Outside the school, a person stood selling waterproof knapsacks. A sign above him read: “SALE! Only $100 for a knapsack! Limited time offer.”
Mr. Wasser passed by and was intrigued by the knapsacks. He came over and asked the salesman about them.
“These are high quality knapsacks,” the man assured him. “Fully waterproof!”
“One hundred dollars seems high, though,” said Mr. Wasser.
“Oh, no,” replied the salesman. “I’ve seen these packs sold for twenty and even thirty dollars more.”
“I’ll take one for my son,” said Mr. Wasser. He took out $100 and gave it to the salesman, who handed him a knapsack.
Two days later, Mr. Wasser happened to stop at a large local store. He passed by the backpack aisle and saw the exact same knapsack being sold for $60. “Wow! I can’t believe it,” he thought to himself. “I thought that $100 was a bargain!”
He asked the salesperson whether this was a special price for the knapsack. “No,” replied the salesperson. “This is the regular price.”
On the way home, Mr. Wasser stopped off at another store to check how much the knapsacks were selling for there. He saw the same knapsacks offered for $70. Another store sold them for $55. A small, old-time store was the most expensive he found, at $80.
“I was gypped by the salesman,” he said to wife. “This is classical case of ona’ah (overcharging). This is grounds to invalidate the sale.”
“Then return it to him,” she said.
Mr. Wasser returned to the salesman. “Overcharging above the going price range by a sixth is a violation of ona’ah,” he said to the salesman. “More than a sixth invalidates the sale. The highest price I saw this in the area for these knapsacks is eighty dollars, and many stores were less. I’d like my money back.” (C.M. 227:4)
“Had you returned the knapsack yesterday, there would have been what to discuss,” said the salesman. “However, now it’s too late!”
“What’s the difference?” said Mr. Wasser. “You overcharged me. It’s not like I waited a week. I just realized today that you overcharged me.”
“Time’s already passed,” said the salesman. “Sorry.”
“You’re required to take it back,” Mr. Wasser insisted. “Here, ask Rabbi Dayan.”
Mr. Wasser dialed Rabbi Dayan and put on the speakerphone. “Someone sold me a knapsack two days ago for one hundred dollars. I found out in stores today that the very same knapsack runs between fifty-five and eighty dollars. Must he take it back?”
“Although you were significantly overcharged,” ruled Rabbi Dayan, “since sufficient time passed for you to verify the price and you did not check, you forfeited the right to demand restitution.”
“What’s the difference?” asked Mr. Wasser.
“While significant overcharging is reason to invalidate a sale, Chazal wanted to uphold commerce, and not allow people to undo sales after time passed,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “Therefore, they determined that if enough time passed for the customer to verify the price and he did not do so, we presume that he was mochel – willing to forgo his claim.” (C.M. 227:7; Sefer Hachinuch #337; Aruch Hashulchan 227:8)
“What is the time frame?” asked Mr. Wasser.
“This varies according to circumstances,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “The Gemara uses the expression, ‘time to show a merchant or relative.’ If the item is readily available, and can easily be checked in other stores, the time would be short – possibly even the same day. However, if the item is a specialty one that requires professional evaluation, the time would be longer, so that the customer would have the opportunity to meet with a specialist.” (See C.M. 227:17)
About the Author: Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to email@example.com. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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