If you’ve ever done an online order with a supermarket, then you’ve likely experienced receiving a product which, rather it being the product that you ordered which is produced by your preferred brand, it is the same product but produced by another brand.
Admittedly, there are some people who just shrug such things off.
However, there are others who are very frustrated when something like this happens because they really wanted that specific product by that specific brand.
Though different supermarkets have different policies on this practice, if a person would then call the supermarket to ask why they didn’t check with them before replacing what they’d ordered with what they received, will likely be told that this replacement product is *almost* identical with what was ordered and therefore the supermarket didn’t feel the need to check with the customer before sending this replacement product to them. At the same time, if a supermarket does call a customer before sending a replacement product, it is generally because the replacement is sufficiently different from what was ordered.
Interestingly, it is this very principle which is discussed in today’s daf (Nedarim 54a) where the question is raised about which items are included in a vow made by someone who wishes to prohibit themselves from a certain product. According to the Rabbis, כֹּל מִילְּתָא דִּצְרִיךְ שְׁלִיחָא לְאִמְּלוֹכֵי עֲלַהּ לָאו מִינֵיהּ הוּא, which I’ll translate as ‘any replacement item that you’d feel a need to check with the customer before sending it to them is considered to be sufficiently different to it [that it is not included in a vow made forbidding oneself from the original product]’.
In contrast, Rabbi Akiva asserts that it is precisely given the fact that the question is being asked about replacing the requested product with this one which qualifies it to be considered part of its same category: כֹּל מִילְּתָא דְּמִימְּלִיךְ שְׁלִיחָא עֲלַהּ מִינֵיהּ הוּא – ‘any replacement item that you’d feel a need to check with the customer before sending it to them is considered to be sufficiently similar to it [that it is included in a vow made forbidding oneself from the original product]’.
Personally, my experience is that some supermarkets take Rabbi Akiva’s view to the extreme and who don’t even call before replacing one item with another. This is because they see the replacement as being equivalent to the originally ordered product. Others adopt Rabbi Akiva’s view and call even when replacing a product with something very similar. And others adopt the view of the Rabbis – meaning that if you receive a call from a supermarket in the hours preceding you receiving your online order, you know that the replacement product that they’re about to offer you is going to be radically different from the item that you’d originally ordered.
But what – you may ask – is the halacha, and whom do we follow? The halacha, as codified by the Rambam (Hilchot Nedarim 9:6) and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 217:4), follows Rabbi Akiva.
Consequently, when a supermarket calls after you’ve done an online order and offers you an outrageously different replacement product, perhaps remind them to take a look at Nedarim 54a – while mentioning to them that we rule in accordance with Rabbi Akiva.