כ״ה בניסן ה׳תשע״ז (April 21, 2017)

Bava Batra 90a-b: Hoarders of Produce

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, the Torah teaches clear laws that govern honest weights. According to some opinions, instituted rules regarding price fixing, as well. On today’s daf, the Gemara teaches that there are also strong recommendations about how to deal in an upstanding way with regard to certain other business practices, as well. Based on a passage in Amos (8:5) the Gemara concludes that God will neither forgive nor forget people who hoard fruit, lend with interest, are dishonest with weights and measures and raise prices.

Rabbi Yoḥanan identifies someone who is atzar perei – who hoards fruit – as a well-known figure at the time, Shabbtai Atzar Peirot. This character is contrasted with Shmuel’s father, who was known to sell his produce at the beginning of the season when prices were low. The Gemara relates that his son, Shmuel, would hold his fruit until prices rose, at which time he would sell them at the lower prices. According to the Gemara, Shmuel’s father’s activities were deemed more honorable than Shmuel’s, since prices usually remained low throughout when the market had had an abundance of produce at the beginning of the season.

The rishonim explain that Shmuel also had good intentions, thinking that if he were to make produce available at reduced prices just as the supply began to dwindle, he would help those people who would ordinarily have paid higher prices were it not for his intervention. Nevertheless, market forces during Talmudic times were such that when Shmuel held his fruit from the market, prices rose higher than they would have ordinarily. Even though Shmuel was ready to flood the market just when prices began to rise, still the prices ended up higher than they would have been had he followed his father’s behavior. The Rashbam explains that Shmuel’s father was well-respected in his community, and many people followed his lead in marketing their produce early, thereby holding down prices throughout the season.

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