In the first part of this series, we outlined three forms of stealing – gezeila, geneiva, and oshek . Thus far, we have discussed the regular form of stealing. In the coming weeks, we will discuss oshek. This is translated as cheating others. It refers to when a person refuses to pay someone who has loaned him money, or who has given him services or merchandise.
Oshek is considered to be no less severe than actively taking something away from one’s fellow. It should be noted that oshek only applies when the person is able to repay the debt or loan, but refuses to do so. If he is simply unable to pay his fellow back, then he does not transgress oshek. Obviously he should strive to repay his debts as soon as possible .
The prohibition of oshek includes refusal to pay very small sums of money. For example, a person ordered an item worth $101.50 but he sent a check of $100, presuming that the owner would not be concerned about the minor reduction in payment. Unless the owner agreed to this reduction, the customer is transgressing the prohibition of stealing, in the form of oshek.
Oshek is not limited to outright refusal to pay. Deceiving the person into believing that there was no debt, or into lessening the debt, is oshek. So too, giving the owner the “run around” in the hope that he’ll give up chasing for his money, is also completely forbidden. For example, a tenant owes his final month of rent after having moved out, but makes it very hard for the landlord to locate him. He refuses to pick up the phone, or when confronted, he says he will pay soon. Eventually, the landlord gives up his efforts at receiving the money he is entitled to. The tenant has committed the sever prohibition of stealing.
See ‘Do Not Steal’ Part 1, for the definitions of these terms.
If the debtor has to make difficult choices between paying his debts and providing for his needs, he should consult with an Orthodox Rabbi who is well-versed in these areas.