknowledge that such a disadvantage can exist...  His
response to a report of a "dreadfully unhappy woman" is that the husband
must take responsibility for her mental health without even pausing to
consider that (a) not only may the husband be the CAUSE of this
"depression" but that the "depression" may be further exacerbated by the
woman's knowledge that -- by her lack of education -- she is almost
"condemned" to stay in this union no matter how abusive the husband may
be...  The fact is that the idyllic picture of the woman loyally
marrying the man when she is right out of school / seminary is a
double-edged sword... True, this MAY be the way "to go" .... On the
other hand, the "professional" woman knows that SHE has something to
fall back on in those cases where she discovers that she has an abusive
spouse (This does not even address those unfortunate cases of women who
become widows and suffer terrible financial problems...).  If Shaul
would ACKNOWLEDGE this matter as something other than a "foreign
influence", it would be much "easier" to assimilate his own analysis...

A second example:
 When ANONYMOUS reports that a woman was told that a get was all the
woman's fault, there can be only ONE response to that... intense
sympathy for another person's intense PAIN.  I, for one, can see NO
"benefit of doubt".... if she reported that this happened, and I do not
assume that she was lying, then the ONLY "benefit of doubt" is that we
are dealing with a STUPID rabbinical source rather than with a callous
one.... How on earth does telling a woman in such pain that divorce is
the "woman's fault" supposed to "encourage...reconciliation"????  For
Shaul to make such a statement AGAIN gives me pause... "where is he
coming from"???

As I said, I am so disturbed by this because when I "cut through" the
tone of the posting and review the "hard material", I find solid
stuff....  I would suggest that Shaul pause to listen more closely to
the postings (he has already admitted that he misunderstood some of the
postings in the past) and be more "compassionate" in his reponses....



From: Meylech Viswanath  <PVISWANA@...>
Date: Tue, 18 Oct 1994 09:44:14 EST5EDT
Subject: Ona'ah

Seth Weissman writes that a jew is not permitted to take advantage of a 
non-jew's inferior information regarding the true value of an object, while 
at the same time having no obligation to enlighten him.  This state of 
affairs, says Seth, leads to an inefficiency, since a desirable transaction 
(at the true price) is precluded.  

I replied that there was no requirement that the jew _not_ enlighten the 
non-jew.  He/she could do so, and then conduct the Pareto improving 

Seth replies:

> While the law does not preclude the non-jew from being honest and
> revealing his/her information to the non-jew, the law does not
> encourage this to occur.  Since the jew is legally permitted to hold
> his/her information private, and since this could be profitable to the
> jew, the jew has an incentive to not enlighten the non-jew.  This can
> block transactions from occuring, leaving both the jew and the non jew
> worse off.  In other words, while it is ex ante efficent for the jew
> to keep his information private, ex post, both parties are worse off.

There must be something that Seth has left out from his description of 
the problem.  The way he set it up originally, there did not seem to be 
any way for the jew to benefit from his information.  Failing a 
clarification of that part, I don't see how this situation resembles a 
Prisoner's Dilemma.

> Addressing the second question (comparing interest and ona'ah), Meylekh
> writes:
> "This [my explanation that interest is prohibited to prevent one from
> profiting from unequal bargaining power] assumes that there is no
> competition for providing liquidity.  Why is this assumption reasonable?"

The answer that Seth gives is related to the economic situation of eretz 
Israel in bayit rishon and bayit sheni times.  

The difficulty I have with this answer is that the iser (prohibition) on 
ribis (interest) is le dor doyres (for all times).  Given that, a historical 
explanation makes the Torah a product of its time (whichever that might 
be).  Although I can understand the explanation of a rabbinic decree in 
this fashion in certain circumstances, is this approach appropriate for a 
deorayta (torah) law?  I believe it may be worthwhile to seek a more 
universally true answer.  

