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Reprinted with permission from Ethics in the Market Place: A Jewish Perspective, published by The Library of Jewish Law, 2000, where extensive notes supplement the text presented here.
The Prohibition and its Source
In the [article, “Consumer Protection in Jewish Law: An Introduction,”] we cited the biblical sources for the prohibition against using defective weights and measures.
Defective weights and measures are discussed by [twelfth-century Spanish/North African philosopher and rabbi Moses ]Maimonides in his Laws of Theft:
“If one weighs with weights that are deficient by the standards agreed upon in his locality, or measures with a measuring vessel deficient by the agreed standards, he violates a negative commandment, for Scripture states (Leviticus 19:35), ‘You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in length, in weight, or in measure. (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Theft, 7:1)
“Similarly in measurement of land, if one deceives another when measuring land, he violates a negative commandment, for when Scripture says, ‘You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in length,’ ‘in length’ refers to land measurement.” (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Theft, 7:9)
Possession of Bad Weights and Measures
It is forbidden to keep a defective measuring device in one’s possession, even if it is not being used:
“Whoever keeps in his house or in his shop a false measure or weight violates a negative commandment, for Scripture states (Deuteronomy 25:13), ‘You shall not have in your bag diverse weights.’” (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Theft, 7:3)
For Clear and Standard Measures
Standard weights and measures are not to be prescribed unless gradations are readily apparent. Concerning this regulation, [Yehiel Michal Halevi Epstein, nineteenth-century author of] Arukh HaShulhan writes:
“The Sages established that measures should be so designed as to be recognizable at a glance, so there will be no mistakes and they will not be interchanged.” (Arukh HaShulhan, Hoshen Mishpat 231:4)
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