Pizza Wars, Beis Din, and the New York Times

Amid the turmoil surrounding the ‘Crown Heights Pizza Wars’ between Basil and Calabria, there has been a lot of confusion among the media and the public regarding the Halachic concept of ‘Hasogas Gvul.’ Writing for the Five Towns Jewish Times, Rabbi Yair Hoffman seeks to clear up some of the fog surrounding the issue.

from the Five Towns Jewish Times by Rabbi Yair Hoffman:

This is one of those halachic wars that it made in into the pages of the New York Times herself, and written by a journalist with a decidedly Irish last name – Corey Killgannon.

It involves two very avant-garde pizza shops. There is Basil Pizza and Wine Bar, owned by Daniel Branover – which is highly successful. It has been opened since 2010 and features high end specialty pizzas – the kind with thin-crusts and uniquely blended specialty sauces.

And then there is the new store on the block, Calabria which opened up a month ago – and is in direct competition with Basil. They too offer think crusts and specialty sauces. Both shops are in Crown Heights and, in fact, Calabria opened across the street from Basil. The second shop looks quite different from the sleek and modern first shop. There is Hebrew writing on the ceiling. The menu is also chalked on a blackboard.

Even though they looked different, the pizza was pretty similar in appearance.

Basil’s took Calabria to the Beis Yoseph Beis Din in Boro Park. The Beis Din ruled that Calabria has to go to regular New York style pizza. They did, sort of. It seems they still may be selling some of the similar pizza as well. The Dayanim of the Beis Yoseph Beis Din actually took an Uber to Crown Heights to see things for themselves. They looked at the menu, the prices and the geographic location.

The Issue – Hasagas Gvul

The issue under discussion is called in Halacha – Hasagas Gvul. The Gemorah in Bava Basra (21b) writes that one cannot set up a fishing net that is too close to the net of another fisherman – and catch all of his fish. The fish were heading toward the original net.

The Grinding Mill Case

The Gemorah further discusses another case. In the other case someone is operating a grinding mill in an alley. Someone else opens up shop as well. Is this also a problem of hasagas gvul?

The Two Opinions

The first opinion, (that of Rav Huna), says it is and that the first mill owner can prevent the second from opening up. The second view, Rav Huna Bar Rav Yehoshua, says that it is permitted. The second view states that the second mill owner can say, “Whoever will come to me will come to me and whoever will come to you will come to you.” The Gemorah indicates that the second view is the normative view – provided that the new competitor does not look to directly damage the first.

Ruling of the Shulchan Aruch

The Shulchan Aruch (CM 156:5) follows this second view. The second view is qualified, however. It is only permitted to one who lives in the same area. The Tur indicates, however, that if the outsider pays the local taxes he may open in that area. Rav Yoseph Karo, in his Shulchan Aruch accepts this view. However, the Ramah cites a different caveat – that he may only open in a different alley way in that city (See Tosfos Bava Basra 21b “v’ee.”)

The Aviasaf’s View

There is also a view cited by the Mordechai (Bava Basra Siman 516). This view is that of the Aviasaf who forbids opening up a store in an entrance to a cul de sac alley if there is a further store higher toward the cul de sac. In his commentary on the Tur, Rav Karo claims that this view follows the rejected first opinion.

The Ramah in his Darchei Moshe (CM 156:4) explains the Aviasaf (also cited in the Hagaos Mordechai) in accordance with the second view.
There is also a fascinating responsum of the Rashba (3:83). He writes that while the second store may open – he cannot actively go after and pursue customers of the first business.
In our case of the two avant garde Pizza shops, Basil accused the second shop of doing just that – even to the point of getting business info from their employees.

When the First Store Will Only Get Hurt

The Pischei Teshuvah (156:3) distinguishes between when the second store will only hurt the first store and when it will put the first store out of business. He forbids the second type based upon the Chasam Sofer. The Chasam Sofer writes that even when the first store can support himself in some other way – it is still forbidden. This is also the view of the Masais Binyomin in a responsum (#27).

Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (IM CM 1:38) cites the Chasam Sofer and rules like him.

Is New York City and Its Environs One Big Market Place?

Rav Yisroel Belsky zt”l once told this author of a ruling of Rav Moshe zt”l that in New York City and its environs, in many industries, it is considered like a shuk – a marketplace and restrictions on competition are not applied. There are many Poskim who subscribe to this opinion as well. One must see a competent Posaik to determine the exact parameters of this view.

When the Public Will Suffer Major Economic Damage

There is another fascinating Ramah (CM 156:7) that states that if the first merchant’s prices were significantly higher – then it may be forbidden to disallow the competitor. The nemukei Yoseph points out that the price differential must be significant. Otherwise what would happen is that each person would simply lower their price just a bit in order to permit it.
By the same token, if there is a large qualitative difference between the two products, Poskim do not necessarily disallow the competitor.

