Marketing as a Jewish Profession

by Professor Yehoshua Liebermann

Historically, marketing is a modernized dynamic extension of one of the most important ancient economic establishments, namely, the market. Interestingly enough, the Hebrew term “shuk” is mentioned in the Bible four times. They appear exclusively in three books: Ecclesiastes, Proverbs, and the Song of Songs, which are all related in one way or another to the name of King Solomon, who established the United Kingdom of Judea and Israel as an economic success story. Obviously, no economy can reach prosperity without encouraging properly working markets.

Etymologically, the term market (or “Marche”‘ in French), sounds quite close to the Hebrew root, “makhar”, to sell, with an inverted order of letters. In a most fascinating insight, Rashi explains the difference between wise and clever (Deut. 1:13) by using a monetary exchange market place as an illustration. Rashi cites an ancient dialogue between R. Yossi and a Roman figure, Arius. The latter was interested to find out the above mentioned difference. In response, R. Yossi compared each to a corresponding type of banker. A wise person is compared to a rich banker. If someone approaches such a banker with coins to be examined, he will provide his services. Yet, if nobody is around who is interested in such a service, this banker sits idle. On the other hand, a clever person resembles a “hungry” banker. If no business is coming in, he goes out to actively look for customers. This is nothing else than the most basic principle of modern marketing.

Needless to say, marketing problems that involve questions of product quality and presentation, pricing, placing of businesses in competitive settings, advertising and promotion, are all discussed frequently in the Talmud as well as in other Halakhic sources, commentaries, and Responsa literature. Quite often, the relevance of some of these issues to modern questions is really surprising. To cite just one example, R. Moshe Sofer (Hatam Sofer) in a responsum of his, discusses whether a seller has the right to advertise heavily, since aggressive advertising may inhibit competition.

The extensive share of marketing related discussions in these sources, stands as written evidence to the contribution of Jewish traders, businessmen, and marketing people to the economic well-being of their communities, neighborhoods, and gentile surroundings.
Dr. Yehoshua Liebermann is a professor at the Bar Ilan University School of Business Administration.