Qitzur Shulchan Arukh – 62:7

ז: המודד או שוקל חסר לחברו או אפילו לנכרי, עובר בלאו, שנאמר, לא תעשו עול במדה במשקל ובמשורה – ועין לקמן סימן קפ”ב סעיף א’ וסעיף ד’. וענש המדות והמשקלות קשה מאד, שאי אפשר למודד או לשוקל שקר לשוב בתשובה הגונה, שאינו יודע מה ולמי ישיב. ואף שיעשה צרכי רבים, אין זאת תשובה הגונה. – רל”א

One who measures or weighs less [than the agreed amount to be sold] to any one, even to a non-Jew, transgresses a negative commandment, as it is said (Leviticus 19:35): ”Don’t do unrighteousness… in measurement of weight or volume.” (See also Ch. 182:1 and 182:4, [below]) The punishment for [deficient] measures or weights is very severe, for it is impossible for the lying measurer or weigher to return in proper repentance, because he does not know how much and to whom to return [the money]. Even if he performs public works [with this money],this is not considered as full repentance.

See the se’ifim that Rabbi Ganzfried cites: 182:1 and 182:4.

This quote is a little frustrating to me, since the goal of this series of posts was to reinforce the need for ethics in the workplace, and here Rabbi Ganzfried discusses situations in which a lack of monetary ethics is technically permitted (halakhah), even if still of questionable ethics (mussar, lifnim mishuras hadin [the obligation to go beyond the letter of the law, where appropriate and one is capable]).

However, let’s look at the total picture:

  • One may not steal, even through mis-measurement, from a Jew or a non-Jew. Actually, it’s worse than the Qitzur spells out. As we will see tomorrow, Rashi (citing Chazal) explains that there is a prohibition not to even own the dishonest measures — even if one does not use them! After all, using them would be included in the prohibition against theft. Merely owning the tools for such subterfuge without attempting to use  itself what Hashem is calling a toeivah (disgusting).
  • One may not lie, or even actively mislead, a Jew or a non-Jew.
  • What the Qitzur does permit is passively allowing a non-Jew to lose money on a rental or loan (so that no object is involved) for his own mistake, in an instance where there is no chance of chilul hasheim (such as one is dealing with the borrower’s estate on a loan that has no evidence or documentation, or a math error that is unlikely to get caught). Because of the above about lying, one can’t actively say anything to imply the money is really yours. And it’s better to state clearly that you are paying according to his words, not alleging to agree that the amount is correct.

But even with all these limitations, why is ta’us akum, the error of a non-Jew, grounds for simply not correcting him and walking away with the profit?

With respect to returning lost property, which is not only non-obligatory, it’s outright prohibited, the Rambam and the Shulchan Arukh (CM 266:1) write that this is specifically with respect to an aku”m, literally a “star worshipper”, ie a pagan whose own morals are suspect and who is our adversary. It would seem to be based on the notion that one isn’t obligated to lose being more honest than the norms of the industry, particularly when dealing with adversaries.

However, the restrictions that this does not apply where there is any chance of chilul hasheim nor where the person may be an ethical monotheist, makes this leniency effectively moot. The topic is bound to only be theoretical with respect to our lives, even if one sticks to the precise line of the law.

PS: You might have noticed I wrote “chilul hasheim (desecrating G-d’s reputation)”, rather than “chilul Hashem“. This is because G-d Himself is unchanging, and certainly can’t be desecrated. The latter, “Hashem”, is used as a reference to G-d Himself. What one desecrates isn’t Hashem, but His reputation, i.e. “the name”.

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