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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pesach: Hiddur via Aveirah

Pesach is coming and I'd like to start handing out my own unsolicited advice about how to keep the costs under control. I've been MIA here, but now that every bedroom and bathroom has been scrubbed clean (I even found one piece of chometz amongst the crumbs here and there), perhaps I can sit down and relax a bit because I can't tackle the kitchen, dining area, or living room yet (thanks ProfK for inspiring me to get moving on Pesach!).

I also plan to revisit two topics that I have neglected to come back to, but intend to revisit: retirement and "Our Finances." I welcome anyone that wants to Guest Post on keeping Pesach under control and you don't have to limit yourself to just the financial aspects either.

I was angered to see this Letter in the Yated about frum people bouncing checks, especially checks for items they obviously should never have been purchasing in the first place. And I also want to say it is time to stop sugar coating these aveirot by calling them a "chillul Hashem" because they are far greater than a chillul Hashem. Failing to pay someone is theft. I'm afraid "chillul Hashem" just doesn't pack enough punch.

The letter writer kindly pins ths problem on irresponsibility and financial disorganization. I'm not so kind, especially after a businessman from Boro Park and his wife shared their method for cashing (large) checks received from those in their very own community, a method I think is worth sharing because it really stinks to have checks bounced on a business and I've seen it "from the inside" and I'm mad about it:
He goes into the bank the check was written from and asks if there is enough money in the account to satisfy the check. If not, he finds out how much he can draw and makes a determination if those funds are enough to satisfy him. If so, he cleans out their checking account and writes off the remaining balance due (i.e. he is happy to take what he can get and is resigned to the fact he won't be able to get the rest of the balance due).
Being part of the community, he (sadly) knows not to be so trusting. Unfortunately, this was not the case for this Korean family business.

Dear Editor,
This past Erev Shabbos, I made my weekly trip to what’s known in Flatbush as the nicest and freshest flower shop in town. I always say hello, goodbye and thank you to the owner of the store when I visit. After this week’s thank you, the Korean owner and his wife showed me that they just hung up a couple of bounced checks on the wall. They wanted to know if I can help them locate these people. The names were all Yiddishe ones. They told me that they usually don’t take checks, but before Pesach last year (4/07), people came rushing in right before “the holiday” and begged the store to accept their checks. The storeowner and his wife told me, “We figured that with such nice people, there’s nothing to worry about, especially with checks amounting to less than twenty dollars each.” I was so embarrassed and shocked. How irresponsible can people be? You bounce a check for $12 last year Erev Pesach and you don’t bother to take care of it? I mean, don’t you read your monthly bank statement? Because of you, Hashem’s name is being desecrated over and over again, with literally hundreds of people walking into the store throughout the week and viewing the checks. We are so busy fixing the world’s problems, but maybe we ought to give lessons on how to open and read your mail. Please pay the store the money you owe and figure out how to do teshuvah for making such a chillul Hashem by being so last minute and so tzufloigin. There is no excuse.
Embarrassed on Avenue N and Coney Island

Can some "askan" go in and pay the store owners their loss and (if they so choose, which they hopefully would choose to do) pursue the non-payers since this small "mom and pop" business will probably never see their money? I'd label buying flowers for Yom Tov with money you don't have as a "hiddur ha-ba'a ba-aveira." Could stealing flowers for yom tov, to be even worse than stealing matzah (a classic mitzvah ha-ba'a ba-aveira)????? I'd say so. While nice, the flowers were not even necessary in the first place.


ProfK said...

Thanks for bringing this up to public view Sefardi Lady. It's been a problem for a long time. Before my son's Bar Mitzvah many years ago I was in a Brooklyn clothing store. When I went to pay for an item I asked the owner if he took checks. He asked me "Do you live in Brooklyn?" (I guess it was obvious that I wasn't one of the local chevra.) I thought he was being cautious because I didn't live in the area. I was wrong. I showed him my driver's licence showing I lived in Staten Island. He took my check. He also opened the drawer under the till and showed me three stacks of bounced checks, all from Brooklyn residents. It's horrendous when it happens to store owners but it doesn't stop there. I was active in a tzedaka organization and we regularly got bounced checks for insufficient funds.

