This week we continue our discussion of the form of stealing known as oshek – cheating a person out of money or property that is rightfully his.
Refusing to pay rent for real estate or items that one rented is also considered to be oshek. There may be times when a person feels justified in cheating someone out of his money. For example, if he dislikes the behavior of his landlord, he may feel justified in avoiding his final payment after having left the apartment. He may rationalize that the landlord caused him a great deal of anguish and that he deserves being released from the final payment. This is incorrect, and doing so constitutes stealing. This is even the case if he tries to avoid the landlord without outright refusing to pay, in the hope that the landlord will give up chasing him.
Refusing to pay a worker’s wages also constitutes a transgression of oshek. (In addition, there is a separate mitzvo to pay a worker on time – this will be discussed in a future series). This is even the case if the employer has lost money and feels that he has lost more than his employees. (Refusal to pay wages because of bankruptcy is a more complicated matter – one should consult an Orthodox Rabbi as to the law in such a case).
Refusal to return money or valuables that were deposited for safekeeping, is also within the category of oshek. A common situation occurs when one receives a deposit with the understanding that should the buyer change his mind, his deposit will be refunded. If the customer does change his mind, the seller may not refuse to refund the deposit. Again, one may rationalize in certain cases, that there is nothing wrong with doing this – for example if the deposit is a small amount. However, we have seen that it is forbidden to steal anything, no matter how low its value.
A common theme that arises in this scenarios, is that a person will often have a strong inclination to justify retaining money or property. However, in numerous cases, doing so is forbidden. It is essential that a person recognize his inability to be completely objective when any amount of money is involved. Moreover, he should accustom himself to asking a Rabbi in situations where there is any measure of uncertainty as to the validity of his planned course of action.
1. Much of the information for this essay is taken from “Halachos of Other People’s Money” by Rabbi Yisroel Pinchos Bodner.
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