Question from Kibbutz Hanaton:
There is a common procedure in Israel that prior to selling a lamb it is given excess water and food, so that its weight will increase and it will fetch a higher price. We would like to inquire whether this procedure is permissible, according to the halakhah.
The Torah states clearly: ” You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measures of length or weight or quantity” (Leviticus 19:35). In Rashi’s commentary to Bava Metzia 61b on this matter, he explains: “he seemingly fills the vessel with wine to the top [but actually he tops off the wine with foam], and after a while [when that foam dissolves] the vessel turns out to be less than full”. By doing so, the seller ‘steals the mind’ of the customer, and so ruled Maimonides in Laws of Theft 7:9. What is actually being stolen in this case is the customer’s mind, and Shmuel in Hulin 92a ruled that not only is it forbidden to steal the mind of a fellow Jew, but that of a gentile as well (see also Shulhan Arukh, Hoshen Mishpat 228:9).
Thus far we have seen that the halakhah explicitly forbids deceiving another person, whether a Jew or a gentile. There is, however, a b’raita dealing directly with the case presented in the question, namely of artificially fattening livestock prior to its sale, and clearly forbidding this procedure (Bava Metzia 60b). Maimonides codified this b’raita in Laws of Sale 18:3.
Rabbi Joshua Falk, in his commentary to the Shulhan Arukh (ibid.), relativizes this prohibition. He suggests that it be valid only in places where the procedure of artificially fattening livestock prior to selling is not widespread. His opinion is accepted and followed by some of the other commentators of the Shulkhan Arukh (Netivot Mishpat and Be’er Heitev).
Taking into consideration the stringent view of our Sages concerning deception, and assuming that not everyone who purchases livestock is familiar with the procedure in question, we find that this is a case which deserves to be treated lifnim mishurat hadin, i.e. beyond the letter of the law, even though there are voices in the halakhah which would allow such conduct under certain circumstances. We rule that it is preferable to avoid the “common procedure”, lest one steal a fellow person’s mind.
Rabbi Tuvia Friedman
Approved Unanimously 5746