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Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

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April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review August 14, 2006 / 20 Menachem-Av, 5766

Quote Unquote

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir


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Must a supplier honor a discount offered by a rogue sales representative?


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: Our study group obtained a very attractive price quote from a salesman on a set of Torah books. We told him we would try to collect the money, but when we finally did, the seller told us that he discontinued this salesman and he cannot sell at the price offered us. Instead, he offered a much smaller discount.


Isn't he obligated to sell as at the price offered by his own representative?


A. It is certainly very unusual for stores to fail to honor price quotes made by authorized salespeople, especially if the customer invested effort based on the quote, as you did by collecting money from your group. This is not only good ethics, it is good business. No customer wants to start negotiations with a supplier knowing that the supposed "agreement" is really only a starting point for further haggling. Jewish law states that merchants should stand by their word, and anyone who doesn't do so is considered to be unreliable (in Hebrew, mechusar amana).


However, the particular scenario you describe has a number of special features which could justify the supplier from an ethical point of view. The most important one is that you did not make an agreement with the salesman. The salesman offered you a price, and your response was that you would get back to him. It's an ethical problem to renege on an agreement, but the essence of an agreement is that both sides agree, and this aspect is missing in your situation. (1)


It's true that some tenders have special conditions whereby suppliers are obligated to keep their offers open for a specified period of time while the offers are considered, and it is also true that it is generally good business and good ethics to stand by any good-faith offer. But failing to honor an open-ended offer which was never agreed between customer and supplier falls short of being "unreliable".


Another consideration here is that the offer was made by an employee, but the manager claims that the employee exceeded his authority. Jewish law acknowledges that a representative, like your salesman, may not accurately represent the position of the principal (in this case, the seller) and thus his offers would not be binding on the seller. This principle is discussed in the very passage discussing the scope of the prohibition on being an "unreliable" seller. When the sage Rebbe Yochanan asserts that a seller is unreliable even if he reneges on a verbal agreement, the Talmud objects from the following story:


Rebbe Yochanan bet Matia said to his son, go hire some laborers. [The son] went, and stipulated that they would get meals. When he told his father, he replied, "My son, even if you give them a feast like King Solomon's you cannot be sure you have fulfilled your stipulation, for they are the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. [Although they are mere day laborers, they are of elevated descent, and the ambiguous term "meals" could be interpreted to mean sumptuous ones.] Before they begin work, specify that they are entitled only to beans."


The Talmud then asks, if reneging on a verbal agreement makes a person unreliable, how could the distinguished Yochanan ben Matia renege on his agreement to provide meals — an offer that was accepted by the workers? The Talmud's answer is that since Yochanan sent his son as a representative, the workers were aware that the agreement would be subject to the father's agreement. (2) In the case of a salesmen likewise, there is generally some recognition that a special discount could be subject to the approval of someone higher up.


A final consideration is that the seller's reluctance to sell might be due to a rise in price that took place between the original offer and your order. A number of authorities state that a person is not considered unreliable if he reneges on an offer due to a price change that makes the original offer unprofitable. (3)


Price quotes are generally taken seriously by customers, and that alone is a good practical and ethical reason for suppliers to meet them even if there is only an offer and no agreement. On the other hand, your case has some special features: It's not clear that the salesman really had authority to offer you such a large discount, and the price to the seller may have changed in the meantime. The best solution in these cases is to make some kind of compromise, and this is exactly what your seller did by offering you a meaningful though reduced discount on the books you need.


SOURCES: (1) See Meiri commentary on Bava Metzia 48. (2) Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 49a. (3) Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat 204:11 in glosses of Rema.

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JWR contributor Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, formerly of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration, is Research Director of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, Jerusalem College of Technology. To comment or pose a question, please click here.


Previously:

Should I boycott my daughter's fashion show?
Should you respond to all those annoying email pop-up requests?
Do I have to reimburse someone who tried to do me a favor?
Seeking credit card debt settlement
Can I threaten to spread the word about someone who cheated me?
How can the terminally ill tap into their life insurance?
Is there value in an unhappy marriage?
Where does the Almighty fit into your corporation's mission statement?
Does an expert witness have to be impartial?
Should I give recognition to a modest man who did a great deed?
In representing my firm, can I tell a white lie?
Defrauding insurance to save a life
Can top level management unilaterally give away money to corporate dollars to charity?
Loans to Family Members
How much worker supervision is too much?
Should I turn in a colleague for inappropriate acts?
Priority in charitable giving
Trolls and ogres
How many hours of work is too many?
Can I promote my product by having it unobtrusively written into a story?
He's not heavy he's my brother
All's fair in war?, II
All's fair in war?
Girth vs. worth
Is it proper to tax bequests?
Ethics of Being Overweight
Penalized for working swiftly
When is it a bluff?
'Rate and switch'
My paycheck is late!
Should schools cater to an elite?
All's fair in love?
Comfort and Competition
Do I need the caller's permission to put a call on the speakerphone?
Overtime for lost time
Is it unethical to play suppliers against each other to get the lowest bid possible?
Do family members have precedence in charity allotments?
What the world of business can teach us about our annual process of repentance and renewal
Are religious leaders subject to criticism?
Vindictive Vendor: How can I punish an abusive competitor?
Blogging Ethics: Is the blogger responsible for defamatory posts?







© 2005, The Jewish Ethicist is produced by the JCT Center for Business Ethics