by Rabbi Aryeh Klapper
*Here is the full-text of the shayla that Rabbi Klapper gave the 2015 Summer Beit Midrash fellows to answer. Stay tuned for Rabbi Klapper’s teshuva, which we’ll post online next week!
BARGAINS is a chain of for-profit thrift shops. It is owned by a private corporation whose sole and equal shareholders are Mara Spade, a Jewish woman with growing halakhic sympathies, and her non-Jewish business partner Samuel Hammett. For reasons that have become increasingly esoteric over the years, the corporation’s symbol is a peregrine in silhouette.
BARGAINS has been expanding tremendously in recent years, and where BARGAINS’ gleaming emporia go, other thrift shops tend to wither. BARGAINS offers more consistent quality, better selection, longer hours, and generally sets its prices slightly lower than any major competitors, which it can afford because of its economies of scale and large capital reserve. Some online critics have also claimed that it benefits from a false impression that donations of goods to BARGAINS stores are fully tax-deductible. Although it is not clear that BARGAINS is responsible for this impression. BARGAINS is currently the only significant chain of its type.
Mara is responsible for developing new stores and is responsible for all stages of the process from selecting a location through the Grand Opening. She is currently scouting locations in Western MA. The only nearby Orthodox shul is the Young Israel of Dayberry, which is hosted by the Barney Fife Jewish Center. BFJC also hosts Modest Requirements, the Young Israel’s Thrift Shop. Mara has been looking at houses near BFJC and expects to rent one for her family (husband and four kids) soon.
Modest Requirements is open Mondays – Thursdays from 10 – 6 pm and is staffed entirely by Gladys Blueoat, a 60 year old member of Young Israel with no family other than her 12 tomcats. Gladys is paid $18 an hour for the job, which together with her late husband Warren’s life insurance, enables her to live at roughly the lower-middle-class standard of living she enjoyed during their thirty-year marriage. The salary is rather high for the nature of the work, and some complaints about this have occasionally been raised, but the store nonetheless contributes significantly to the shul’s budget, and most of the administration views this as a dignified form of communal tzedakah.
Mara so far has found two possible locations for the new BARGAINS store. The first is some thirty miles down the highway in Wolomolopoag; it will mean a long commute for Mara, but is unlikely to draw business away from Modest Requirements. The second is in the very same mall as BFJC, and is attractive among other reasons because of the traffic BFJC generates.
Mara subscribes to the CMTL Weekly Dvar Torah, and the 2015 weekly summaries of SBM learning have made her wonder whether it could be Jewishly permissible for BARGAINS open its new store in Dayberry. For that matter, she realizes that the opening of every BARGAINS store has driven thrift shops like Modest Requirements out of business. Is she halakhically or ethically required to change BARGAINS’ entire operating model, or to sell her share? Does she owe damages to the beneficiaries or employees of those shops? She approaches the rabbi of YID, Rabbi Milton Friedman shlit”a, who refers her question to you.
Rabbi Friedman adds his own question: If you rule that Mara may or should not open a BARGAINS in Dayberry, and she does so anyway, how should he and the shul react when she applies for membership?