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Q. What does Judaism have to say about product safety?
A. Product safety has become a major legal and regulatory concern in recent decades. From a previous legal regime whereby safe use of products was primarily the responsibility of the consumer, in recent years increasing liability has been placed on producers. Many jurisdictions now place strict liability on producers, so that they can be held responsible even if there is no negligence on the part of the producer and sometimes even if the consumer was not sufficiently careful. The theory is that the producer is in the best position to know and mitigate the hazards of his product and therefore should bear the costs resulting from these hazards.
Jewish law also puts responsibility on sellers to refrain from selling hazardous products, although the requirement is not through imposing monetary liability. The source is a verse in the Torah (Deuteronomy 22:8, Living Torah translation):
When you build a new house, you must place a guard-rail around your roof. Do not allow a dangerous situation to remain in your house, since someone can fall from [an unenclosed roof].
Although this verse refers specifically to a roof, the Talmud extends it to additional hazards:
Rabbi Natan stated, Whence to we learn that a person may not raise a vicious dog in his house, or place a flimsy ladder in his house? As it is written, “Don’t allow a dangerous situation to remain in your house”.
Maimonides explains that all these are examples of a general principle: