Thursday, October 11, 2007

"Everyone Does It"

(Picture courtesy of

Entering a nearby Supersol, Yossi made his way over to the open table containing candy and garinim. He reached his hand over and scooped up a handful and put them in his mouth to snack on while he picked up a few items his wife had asked him to bring home. Before paying for the items at the check-out counter he made one more trip over to the open table for another handful of candy.

Pay for the garinim or the few candies he had eaten?

Everyone does it - everyone helps themselves to a handful or two. It can't be considered stealing. It is only stealing when you take one of the items on the shelf that actually has a price affixed to its packaging.

A few blocks away David opens his Me'am Lo'ez to review the parsha and reads the commentary to Bereishis 6:13 about the generation of Noach:

In many cases, this crime took very subtle forms. A farmer would bring a load of fruit to the market to sell it and make a small profit. The corrupt citizens would find ways to eat all the food without paying. Each one would behave as a customer; while he and the farmer were haggling over the price, he would begin nibbling on the fruit. Once he had eaten his fill, he would find some excuse not to buy anything. He would complain that the fruit was no good, or that the price was not right; even if he paid, he would do so with worthless counterfeit money. This was an extremely common practice. If the farmed tried to collect for the fruit that had been eaten, the other would reply, "I was only tasting your merchandise to see if it was good. Everyone does it."

David pauses for a second and reminds himself of the incredibly high standard that the Torah sets for us with the prohibition of Lo Signov.


At October 11, 2007 at 8:33:00 AM EDT, Blogger Miriam Woelke said...


It says somewhere in the Talmud (I think in Bava Metzia ?) that it is forbidden to grap any food items without the intention of buying it). This also includes tasting something.

But, as you wrote, in Israel everybody just graps.:-)

At October 11, 2007 at 9:35:00 AM EDT, Blogger Miriam said...

no, not everyone!

At October 11, 2007 at 9:52:00 AM EDT, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Great post and in keeping with this week's parsha. I love it.

At October 11, 2007 at 11:13:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One minor quibble -- the issur in the Torah for stealing is loi signoivu, rather than loi signoiv, which refers to kidnapping.

Other than that, I agree with what you wrote completely.

Personally, I'm also disturbed by people who take ice cream or other nosh from the shelves to give to their children to eat while they're in the store, even though they do intend to pay for it later when they get to the register.

At October 11, 2007 at 11:58:00 AM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

Good post! I remember once popping a grape into my mouth in a supermarket when I was 8 years old. Immediately my father turned colors and his eyes got as wide as can be, and boy did he gave me a speech (I ended up giving the checkout clerk 20 cents for it later when we were leaving, and I had had a hard time explaining why she should take the money). I didn't hear the end of it for days.

But I don't know if that's an example of an "incredibly high standard," however, do I imagine that in times when/where people were REALLY poor it may have been almost out of necessity to get some food without paying.


Why you are you disturbed by the practice? If the parents are paying for it, I don't see why I would have a problem with it (especially if it's going to get the said child to stop crying, etc).

At October 11, 2007 at 12:22:00 PM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

Once we're talking about it already, it's funny: It's been decades, but I remember the scene in the supermarket like it was yesterday. I even remember extacy where I was standing (although I imagine that if I went back there things would look diffeently now), but this was my father's reaction:

My Father (angry sounding): "Did you make a brocha on that grape?"

Me: "yes"

Him: "Do you normally make brochos on stolen goods?"

Me (looking at my shoes): "um, sniffle"

Him (really angry now): "Well?"

Me (quietly): "It was only a grape..."

Him (fire engine red, bulging eyes, breathing flames with smoke emitting from his nostrils): "ONLY a grape!?! So according to you I can eat all these gazzillion grapes because each one is only a grape?!?"

Me: (almost a whisper): "no... I guess not... so... I'll pay for it?"

Him: "I would think so!"

Me: "ok, can we finish shopping now?"

At October 11, 2007 at 12:46:00 PM EDT, Blogger A Talmid said...

Just for the record, one is allowed one to taste grapes or the like in the store if he really intends on buying it and wants to make sure they taste good, because the owner wants you to taste them so you will buy it. This means 1 or 2 not sitting and having lunch there - on the house. (Personally, I won't do this because they aren't washed) I know of at least on fruit store where the owner is always cutting up fruit and making the customers taste it, thinking they will buy some when see how good it is.

At October 11, 2007 at 3:17:00 PM EDT, Anonymous shoshana (bershad) said...

A Talmid: To me, there's a huge difference between the merchant OFFERING you a free sample (you taste, you like, you buy) and somebody deciding on their own to sample the merchandise. I don't think you're "allowed" to taste something unless it is offered to you by the appropriate authority (e.g., a produce manager or a sign that says "Free! Take one!"). I know many people operate on the principle that this is an unspoken policy, but it's not! Stores suffer huge losses from pilfering and outright theft (think how many empty candy wrappers you see in every aisle of the supermarket), and, in the end, we all pay more when the items are marked up to cover the cost of the loss.

Chabakuk Elisha: your story reminds me of the time when my son was about 7 years old. He'd been playing at a friend's house, and when he came home, I discovered him playing with a toy that didn't belong to him. He admitted that he'd taken it without permission. I knew that he had to make restitution, and I accompanied him to the friend's house so he could return the toy and apologize. However, I didn't want to humiliate or punish him so severely that he would become defensive and resentful; I wanted him to feel contrition and learn right from wrong. I think your father handled the situation just right! Obviously, you still remember the lesson, and it seems to me that you turned away from a life of crime! ;-)

At October 11, 2007 at 3:19:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

If the customer thinks the store could have a permissive policy about sampling the food, he should ask the owner about it. Otherwise, he should make no self-serving assumptions.

As for just grabbing food items, people often test fruits and vegetables (like avocados...) for ripeness that way, so some gentle grabbing for that purpose may be OK even if the item is not bought (what do poskim say?).

At October 12, 2007 at 10:02:00 AM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

How about this one:

My wife went to the grocery store last night, where she was astounded to see a woman examining the clusters of grapes and pulling off the ones that weren’t good (to ensure that all the grapes she paid for were good).

It struck my wife (and I agree) as extremely questionable, does anyone think this is really ok?

At October 12, 2007 at 10:54:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to Chabakuk Elisha:

> Anon:
> Why you are you disturbed by the practice?
> If the parents are paying for it, I don't see why I would have a problem with it
> (especially if it's going to get the said child to stop crying, etc).

Why am I disturbed? For one thing, they haven't purchased the item yet, and an empty wrapper could easily be discarded and forgotten about. For another thing, I don't think a parent should encourage a child to be oichail bashuk domeh lekelev. In the case of a child who was actually crying from hunger, I supposed I wouldn't be as disturbed.

IAC, Feel free to disagree with me.

Anon. formerly of 11:13 AM on Thursday.

At October 12, 2007 at 11:04:00 AM EDT, Anonymous shoshana (bershad) said...

C.E.: I think this is a "gray area." I've been told that, in Europe, it is considered unethical to examine each piece of fruit and only take unblemished ones (because you're thereby leaving the inferior ones for other people); you're supposed to take the loss on what you have to throw away. I think this stems from the postwar era when good produce was scarce. However, in our culture, where food is ample, we are taught to be careful shoppers and to select the best produce we can find. We shouldn't have to pay for grapes that have gone bad. The fruit is generally displayed openly and weighed at checkout, so we are paying for what we buy. In this case, the store carries the loss from not being able to sell the damaged fruit; it's considered "spoilage" in the true sense of the word. As a tradeoff, the store benefits from having consumers know that they can buy excellent produce there--that's why the produce displays are constantly being picked over by the employees to remove any blemished fruit or vegetables. Thus the consumer who "cleans up" the bunch of grapes before purchasing them is doing the same thing. To me, that is very different from eating grapes in the store (and thereby not paying for them). I'd be interested in hearing what the poseks would say.

At October 12, 2007 at 11:05:00 AM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...

I don't know if it's too likely that they'll forget to pay for it, but of course it goes without saying that would need to make sure that they do.
And of course this is age dependant, but I don't know any frum SMALL children that don't eat in the street. The one thing that is important, and I hear parents telling their children this, is that it should be clear to the child that this item WILL be paid for.
As for me, I'm just happy that their child isn't screaming :-)

At October 12, 2007 at 11:09:00 AM EDT, Anonymous chabakuk elisha said...


I would generally agree when discussing loose fruit; but to pick through a cluster makes me uncomfortable… I would think of a cluster as a single product almost. Would it be ok to take (let’s say) an apple, and cut out the soft spots before coming to the checkout counter?

At October 12, 2007 at 11:22:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Bob Miller said...

If a grape cluster has some bad grapes, just leave it alone. There are other, less problematic clusters for sale in that store or area.

Some types of actions seem to stem from faulty ideas like:

1. The Torah's rules don't apply to busy people on the go.
2. Manners are a foreign concept.
3. I'm smarter than they are.
4. They want to cheat me; I'll show them!
5. Nobody is watching.

As Jews, we should keep far away from these ideas, while shopping or in general.

At October 12, 2007 at 11:41:00 AM EDT, Anonymous shoshana (bershad) said...

C.E.: As an issue of practicality and sanitation, no, but in theory ... well, I can't bring myself to say yes to wielding a knife in the produce dept.! ;-)
On the other hand, when you select apples (or potatoes, or whatever is displayed loosely), you're free to accept or reject each individual piece. I've often looked at a small "bad patch" and considered whether it was a superficial blemish or evidence of rot; if I buy it anyway, I expect to cut away the bad part and take the loss (a minute percentage of the cost). For that matter, I'd do the same with a bunch of grapes: when I'm shopping, I might purchase a bunch with a few broken grapes, but not one that looks "past its prime." (However, if I decide to buy them anyway, rather than handle them in the store, I'd dispose of the bad ones at home to prevent mildew.)

I think I've told you more about my shopping habits than you wanted to know! You can see I spend a lot of time in the produce dept.

p.s. Just saw Bob Miller's comment, and I agree completely!


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