If one purchases an item in a store and sees as the clerk is entering the price of the item in the computer and it is the wrong price (as in cheaper for this dilemma) is it halachically necessary to tell them about the mistake or to think it is a gift from heaven for a cheaper price and say nothing.

I learned something along the lines that is is not always required to notify an error during a study session. But maybe it was after the fact and not during the fact? If it is a Kiddush Hashem it is always necessary to tell them but what if it were a small item and the clerk may think of you as foolish or crazy (perhaps righteous) to tell them about it?

This is talking about a non-Jewish owned business and most likely a corporation that is large like a major super-market chain.

If the item were expensive maybe that would be another story altogether?

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    I think an easy compromise would be to have the cashier charge you the wrong price and just pay the correct price and then inform the cashier that the computer price should be corrected. If you want to go further, YOU be the one to tell the store manager. This way, you don't hold up the line for anyone else. Kiddush Hashem is not based on "foolishness". You did the right thing and it doesn't matter what others may think of you in this case. That's THEIR "misery". (As it is, many Gentiles think we're "crazy" for the "normal" things that we do, such as shaking a lemon and tree for a week.) – DanF Jul 2 '15 at 14:13
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    very very similar judaism.stackexchange.com/q/8266/759 – Double AA Jul 2 '15 at 14:55

The general principle involved here is טעות עכו"ם - mistakes of a non-Jew. Halachically such a mistake falls under the general rubric of returning lost objects. Halacha requires one to go to great lengths to return lost objects, but limits this to fellow Jews. If something is found in a location where it is most likely that it was a non-Jews item, then there is no such obligation.

This case falls under that category. By making the mistake, they essentially lost something, and you don't have to return it. However, there are several caveats to this.

  1. You can't do anything to cause or mislead the non-Jew in this calculation. They have to make the mistake on their own due to no fault of yours.

  2. Some opinions say that you have to explicitly state that you are relying on their calculation and they shouldn't think you are checking them and rely on you to catch a mistake. It isn't clear to me that in a checkout situation this would apply, as it would seem unreasonable to expect the customer to do these calculations, but I don't know.

  3. It is an appropriate and pious attribute to point out the mistake and correct it if it will cause a Kiddush Hashem (as the story of Shimon ben Shetach).

  4. If it can cause a Chillul Hashem it is forbidden to let the mistake pass.

  5. According to Sefer Chassidim 358 a non Jew who keeps the 7 Mitzvos is part of the requirement of returning lost objects (it isn't clear to me if this is a mater of piousness or a base requirement) and thus does not fall under this category of "mistakes of a non-Jew".

The Tzomet institute has a long article on this and other subjects relating to monetary dealings with non-Jews which has a nice collection of sources (including that rather obscure Sefer Chassidim reference).

If the price is too high, then that is your money to decide about. You are allowed to just forgive it and make it a gift. However, another consideration in a computerized situation is you can be preventing them from stealing from others by pointing out the mistake.

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  • I think the price may have been too high in this situation for the organic fruit...probably should have said nothing then? The person even forgot to scan the fruit and I had to tell her about that as well as change the price. – code613 Jul 2 '15 at 15:04
  • @code613, if the money loss is on your end, it is for you to forgive. No big deal. If the money loss is on their end, then in this case it doesn't sound like you have to go back and return it as you aren't even clear if there was an error. But ask a Rabbi, don't rely on what is said here. – Yishai Jul 2 '15 at 15:06
  • I'm talking about during the transaction however. She just deleted it from the computer as I told her about it right away and put the price to the more expensive organic fruit price. If it was after the fact and I noticed the wrong price after leaving checkout I probably would have thought about it more and not gone back. – code613 Jul 2 '15 at 15:10
  • it's ironic that this happened to me at Whole Foods which is being investigated for overcharging customers to begin with..overcharging whole foods..although it doesn't say produce in the article – code613 Jul 2 '15 at 15:43
  • It is critical to distinguish between the owner of a store and a clerk. The answer you provided clearly applies to an owner, but with a clerk it is a case of a third party making a mistake that causes a loss to the owner. Generally, the reason it is okay to let a clerk make an error is because the owner or manager of the store has a policy that forgives small errors made by clerks. If a store does not have such a policy, it is less clear that it would be allowed to benefit from a clerk's error. – Fred Jul 2 '15 at 20:58

The Chofetz Chaim famously wrote that he saw many people keep the profits of a non-Jew's mistake, and it never went well for any of them.

Generally, the right thing to do is to inform them of the mistake.

If there's a long line and a rush to ring up the groceries, you could potentially argue that both the cashier and the management would rather lose ten cents on the total order due to underpricing if correcting it would take up a lot of everyone's time.

But to say "God gave me this?" Absolutely not.

Midrash Rabba, Devarim 3:3

מעשה ברבי שמעון בן שטח שלקח חמור אחד מישמעאלי אחד הלכו תלמידיו ומצאו בו אבן אחת טובה תלויה לו בצוארו אמרו לו רבי (משלי י, כב): "ברכת ה' היא תעשיר" א"ל ר"ש בן שטח חמור לקחתי אבן טובה לא לקחתי הלך והחזירה לאותו ישמעאלי וקרא עליו אותו ישמעאל ברוך ה' אלהי שמעון בן שטח

Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach bought a donkey from an Arab. His students found a precious gem hung around the donkey's neck. "Rabbi, [Proverbs 10:22], God's blessing shall make you rich!", they exclaimed. Rabbi Shimon replied: "I bought a donkey, not a gem." He returned the gem to that Arab, who cried out: "bless the God of Shimon ben Shetach."

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  • In this Midrash it was a Kiddush Hashem if the story continues if I recall. I learned this exact Midrash last week. This happened to me today. I panicked and just notified them to change the price of a conventional fruit's cost to an organic fruit's cost. But was I really supposed to for something small and not really (maybe) a Kiddush Hashem? The cashier would have to know I am Jewish but I was wearing a hat not a kippah although when I took out my wallet my tzitzit may have slightly been exposed. The cashier said no one ever did this before. I felt maybe I was "wrong" from what I learned? – code613 Jul 2 '15 at 14:33
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    where did the chafetz chaim famously write that? – wfb Jul 2 '15 at 20:42
  • See also סנהדרין עו ע"ב – wfb Jul 2 '15 at 20:45

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