Is it sloppy record keeping and inattention to details? Perhaps, but that doesn't excuse the end results of a store owner being cheated. I can't even think of a term bad enough to apply to those who do this on purpose.

mlevin said...

I have a solution to this problem. It is simple. It will work 100%. Too bad it would never be implemented...

Step 1. Hire someone to snap pictures of each and everyone with unpaid bounced check after a statement period (in case it was an oversight and this person rushed back to the store and fixed a problem).

Step 2. Print these pictures on 8.5X 11 paper with a sign Thief with large red letters on top. On the bottom in small letters there is a description of a theft.

Step 3. Plaster these pictures in his/her shul, schools/yeshivas, work place and on all four courners of the block around family's home.

The same punishment could be administered to men caught with prostitutes or abusing wives. Women who make their 5 year olds go shopping by themselves or something similar...

Lion of Zion said...

"And I also want to say it is time to stop sugar coating these aveirot by calling them a "chillul Hashem" because they are far greater than a chillul Hashem. Failing to pay someone is theft. I'm afraid "chillul Hashem" just doesn't pack enough punch."

i don't think you realize how many people don't consider this theft (i.e., cheating koreans) either morally or halakhically. fighting this activity by crying hillul hashem is the only recourse and not necessarily an attempt to sugar coat.

Litvak said...

Go SL !

Actually that publication recently ran a few letters from vendors who deal with the 'frum' community complaining about non-payment or difficulty in procuring such. A recent editorial also blasted such shenanigans.

Perhaps not enough, but I guess it has gotten so bad that it cannot be denied and hidden outright anymore.

anonymous mom said...

Advice for keeping Pesach costs under control:

Buy in bulk. We order staples like potatoes in large quantities. We know people who share a side of beef with friends. No joke.

Plastic goods--bulk.

Also, don't underestimate the potato.

concernedjewgirl said...

That is something else! People that are outright Steeling. There is no doubting it! They write a piece of paper not having one bit of doubt that they will never pay for something that they are 'buying'.
I used to work in a place where if a customer didn't pay we took care of it the old fashioned way. People from the company would go at night and get the money back by taking back what we've installed. I don't necessarily think its the proper way to do business. Yet, it does send the point home. You mess with us. We'll get our money either way. Guess what, that customer had no more difficulties paying us after that.
In today’s society of high tech I'm AMAZED that anybody takes checks, especially a small business owner and especially if they’ve been burned on it. If I were them it would be cash or credit. Yes some customers maybe deterred but probably the ones that won't pay in the long run anyways. So you lose nothing. In Canada there is a coffee shop called Tim Horton’s. It’s like the American version of Dunkin Donuts only with way better coffee. When everyone was starting to accept debt cards and then eventually credit cards they didn't switch. There motto is, its cash only. There were predictions on how there business is going to suffer...guess’s only grown. There are always lines, and everyone has cash and if you don't. Then you don't buy it. My point is, the small shops have to protect themselves from these THIEVES in Frum clothing. I wonder if the same people that cheat small shops…I’m sure large ones to. I wonder if they feel like they shouldn’t pay taxes as well. Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe this hasn't received more comments. This is appalling. I am so embarrassed to be associated with the NYC-ish orthodox jewish community. This brough a tear to my eye.

Zach Kessin said...

I think if I was a merchant I would go with NO CHECKS, no exceptions. Pay cash only.

Anonymous said...

I had a customer bounce a $120 check on me. (it was a luxury item) 2 days later she leased a new $22K+ car from my husband. When my husband reminded her about the bounced check, she said "she will take care of it" - that was over a year ago-all my phone calls remained unanswered. None of my goyishe customers ever bounced a check!