This week we read the double Parshas of בהר-בחוקותי, which concludes the third book of the Torah, ויקרא. Parshat Behar contains many laws related to business transactions.
We are introduced to the concept of אונאה, that could be translated as price gouging. There are two types of monetary transactions. One is related to selling land, or קרקע, and the other, movable items known as מטלטלים.
There is a principle related to real estate, אין אונאה בקרקע. This means that according to Jewish Law, there are no restrictions on land deals. The seller may earn large profits, because the buyer sees what he is getting. It is assumed that he did his due diligence, and it is worth it to him, to pay well above the market price. This is not the case with movable items. Here, we apply the principle of שתות, that is loosely translated as one sixth profit. In other words, we must be mindful of the retail price that is acceptable in the marketplace. We are not allowed to earn a profit of more than one sixth of this price.
If it is discovered that an individual was overcharged above this amount, he can cancel the deal and get his money back. This is called a מקח טעות, or mistaken deal.
It is also interesting to note that precautions were made in Talmudic times, to protect the consumer. It was decreed that the transfer of money to acquire something, was not sufficient to close a deal. There was a concern that once the seller received his money, he would not care for the merchandise he had not yet delivered. If he told the purchaser, that all was lost in a fire, the buyer had no recourse.
The Rabbis made a decree that the goods needed to be delivered before payment was made. This created a better method for buying and selling movable items.
The source for such transactions, comes from פרשת בהר. It is fascinating to study the Talmud to see how a fair business system was set up, based on the principles of the Torah.