The prohibition of “tough shall not covet-lo Tachmod” (Shmot 20:14 and Devarim 5:18)is well known both for its personal significance and as one of the Ten Commandments. This prohibition is widely known and regarded and is one that captures the mind of both halachic deciders and chumash commentators (see Ibn Ezra on the verse above). Contrary to the way it is commonly understood, the prohibition of Lo Tachmod is one that has clear, definable and measurable parameters; although many think that what constitutes this prohibition s to want something like that that someone else has or to just want what someone else has when taking a look at Rishonim and poskim we see otherwise. The prohibition of lo tachmod as described by the Rambam(hilchot gezaila ve’avaida 1:9) and codified by the Shulchan Aruch(Choshen Mishpat 359:9) is in effect if a person sees an object that belongs to someone else and is not meant for sale yet nevertheless strongly attempts to acquire this object .if indeed the person beseeched the owner and convinced him to sell the desired object and the transaction takes place the person has then violated the scriptural prohibition of lo tachmod. This is true even if the buyer pays in full for the object acquired was paid for in full(Sefer Meirat Einayim ad loc footnote 14). It is important to note that a person is in violation of this prohibition even if the object was paid for in full or more than full. As long as the seller had no intention to sell the object and did so only as a result of the buyer’s pressure the prohibition of lo tachmod is in effect. Another thing that is important to note is that although the prohibition of lo Tachmod appears in the ten commandments mentioned in parasht Yitro(Shmot 20:14)) as well as in the Ten Commandments mentioned in Parashat Va’etchanan(dDevarim5:18) the two are counted as separate and distinguishable prohibitions in the list of the six hundred and thirteen mitzvoth- one as lo tachmod and one as lo titaveh(Rambam, sefer ha’mitzvot, lavin 265-266). While, as mentioned, the prohibition of lo tachmod takes place only once the desired object has switched ownership- do to undesirable circumstances- the prohibition of lo titaveh takes place in the earlier stage includes the plotting to acquire the object and the expressed desire to so do.
While this prohibition seems to be simple and straightforward there are some its applicability in the modern day economy must be defined more carefully. While is easy to understand how this prohibition would apply to “classic” kinds of assets, such as homes, oxen, and other tangible objects to which one can easily apply this prohibition, in an economy where so much is based on intangible things such as credit, the high value of intellectual property, and the securing of desired positions it is important to inquire whether or not this prohibition applies to these assets that are so characteristic and integral to modern-day economy. The reason to this distinction may be a reasonable one is both because what is mentioned in the pasuk is tangible and because we see on other areas of halacha that these intangible assets are not always treated the same way tangible assets(which are protected under a different set of halachic guidelines see Rabbi Z.N. Goldberg’s article in T’chumin vol 6) and while there is no question that the spirit of this law strongly discourages a person from pursuing anything that is not on the free market and “up for grabs” whether or not acquiring the above desirables although they are not forthcoming is something that must be determined.
The mechilta de’Rashbi on this pasuk(Shmot ibid) tells us “might this include not saying I wish my eye were like his eye or I withs my hair would be like his Talmud lomar shoro ve’achmoro avdo ve’amato bayto vesadehu the verse explicitly says “his ox and his donkey, his servant and made, his house and his field” to include only designated things [like those listed above] that can come into your possession and [when they do] your fellow lacks them”.
The clear definition of lo tachmod given by this mechilta includes only items that are tangible and whose acquisition by another party causes the previous owner to lose and lack them.
This clearly shows that items that cannot be in this category i.e. items that are not tangible, can not go under this prohibition of lo tachmod. The practical implication of this is that untangible things such as patents, other intellectual property, occupations and positions, although being protected under the laws of intellectual property and other halachic guidelines, would probably not be protected under the commandment of lo tachmod(see Aruch Hashulchan Choshen Mishpat ad loc se’if 10 who takes this position)..
