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A mishna on Erchin 27a discusses buying land back after it has been consecrated. It says that if one offered ten selas, another twenty, etc. up to one who offered fifty, and then that last guy retracted his bid, he owes the difference between his bid and the next-lower one and then the next-lower one is the buyer. If he retracts too, iterate. If the original bidder retracts, they sell it on the open market and he owes the difference between the price they got and his bid. That all sounds straightforward and fair.

I am assuming that these kinds of transactions were uncommon, single events. My quesion is: does this process also apply to modern auctions where many items might be auctioned and only at the end the money is settled? Or, for that matter, participating in simultaneous auctions on eBay? Once I have been out-bid, do I still need to keep that money in reserve in case the people above me retract, or (per Jewish law) is that not my problem because that would be impracticel in auctions structured as they usually are now?

(I don't actually participate in auctions this way and would consult my rabbi if this mattered, but I was curious upon reading this mishna.)

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Seals are tokens, so no money was dealt with until the auction was resolved. So I'm not exactly understand your question. –  avi Feb 9 '12 at 15:19
    
I see two questions here (correct me if I'm wrong): 1, whether the rule you quote applies to auctions today; 2, whether the intermediate bidder must hold money in reserve in case higher bidders renege. Re 1, I don't understand why you think it might not apply: you seem to be saying it's because "many items might be auctioned" and there are "simultaneous auctions", but why do you think that would matter? –  msh210 Feb 9 '12 at 15:26
    
I thought a sela was a coin. @msh210, I guess it's two questions but if the answer to #1 is "no" then #2 doesn't apply, so I didn't call it out that way. I wonder whether simultaneous (e.g. estate) auctions or distributed (e.g. ebay) auctions are sufficiently different from what the mishna is talking about that we wouldn't apply it. No strong basis for that beyond the impression that "that's a differnet case" is not uncommon in evaluating situations. –  Monica Cellio Feb 9 '12 at 16:08
    
@MonicaCellio I added a link to erchin 27a. I think that is the mishna you were referring to. Correct me if I'm wrong. –  Double AA Feb 9 '12 at 16:15
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I suspect that the ideal answer here would be a sourced exposition of the concept of "Minhag Hasocherim" - "prevailing market practices." I don't know the sources myself. –  Isaac Moses Feb 9 '12 at 18:01
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2 Answers

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The auction in this mishnah is dealing with buying from hekdesh. Hekdesh, or the property of the Temple) always has the upper hand in negotiations because stealing from the Temple is the sin of Meila. So these people must repay the difference in case they cause the Temple a loss and thus the mishnah is merely stringent. Ericin deals with giving value to the Temple, thus the mishna is in this tractate.

It would not apply to non temple auctions.

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Everyone who makes an account with Ebay agrees to follow Ebay's rules.

Similarly, many times when one clicks "I agree" to use a service online, that person is agreeing to a contract which may stipulate which court, or the laws of which state / country, will be used to adjudicate any dispute.

This is allowed, and supersedes the general prohibition of going to secular court

Halachically, a Jew who made an account with Ebay is also obligated to follow Ebay's rules - and their rules would supercede any general halachic notion of the rules of auction.

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eBay was meant as one example. Auction-specific terms of use would trump halacha, but such don't always exist. For example, I've seen silent auctions at fundraising events (shuls, federation, etc), and I've never seen any of those spell out obligations of anybody but the highest bidder. –  Monica Cellio Feb 9 '12 at 17:09
    
I would still say, based on the general principles in the answer, that whatever policy is normal for auctions in that state / country would prevail. –  user1095 Feb 9 '12 at 17:17
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