It goes without saying that the new competitor should never actively go after the first business’s customers.

Horse Driven Wagons Versus Automobiles

Rav Asher Weiss Shlita (Responsa Minchas Asher Vol. I #105) presents a fascinating point, and that is when the matter is of significant consequence to the public at large, halacha would never negate the public advantage for the economic benefit of the few business owners. Thus, he explains, Halacha would never forbid the development of motor vehicles in order to save the parnassah of the wagon manufacturers.

The author may be reached at yairhoffman2@gmail.com.

 

16 Comments

  • 1. mendel wrote:

    Cheap journalism.
    does anyone believe Calabria was standing outside stealing customers?
    and Rabbi Hoffman did not bother getting comment from Calabria that is cheap journalism covered with words of halacha

    Reply
  • 2. Josh wrote:

    I dont know or care about this case, what I do know is that the Bais Yosef bais din is not the best bais din to go to, v`dal.

    Reply
  • 3. K wrote:

    Now these halachos became as clear as mud.

    And the psak, even clearer.

    Especially when by dini momonos a person can say “kim li” (I adopt the shitah that supports my position).

    Reply
  • 4. Doesnt apply to non Jewish owned store wrote:

    Does any of the above laws pertain when one of the stores, Basil, is owned 51% by a goy, as is the case?

    Reply
  • 5. Chasnus ?? wrote:

    the owner of basil advertised his store as a place where jews and non jews should eat together. this to me is agaionst halacha.
    so for me calabria is the place to go.

    Reply
  • 6. Foodie wrote:

    These two places couldn’t be more different. So silly to bring them to Beis din. Just shows you don’t have confidence in your customer base. You know you aren’t giving a great product at a great price. Otherwise you’d welcome the competition bring more people to the area for all types of dining. No shortage of foodies!

    Reply
  • 7. Opinionated Editorial wrote:

    This looks more like an opinionated editorial by an outsider than an article about halachik issues.

    Reply
    • 9. In the know wrote:

      Calabira is currently under Ralbag’s Hechsher. Ralbab is the one who makes believe that “Hebrew National” is kosher. Anyone with any sense would not touch anything from him with a 10 food pole!!! There is absolutely no Chezkas Kashrus coming from Ralbag!!!

  • 10. Yossel wrote:

    Speaking of motor vehicles, forget about parking anywhere near either of these establishments. There is fierce competition for the ILLEGAL spaces, including hydrant and double parking. Walk or take the bus!

    If a business treats its customers poorly, and they lose business because another shop opens nearby and treats customers nicely, the first business has no right to complain. Let them treat customers in a friendly manner and people will patronize them.

    Reply
  • 11. Good Food wrote:

    It does not matter because in the end they will both most likely fail just like other crown heights restaurants. Why? Because they all start out great using fresh ingredients taking time to make the food good, basic caring. However within a short period of time they serve old stale food, often cooked quickly with poor taste. They become lazy and still charge the same ridiculous high prices. Competition maybe the only thing to prevent them from serving something disgusting in fear of losing a customer.

    Reply
  • 12. It's not about the pizza! wrote:

    The rabbis ruling in this case may have missed a critical point. The customer that goes to a restaurant is not simply buying the pizza, but rather the experience! Otherwise, they can eat the pizza at home. People go to Basil because it offers a high dining, gourmet experience. Calabria’s rustic look and the way it serves pizza on cardboard ‘plates’ offers a fast casual, clean and hip experience. In fact, Beuff and Bun is much more of a direct competitor to Basil than Calabria is.

    But Basil really missed the point here! Calabria is helping transform that block into a hip, place with nice looking stores. This will boost foot traffic for everybody!

    Reply
  • 13. Clarity wrote:

    #3. There are no non-jewish partners in Basil, she is just a front to be able to ‘blame it on the partners” or “the partners want to do it this way etc.”, if it becomes necessary.
    It is very convenient kluppey chutz.

    Reply
  • 14. YOU'RE ALL NUTS wrote:

    The fact is the owners of calabria opened another store (chocolate) which had a kashrus supervision problem right off the start. they now went ahead and opened here, lets face it on top of Basil and when they went to a beis din (not in crown heights, but in boro Park), who paskened against them, they simply went shopping for another rov who will give them the okay. This in itself would tell me I don’t want to trust this guy’s kashrus or honesty. I am not a patron of Basil or bouf n bun and certainly not of chocolate, but I do believe in honesty in finances as well as kashrus.

    Reply
  • 15. shlomo wrote:

    it obviously not concurrency to each other. most of CH resident can’t really afford pizza in Bazil even once. so what about we talking?
    just put the prices in your article
    and again and as always Chabad it always war. doesn’t matter with whom and for what reason.
    why do not remember a famous Chasidic story about horse drinking from the river?

    Reply

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