“Level the prices for your pots.”
Today’s Daf Yomi provides a lesson in predatory pricing, which is remarkable to find in the words of Shmuel. Although he overstepped his boundaries because was in Rav’s neck of the woods, Rav also supported his indignation and warned about gauging people on the price they paid for Passover pots. They rally against price gauging in what might have been the Amazon marketplace of their day.
Today’s text continues the protracted discussion on benefiting from Passover leaven. Earthenware pots at the time of Rav and Shmuel would have absorbed the essence of the food that was cooked in them, and it could be argued result in minute leaven left behind on Passover. They did not have special coatings that aid in cleaning away food debris.
Rav made a pronouncement that such pots that were used to cook leaven should be broken during Passover and replaced. Rav’s concern was that “some small quantity of the flavor of the leavened bread was absorbed into the pot.” He said it was prohibited to cook in them again, as “the forbidden flavor of this leavened bread would be transmitted to the new food.” The voice of the Gemara questions the impracticality of replacing pots after Passover and suggests that they be saved to prepare another type of food that is not leaven. But Rav will have none of this and sticks with his opinion that the pot must be destroyed in order to avoid the potential of “preparing a mixture of the same type in these pots.”
Shmuel has a different more practical perspective, as he often does. He says that breaking the pots are a terrible waste and cause great hardship for those that have limited resources. He believes that the pots can be salvaged, and that once Passover is over, it is over, so who cares if they are used to prepare the same or different kinds of food. This is very much the perspective of a man who grew up in poverty, where every pot was precious.
Passover must have been a boon for the purveyors of pots. It is suggested in today’s reading that they would raise their prices after Passover, when those that followed Rav’s opinion and destroyed their pots, would be in the market for new ones.
Shmuel addresses the pot merchants directly when he tells them to “level the prices for your pots.” He displays great business acumen when he tells the merchants that if they do not cease with their price gauging, he will proclaim that one is allowed to retain their pots after Passover and “consequently the merchants would lose business.” I hear the voice of Governor Cuomo in Shmuel’s plea, who back in March and April protested that the US states were competing against each other for personal protective equipment at inflated prices.
We are told that as passionate as he is about this matter, Shmuel was out of line in his pronouncement because he was in “Rav’s locale.” We are told accordingly that it was inappropriate for Shmuel to present a position that is contrary to that of Rav’s when he is in the later’s home territory. However, Shmuel must have had a sidebar with Rav, because when Rav heard about the price gauging for pots, he also became quite disturbed and “threatened to make his opinion on the matter public.”
There has been extreme price gauging occurring on Amazon.com since the onset of the pandemic in the US. In the early days of the pandemic when it was impossible to find gloves or surgical masks, items started appearing on the website at inflated prices. I ordered a shipment of surgical masks and toilet paper (at a price I would be ashamed to repeat) that never arrived. In all fairness, Amazon refunded my money, but I spend weeks waiting for a shipment of protective face masks that never arrived. The website in the early days of the pandemic seemed like the wild west with Clorox wipes selling for upwards of $70 (and the prices continue to be inflated.)
What was even more disturbing than the price gauging of toilet paper and disinfecting wipes, were the prices that hospitals and medical facilities were charged for personal protective equipment, such as N95 masks. Governor Cuomo signed legislation in June that banned price gauging on such equipment that is sold to healthcare workers and the general public. When I read the Daf Yomi today, I could hear the echo from Rav and Shmuel on the importance of charging a fair price for goods. And if merchants attempt to increase their prices during a national crisis there will be Rav and Shmuel – or Governor Cuomo – to contend with.