Meylekh Viswanath
P.V. Viswanath, Rutgers University
Graduate School of Management, 92 New St, Newark NJ 07102
Tel: (201) 648-5899  Fax: (201) 648-1233  email: <pviswana@...>


From: <SWeissman_at_BC-Faculty@...> (Seth Weissman)
Date: Mon, 10 Oct 94 13:44:31 EDT
Subject: Re: ona'ah responses, part 2

Earlier I responded to Meylekh Viswanath's article on ona'ah (which was
in turn a response to my original posting of ona'ah questions.)  I'd
like to continue by responding to David Neustadter.  I'll respond to
Jeff Mandin later today, and after that, I'll post my ideas.

David Neustadter wrote, in response to my questions about ona'ah:

"Ona'ah deals with the current value of an object, which might be
different to different people.  Interest deals with the present vs. the
future value of objects or money."

With regards to interest, that is only one of the ways in which
economists explain interest (there are other ways to view it), but for
our purposes it is an acceptable starting point.

Before using this definition of interest, though, I'd like to refine it
using economic reasoning and terminology.  When we talk about the future
value of something to me, I include in that the possibility that I may
not enjoy it.  An apple today is worth less to me (generally) than an
apple 25 years from now (because, God forbid, I might be dead 25 years
from now).  Similarly, $100 in the distant future is worth less than
$100 now because inflation may erode the value of the future money, the
currency might change robbing the bills of their entire value, and so
on.  Thus, interest compensates the lender for risk.  By giving up $100
now, he/she will receive, in the future, the equivelent value of the
current amount of $100.  This future amount may be $110 or $150,
depending upon a variety of factors.  The two values, however, are
equivelent.  The future value of the $100 today is $110 in one year, and
$150 in seven years (going further into the future increases risk), and
the present discounted value of $110 in one year, or $150 in seven years
is the $100 today.

So, applying this to interest, we can see the prohibition against
interest as part of a general issur against gambling/speculating on the
future.  Supporting this interpretation, we see the fifth perek of Bava
Metzia (which is devoted to interest) considers cases including
speculation on future prices in produce.

While this is certainly part of the explanation of interest, it is by no
means a complete one.  Life is full of uncertainty, and this affects
even commercial transactions.  When I buy an apple for lunch, I am
speculating that I won't (God forbid!) be hit by a bus before lunchtime.
If I am, not only will I be unable to enjoy the apple because of my
physical condition, but the value of the apple will drop because it will
have been transformed by the bus into dirty applesauce.  Since this will
reduce the value of the apple, the price for which it is sold may not
reflect its future value.

I don't take the above argument seriously because the consequence of
that will be that all trade is forbidden.  In addition to putting the
trader out of work, as a teacher of economics, my livelihood would be
threatened as well.  This leads me to conclude that while the laws of
interest address the issue of uncertainty, there is another way to
understand interest.

With regards to his understanding of ona'ah, however, he is correct that
valuations for objects may differ among people.  Economists admit that
subjective value exists.  In fact, this is the basis for trade and
market transactions.  Without a distribution of subjective values, there
would be no basis for mutually beneficial transactions.

However subjective value is not an explanation for ona'ah.  If it were,
than ona'ah would be permitted.  The seller who overcharges could argue
(logically) "that the buyers subjective value was no lower than the
amount the buyer paid.  If it were, would the buyer have paid the high
price he/she agreed to?"  It is true that the halacha does recognize the
notion of subjective value (for example, a homeowner is permitted to
sell personal possessions for a price exceeding market value because
they have sentimental value to him/her), but these instances are the
exceptions, not the rule.

Furthermore, the halacha prefers that people not profit at the expense
of others.  Allowing subjective pricing is not compatible with that
goal.  It leads to pawn shops (and these aren't much more preferable to
loan sharks, are they?)  An additional concern is: where do we draw the
line?  When I point a gun to an old man's head and say "your money or
your life," at that moment, his subjective valuation of his life is more
than his money.  OK, we agree that robbery is prohibited.  What about
this scenario?  I shoot an old man and offer to transport him to the
hospital for the reasonable price of: his Rolex watch, his car, and
$10,000.  At night there are fewer taxis around than during the day, and
my gun may scare off the few taxis that might otherwise underbid my
price.  This leaves me with the opportunity to present my victim with a
"take-it-or-leave-it offer."  I have more bargaining power in this
scenario than him, and can dictate the terms of my service.