The greatest implication this understanding would have modern day economy would be in the field of finance and credit cards. While we all take finances very seriously as the vehicle through which a modern day economy can function nevertheless it is important to know that credit and money transfers today are not what they used to be. While money exchanges, even in much of the modern era, where done with tangible money-coins of copper, silver, and gold or even exchange notes credit today is money that is not necessarily present or tangible at the time of the exchange. This being the case it would seem to be that in any case where a person seeks credit from one another in a way that the potential giver would never think of giving that credit without the potential receiver imploring him there will be no prohibition of lo tachmod. This is especially relevant when coming to discuss the issue of fundraising and asking people for donations that they were not planning on giving.
While at first glance it would seem like pressing someone to contribute to a certain cause is an outright violation of lo tachmod as that person had not intended on giving that donation and may have very possibly not given that same donation without the pressure applied to them. However, since the usual donation is given as a check or through a credit card it would one can easily argue that there is no violation of lo tachmod here since there is no tangible item that the asking paty is coveting; all they want is a certain amount of credit that the donor has in the bank which is very much not tangible and is therefore not a part of this prohibition of lo tachmod.
There are also those that argue that there is no prohibition in the case of fundraising for a charitable cause and that is based on a well known halachic concept in halacha found originally in the gemara in bava batra(7b codified by the SA Yoreh De’ah 248:1). The gemara says that in the case of a person who refuses to give any tzedaka the beit din may force the person to give tzedaka in accordance to that person’s ability and according to how much would be appropriate for him to give. Similarly, some poskim(Rabbi Tzvi Fromer, She’elot u’tshuvot Eretz Tzvi siman 4) argue, if there is a person who should be giving tzedaka there should be no prohibition in trying to strongly persuade that person to give more tzedaka. This leniency, however, would only apply in a case where the cause that is being pled for is a real case of an ani that is in a real need of tzedaka.
Another perspective that would pertain to fundraising and the prohibition of lo tachmod is one of very broad implications and emanates from the following fundamental question: is the prohibition against coveting someone else’s belongings coming to prohibit an acquisition or is it coming to prohibit a behavior. When to Torah says lo tachmod is it coming to prohibit the final transfer of an object against the fullest will of the owner or is it a prohibition against pressing someone to rid themselves of something they have not intended to get rid of(see Essay by rabbi Rosentzweig, Bais Yitzchak vol 19 who discusses this matter in depth). What is the practical difference? The difference would be in a case when one person pressures someone to sell an object they did not intend on getting rid of like for example if a third party does the asking. If the prohibition is the behavior then the third party despite not ending up with the coveted object there is no problem here since the third party did not end up with the object; if, however the prohibition is against taking the object out of the possession of the owner without his fullest consent then even if the third party is not asking for the object so that he can keep it there is still a prohibition here.
Prominent poskim(she’elot u’tshuvot Betzel Hachochma siman 45 and an oral psak from Rabbi Z.N. Goldberg) suggest that the implication of the pasuk and the nature of the prohibition prohibit a direct and personal coveting and that coveting on behalf of someone else is not included in the prohibition against coveting. This would mean that any time an agent independently persuades someone to sell something they were not planning on selling there will be no prohibition of lo tachmod as long as the agent was not directed to do so by a person who wants the commodity at hand and as long as the third party does not keep the object to themselves. This is another reason to argue that in a case of fundraising when the person who is asking for the contribution is not receiving the sum collected but is rather “passing it on” to the cause they are raising it for there is no problem of lo tachmod.
It is important to note that in general even if something may not be technically prohibited under this prohibition of lo tachmod it does not mean that the action is commendable. The Rabbis tell us in Pirkay Avot “who is rich? he who is happy with his share” and go on to warn us that jealousy is one of the things that can “take the person out of this world”)see also gemara Sota 9a which elaborates on the negative effects of jealousy). So it is important to not that although something may not be prohibited under the tenth commandment, which is indeed a severe one, if it involves jealousy or another undesirable train it too should be avoided.
 This essay is based on an article I published on this topic in the latest volume of Techumin(Hebrew, vol 33).
 ”יכול לא יאמר לואי(הלואי) עיני כעינו לואי שערי כשערו ת”ל שורו וחמורו עבדו ואמתו ביתו ושדהו מה אלו מיוחדין דברים שאפשר להן לבא תחת ידיך וחבירך חסירן אף אין לי אלא דבר שאפשר לו לבא תחת ידיך וחבירך חסירן”.
Published in Kol Torah of Bergan County, April 5th 2014