I went to a Jewish school, yet what I don’t know about religion could fill a (holy) book. For some reason, though, there are two pieces of Jewish law that have stuck with me over the years. One is the law that Jewish husbands are required to please their wives in bed (a fine reason to convert, if you ask me). The other is the law that shoppers must never ask the price of items that they have no intention of buying.
Both laws follow the same principle: it is wrong to get a person’s hopes up if they are not going to be fulfilled.
I try to be a good Jew – and I certainly encourage my husband to be one (in the bedroom)– but that law about shopping is impossible to keep. Thank god we Jews don't celebrate Christmas, because clearly, whoever wrote it didn’t bargain on the hard sell techniques of the 21st century.
Following the Jewish law of shopping is far more challenging today than it would have been two thousand years ago. In ancient times, if you didn’t want an ox, you simply wouldn’t visit the ox seller. You certainly wouldn’t have to worry about hurting the ox seller’s feelings. After all, if he didn’t sell his ox he’d just ride it himself, or eat it, or do whatever one did with oxen in those days.
But in today’s consumer society ox sellers are far more competitive. They have very sophisticated sales techniques. They approach you in shopping centres. They send you letters and emails. And they phone you late at night. From call centres in India.
Now, I can deal with unsolicited ox sellers if I don’t have to see them. I can rip up brochures, delete emails, even hang up on telemarketers (especially if they’re calling from India, where there’s a very small chance of running into them on the street).
But put me in front of a live ox seller and I crumble. I’m terrified of hurting their feelings. Even when I have no intention of buying their product, I have to listen to their entire spiel. Even when the product is completely ridiculous, I have to examine it with feigned interest, thank the salesperson for the information, then inform them with a look of pensive contemplation that I’ll ‘think about it’ before hurrying guiltily away.
It’s a real problem. Just the other day, for example, a quick trip to the chemist to buy face cream turned into a twenty minute ordeal, when I was approached by a sincere looking sales assistant wielding a menacing hand-held buffing device.
“That cream is no good,” she whispered confidentially. “What you want is the Home Facial Dermabrasion System.”
My heart sank. I really wanted my cream, but I didn’t want to insult the nice saleswoman. “No, I…” I stammered.
“Great!” she said brightly. “I’ll give you a demonstration!”
And so, with the flick of a switch, I was led into sin. I submitted as the poor, hopeful saleswoman took my left hand, buffed it vigorously with the device, then applied goo to make it soft. Then I meekly joined her in marvelling at the amazing silkiness and rosiness of my left hand, which in fact looked exactly the same as my right hand, only gooey. Then I asked her the price of the device - knowing full well I wasn’t going to buy it - before thanking her and telling her I’d definitely think it over.
My sin, however, did not go unpunished. I left the store without my face cream, and now I’m too embarrassed to go back. Still, it could have been much worse.
I could have left with an ox.