Granted, I have to pay his medical bills (suppose they amount to $5000),
and other sorts of damages, but that's simply part of the cost of doing
business.  Since his subjective value of my taxi service was very high
at the time, it is, potentially, a very profitable business.  My total
profits from the shooting and subsequent transport service amounts to
$30,950 ($10,000 + a $2000 watch + a $25,000 car less my expenses of
$5000 in damages and $100 for the gun and ammunition, $50 for my time
and gas costs in driving the taxi, and $900 in legal fees [my father in
law is a very skilled lawyer and would defend me, I think]), why
shouldn't I do this in a Torah society?  Why shouldn't a Kollel man in
B'nai Brak use this as a means of supporting his learning?

Allowing ona'ah under the justification of subjective prices opens a
pandoras box.  The above examples illustrate how a general exception of
subjective value permits abuses in cases where transactions involve
asymmetric bargaining power.  The question remains, why are the
permitted in the context of ona'ah?

David's case 2, involving a loan of $200 to permit the purchase of an
overcharged item worth $100 is interesting.  I think Meylekh alluded to
this case in his posting last week.  I'm not sure what the halacha would
be, but it might be permitted as long as he informs her that the market
value of the drug is $100.  The problem is that an ethical
business/legal code should prohibit this, shouldn't it?

I think I can answer this problem, but I'll do that in another posting
because I think this is getting too long.

Respectfully, Seth


From: David Steinberg <dave@...>
Date: Mon, 17 Oct 1994 22:06:52 +0100
Subject: Racism

Michael Broyde makes an interesting argument in his post in mj 
15#78 regarding the Torah perspective on racism.  He argues, based 
on a Mogen Avrohom that

   'Torah restricts us from doing actions which general society
    views as immoral'

I would raise two issues:

1.  that prescription would certainly not pertain Neged Halacha - 
contrary to halacha.  Therefore, if there is a behavior which is not only 
Mutar - acceptable -  but is in fact a Chiuv - obligation - the fact that 
society deems it immoral would not impact on our view.  For example, 
Fundamentalists take what may be an extreme position about abortion.  One 
could easily construct a case where L'Halacha abortion is acceptable but 
Fundamentalists view it as immoral.  certainly we would follow the 
halacha and not kow tow to society.

2.  Racism is viewed as immoral in the US and possibly in Western 
Society.  Assume for the moment that it is not universally agreed to be 
immoral.  If you lived in a country that held racism acceptable you would 
need to know what the Torah Perspective is.  

Before we worry about what society believes, we must know definitively 
what the Halacha is -- Chova, Mutar, Assur etc.

Dave Steinberg


From: Marc Shapiro <mshapiro@...>
Date: Sun, 16 Oct 1994 22:30:01 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Women and Apologetics

In a recent posting someone pointed out that women say she-asani kirzono
since they were born "perfect" while men need to do a berit milah. Such
an opinion is not found in any rishonim and if it is found in
contemporary sources it is, in my opinion, another example of
apologetics. The fact that men have to do a Berit Milah rather than
being an example of their lacking something is an example of a great
merit they have, which women do not have the opportunity to fulfill. It
is one thing not to accept the views of the rishonim regarding the
purpose of the blessing of she-asani kirtzono, but if we want to even
out the status of the sexes, let's not go overboard and make women more
"perfect." This reminds me of contemporary apologists who like to show
that women are closer to God etc. If it weren't so laughable (for anyone
who knows what traditional sources say on this) it would be very
insulting to men. Of course, it is usually the men who toss this out as
a sop to the women.
						Marc Shapiro


End of Volume 15 Issue 83