Business Competition in Judaism

What is unfair competition in business? There are many Jewish answers.

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The Codes decide in favor of the second Rabbi Huna and are less tolerant of protectionist policies. Later authorities make a distinction between ruinous and non-ruinous competition. Where the competition only reduces the profits of the one who protests against the intrusion, the view of the second Rav Huna is followed. But where the competition will result in his financial ruin, the view of the first Rabbi Huna is adopted. Indeed, it is suggested, where the competition is ruinous, the second Rabbi Huna would agree that it is not allowed.

Contemporary Jewish scholars have tried to discover in these earlier sources principles that can be applied in the modern urban market, but to transfer and apply rules originally formulated against a far more primitive economic background to the social order of today with its monopolies, organized labor, and large corporations is bound to result in vagueness.

Jewish communities often issued special enactments to protect interests considered to be vital to the Jewish life of that community, or, in certain instances, to Jewish life as a whole. For instance, kosher meat imported from butchers who lived elsewhere was declared forbidden by communal edict in order to protect the supply of kosher meat by the local butcher, which would cease if he went out of business. Printers who risked their money to print Jewish works would often print in the frontispiece a stern prohibition by a famous rabbi, or rabbis, against another publisher publishing the same work within a stated period. The dispute between the printers of the Vilna and Slavita editions of the Talmud in the nineteenth century made case history in the discussion of monopolies in Jewish law.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.