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The Jewish Ethicist: Mortgage Default

February 17, 2010 | by Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem

Sometimes walking away from your mortgage makes economic and ethical sense.

Dear Jewish Ethicist readers,

Recently I published a column on the topic of "strategic default" in states which explicitly forbid lenders to pursue borrowers who abandon the property.

After receiving a large number of very thoughtful and reasoned responses from readers, I have reached the conclusion that this is a highly complex topic which is far beyond my expertise. I have asked the editors to remove the column from the site. For those of you who already read it, I ask that you view it as the starting point for an informed ethical discussion on this involved topic.

This is not the first time that I have retracted a column and if I maintain my intellectual honesty I imagine it will not be the last. My occasional retractions demonstrate an important ethical principle: that just as my readers have the weekly opportunity to learn from me, so do I have the weekly opportunity to learn from my readers, to be informed by their wide knowledge and be inspired by their demanding ethical standards.

My column is a weekly and popular column, and it is self-evident that I cannot be an expert on every topic. That is OK as long as I don't begin to imagine that I am an expert in everything. This experience will teach me to avoid "Wizard of Oz syndrome": the tendency to think that just because everyone views me as an expert in ethics that I do in fact have expertise in every ethical issue. The most recent column reminds me that this is not the case.

I am grateful for the many readers who wrote to express their point of view.

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