Yitzi and Ari were discussing their bar mitzvah gifts. “I got two sets of Chumash Mikraos Gedolos,” said Yitzi. “I assume you also got?”
“I didn’t,” replied Ari. “I got two sets of Mishnah Berurah, though. How about you?”
“No one gave me,” said Yitzi. “I guess people thought I already owned one.”
“Would you like to trade?” Ari asked. “I’ll give you a set of Mishnah Berurah for a set of Mikraos Gedolos.”
“That’s a good idea,” said Yitzi. “This way we’ll both have what we need!”
That evening, Yitzi brought over his extra set of Mikraos Gedolos and exchanged it for Ari’s extra set of Mishnah Berurah.
The following day, Yitzi was browsing the seforim store and decided to check the prices of the Mikraos Gedolos and Mishnah Berurah. He discovered the Mikraos Gedolos cost about 35 percent more than the Mishnah Berurah.
“I wonder if Ari knew this,” Yitzi wondered. “He should have given me money in addition.”
“I was just in the seforim store,” Yitzi said when he met Ari. “I saw that the Mikraos Gedolos is worth much more that the Mishnah Berurah. Did you know that?”
“I never checked prices,” said Ari. “I just figured it made sense to exchange what we had doubles of; the sets are about the same size.”
“You should pay me the difference,” said Yitzi.
“But you agreed to the exchange,” protested Ari. “I’m not out to add money.”
“We just learned in shiur about ona’ah, unfair pricing,” argued Yitzi. “If the price differential is more than 16 percent, I can retract from the sale.” (B.M. 50b; C.M. 227:4)
“You didn’t sell me the Mikraos Gedolos,” said Ari. “We simply exchanged seforim!”
“What’s the difference?” asked Yitzi. “An exchange is like a sale!”
“Rabbi Dayan is supposed to give a shiur today,” said Ari. “We can ask him.”
After the shiur, Yitzi and Ari approached Rabbi Dayan. “We exchanged sets of seforim,” said Yitzi. “There was a discrepancy of 35 percent in value. Can I retract from the exchange?”
“The Rambam rules that there is no claim of ona’ah regarding barter of utensils –keilim – or animals,” said Rabbi Dayan. “Although some Rishonim maintain that ona’ah applies also to barter, the Shulchan Aruch rules like the Rambam. Therefore, you cannot claim ona’ah on the seforim exchange.” (Hil. Mechira 13:1; C.M. 227:20)
“Why is there no ona’ah claim?” asked Yitzi.
“Some explain that the Torah, in Parashas Behar, states the law of ona’ah regarding a sale, whereas barter is inherently not considered a sale,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “Others explain that people’s primary intent in barter is on their respective needs, rather than on an item’s value, unlike a monetary sale, in which payment is expected to match the value of the purchase.”
“Are there differences between these reasons?” asked Ari.
“Yes. The authorities dispute whether there is an ona’ah claim when the bartered items were appraised, but improperly, since here there was a focus on value,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Similarly, there is a dispute regarding barter of utensils for business purposes, sechora, which is clearly focused on value.” (Sma 227:35; Pischei Teshuvah 227:12; Machaneh Ephraim, Hil. Ona’ah #8)
“What if there is a very large discrepancy?” asked Yitzi.
“Some exclude barter from ona’ah only up to double the value,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “However, the Rambam and Shuchan Aruch write that even if one bartered a suit of armor for a needle, the barter is valid, since the person preferred the needle to the suit of armor.”
“Nonetheless, the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch write that there is ona’ah for barter of fruit,” concluded Rabbi Dayan. “This is because we find in other contexts that chalipin, exchange, is limited to utensils and animals, which are durable, not food commodities, which are viewed only as value. However, seforim are like utensils, that are excluded from ona’ah when bartering.” (Pischei Choshen, Ona’ah 5:25-26; Hilchos Mishpat 227:20)