Vayigash - food speculation

The Sheiltos in this week’s sedrah talks about the issur of profiteering from food.

There are two halachos that relate to not making excessive profit from food:
  1. You cannot make more than 1/6th profit on food.
  2. You cannot hoard food in Eretz Yisroel in order to sell it later at a higher price.
Excessive Profit
Regarding excessive profit the gemara says in בבא מציעא דף מ':
והאמר שמואל 'המשתכר אל ישתכר יותר על שתות'
Shmuel said – a merchant should not make a profit more than 1/6th.

Regarding hoarding food in Eretz Yisroel, the gemara in Bava Basra (90b) says:
תנו רבנן אוצרי פירות ומלוי ברבית ומקטיני איפה ומפקיעי שערים עליהן הכתוב אומר (עמוס ח) "לֵאמֹר מָתַי יַעֲבֹר הַחֹדֶשׁ וְנַשְׁבִּירָה שֶּׁבֶר וְהַשַּׁבָּת וְנִפְתְּחָה-בָּר לְהַקְטִין אֵיפָה וּלְהַגְדִּיל שֶׁקֶל וּלְעַוֵּת מֹאזְנֵי מִרְמָה" וכתיב (עמוס ח) "נִשְׁבַּע ה' בִּגְאוֹן יַעֲקֹב אִם-אֶשְׁכַּח לָנֶצַח כָּל-מַעֲשֵׂיהֶם"

“The Beraisoh has taught; People who hoard grain, usurers, people who decrease measures and people who raise [food] prices - about them the possuk says:

“[Listen to this - those who would swallow the needy, and destroy the poor of the land ] - saying: 'When will Beis Din make a leap year and add an extra month before the Korban Omer is brought. (When this happens the price of yashan will go up and they will be able to sell grain at a profit.) Or, ‘When will shmitah come and the price of grain will go up, then we will open our warehouses and sell a small measure for a high price.’”
And it says [about them]:
“Hashem has sworn by the pride of Yaakov: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.””

Basic foods and luxuries
The gemara continues to say that it is ossur to store wine, flour and oil in order to sell them later at a higher price, but there is no issur with spices, such as peppers.

The Rambam, in הלכות מכירה פרק י"ד says that this difference also applies to the first halacha, of not making more than 1/6th profit:
א … בית דין חייבין לפסוק השערים, ולהעמיד שוטרין לכך; ולא יהיה כל אחד ואחד משתכר כל מה שירצה, אלא שתות בלבד יפסקו להם בשכרם, ולא ישתכר המוכר יתר על שתות.

ב במה דברים אמורים, בדברים שיש בהם חיי נפש כגון יינות שמנים וסלתות. אבל העיקרין, כגון החמס והקושט והלבונה וכיוצא בהן--אין פוסקין להם שער, אלא ישתכר המשתכר כל מה שירצה.

  “… Beis Din are obligated to fix prices and to appoint police to monitor this, so that not everyone should make as much profit as they like but rather they should only add on 1/6th for their reward (for buying and selling and making the items available). These halachos apply to basic items that are needed for people to live, like wine, oil and flour. But for items like chamas, kosht (incense) and frankincense you do not make a fixed price, rather the merchant can make as much profit as he likes.”

The Magid Mishneh explains that the Rambam learnt the difference between staples and luxuries regarding excessive profits from the difference that we find in the halacha of hoarding.

Halachos on the Beis Din and Halachos on the Individual Shop Owner
Reb Isser Zalman Meltzer z”l (Even Ha’azel Chelek 3, Hilchos Mechirah, Perek 14) asks that the gemara says (בבא בתרא צ״א ע״א) regarding eggs:
ת"ר אין משתכרין פעמים בביצים אמר מרי בר מרי פליגי בה רב ושמואל חד אמר על חד תרי וחד אמר תגר לתגרא
The Beraisa says, it is ossur to make a double profit on eggs. Mari bar Mari said that Rav and Shmuel argued about this:
  • One said, it is ossur to buy and sell eggs for double the original price.
  • The other said, it is ossur to buy eggs and then to resell them to a second dealer. [Rather the person who bought them must sell them for consumption.]
The first lashon says that you cannot make double profit on eggs, but you can make make up to double profit. Eggs are a basic food item, so why does the halacha of not making more than 1/6th profit apply to them?

Reb Isser Zalman explains that there are two halachos:
- There is a halacha on Beis Din to supervise prices. Beis Din have to ensure that shop keepers do not charge more than 1/6th of the original price. However if Beis Din do not police the prices then shopkeepers are not limited to 1/6th because they do not need to loose out and sell at a lower price than everyone else.

- Even when Beis Din do not supervise the prices there is still a special halacha that applies to eggs that shopkeepers cannot double their price. (It is possible that according to Reb Isser Zalman the reason that this halacha was stated specially by eggs is because they were not an absolutely basic staple and shopkeepers could have got away with doubling their prices. Nevertheless this is ossur. The same would apply to other basic foods as well, however.)

Why did these halachos not apply to Yosef?
There are two reasons that these halachos did not apply to Yosef:
  1. There was enough food during the years of plenty to go around even although Yosef stored 1/5th of the grain. The gemara says (בבא בתרא צ״א ע״א) that in a place in Eretz Yisroel where there is an abundance of oil, there is no issur of storing oil.
  2. Yosef did not raise the prices to an unreasonable extent. The reason that the landowners were forced to see their land to Pharoh was because the value of the land became less, not because the grain was too expensive.


  1. Quality stuff right here! Btw, where do you get your source material from? Do you have the hard drive containing the sforim or do you use webpages?


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