Passing the Counterfeit Buck
Last week in my office, someone
passed us a counterfeit note when paying for a purchase. Are we stuck
with the note, or are we allowed to "pass it along?" After
all, we are not the counterfeiters, so why should we take the loss? On
the other hand, somewhere along the line someone will be left
A. Your frustration at having received a phony note is understandable. But you can not pass the buck (literally) to someone else.
There are two distinct problems
involved in passing a bad note. One is that you are misleading the
person who receives it, since you are representing it as a genuine bill.
This is a classic problem of a deceptive business practice. Jewish law
unambiguously rejects the idea of "let the buyer beware", and
holds both buyer and seller responsible to fairly represent what they
have to offer. A popular metaphor calls the marketplace a playing
If you can identify the person who gave you the forged money, you may ask them to pay you with a good bill. Reporting the forgery would be good citizenship, because if a person passes a few thousand large bills and every single recipient decides that the amount is too small to justify notifying the police, then the law enforcement authorities have not been alerted to a major crime, even though thousands of individuals are aware of it.
SOURCES: Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 228; Mishna Avot 3:2; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 425:1 in the Rema
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Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir is Research Director of the Center for Business Ethics, Jerusalem College of Technology. Rabbi Dr. Meir received his PhD in Economics from MIT, and previously studied at Harvard. He subsequently studied at various Israeli yeshivot, and received his ordination from the Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Prior to moving to Israel, he worked at the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration. Rabbi Dr. Meir is also a Senior Lecturer in Economics at the Jerusalem College of Technology and has published several articles on the subjects of modern business and economics and Jewish law. He is also the author of Meaning in Mitzvot, an OU.ORG feature.
The Jewish Ethicist
presents some general principles of Jewish law and ethics. For specific
questions and direct application, please consult a qualified Rabbi.
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