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
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.