Buying and Selling In Halachah

  1. It is forbidden for a person to ask the price of an article when he has no intention of buying it. To do so is simply to trouble and disappoint the merchant. The Meiri points out that it may also cause the merchant a loss. Others might overhear him asking the price and interpret his not making the purchase to mean that, in his opinion, it’s not worth the price the merchant is asking. It seems to me that from the Meiri we learn that although it is permitted to bargain, it is not permitted to say that merchandise is not worth the price the merchant is asking when it really is.
  2. When a person’s intention is to buy an object at the best price he can find, it is permitted to shop around and ask how much the article costs in several stores, for that is the way of the world, and he will return to the shop which sells the article at the best price.
  3. If a person tells the merchant that he just wants to know the price, he can ask him how much it costs even if he has no intention of buying it. In order to avoid disappointing merchants, it’s a good idea to say that you’re checking out prices even if you intend to buy it if the price is right.
  4. A person should avoid causing another customer to pay more for an article because he thinks that you might be interested in it also, and that if he doesn’t buy it quickly, you will snatch it up. Similarly, a person should be careful to avoid causing a loss to the merchant by creating the impression that there is something wrong with his merchandise by bargaining and then, at the last moment, deciding not to make the purchase. People will assume that you realized that there was something wrong with the merchandise and won’t want to buy it.
  5. Just as a customer may not mislead the merchant, the merchant is not permitted to mislead the customer. He may not say that an article is for sale to prevent people from going elsewhere to purchase it when, in fact, he has no intention of selling it. A merchant may not say that he is giving a special reduction unless it is true.
  6. A sale is not completed by verbal agreement alone, and even after a verbal agreement, both the merchant and the customer can withdraw from the sale. Even the curse of “He who punished the generation of the flood etc.” does not apply unless money has been exchanged. Nevertheless, Chazal disapprove of a person who does not keep his word, for a person should do what he agrees to do. He should keep his word. “The remnant of Israel will not do wrong and not speak falsely.” But if a person changes his mind at the very moment that he expresses his intention to make the sale (toch kday dibur), it is as though he never agreed, for the statement that he changed his mind is considered part of the statement that committed him to the sale. From here we see how important it is for a person to stand by his word and do what he says. Once a person agrees to a sale, he should not take it lightly even if he has not done anything else to finalize the transaction.
  7. If a person enters a shop to buy an item and takes it into his hand with the intention of purchasing it, he is permitted to change his mind. Nevertheless, a person who has yiras Shamaim should be concerned to carry through the decisions he makes, even when no one else knows about them. Similarly, if a merchant decides to sell an item for a certain price, he should be concerned to carry through the decisions he makes and, for that reason, even if he is offered more for the article, he should sell it for the price he set in his heart.
  8. To fail to keep a promise to give a gift is a breach of faith, but only if it is a small gift, because a promise to give a big gift is, in any case, not taken seriously. Nevertheless, a person should not promise to give a gift which he does not intend to give. That would be deceit, which is forbidden by the Torah. The promise of even a big gift must be fulfilled if it is made to a poor person, for then, the promise is actually a commitment to give tzedaka and has the force of a neder. Indeed, there are those that hold that even the unspoken decision to give tzedaka is binding. Some hold that if the promise of a large gift is made by a number of people, they are bound to keep their promise. Since the promise was made by a number of people it was taken seriously.
  9. Even if the seller takes complete responsibility for any loss that the customer may incur, it is forbidden to sell real estate or moveable goods upon which others might have a legal claim without notifying the purchaser. The purchaser does not want to have to deal with a court case after he has made his purchase, even if, in the end, he will suffer no loss. We learn this from the passage in Yechezkel (18:18) “And that he did that which is not good among his people.”
MDhalachalMaase is written by HaRav HaGaon R’ Shammai Gross
Translated by Rabbi Tzvi Abraham