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Shabbat Parashat Beshalach 5775

P'ninat Mishpat: Sanctions Against Overchargers Against the Rabbis Will

(based on Shoel Umeishiv II:IV:89)

A talmid chacham who was not the rabbi of the town in question asked for Rav Nathanson’s guidance and/or permission in the following sensitive halachic and “political” question.


Request: In our city, the prices of kosher meat are unjustifiably high. One of several indications is that the prices are much higher than those in other communities in our region. The community banded together to threaten that if the butchers do no lower the prices, we will halachically ban meat consumption. The great majority of the townspeople and lay leaders agreed to this step. The local rabbi did not, but since we felt that he is an interested party, since the number of kosher animals sold is one determinant of his salary, we went through with the ban without his permission. He is now claiming that the ban is not binding, and his family and some others in town have continued to eat meat, which endangers the effort to lower prices. The rabbi’s two claims are that a ban is invalid without the local rabbi’s agreement, and that it is invalid if signed by different people at different sittings. Can you support our position against the local rabbi?


Response: I will not fight with the local rabbi and cannot say anything definitive, but I will discuss the merits of the two issues you raised.

The Rama (Choshen Mishpat 231:28) says that not only do the bans made by trade groups need the approval of the local rabbi, but even those made by the townspeople as a whole need it. While the S’ma (ad loc. 45) cites the Maharam Alshaker who argues, the Shach (ad loc. 4) sides with those who require the rabbi’s approval in both cases. However, all opinions should agree that if the rabbi has an interest against the ban, then his acquiescence is not necessary. In fact, the financial welfare of the townspeople is one of the rabbi’s responsibilities. Also, although the Rosh (Bava Batra 1:33) says that even decision of all the townspeople requires the rabbi’s agreement, the gemara (Bava Batra 9a) works well with the Rambam (Mechira 14:9-11) and others who say that while craftsman’s bans are valid only with permission, the entire populace does not require it.

If I understand the local rabbi’s intention correctly regarding the need for all to be together, that is true in regard to a beit din ruling based on logic, in which case they need to be present together to discuss the indications. However, concerning agreeing to institute new rules, as long as there is agreement, even if people are approached separately, their agreement is valid. Another factor that makes it possible to make the ban is that one is not taking money from anyone, just that the decision is that people will not eat meat, which results in a lack of profit, which is different from loss.

The type of agreement you need is, if not unanimous, then at least a clear majority of the taxpayers. It is also required that the intentions of those who institute the ban are noble, and not connected to quarreling. Since I am not familiar with your local dynamics, I instruct you to consult with Rav Yaakov Nathanson, as well. 
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