Jewish Business Ethics in Practice

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business ethicsRelations between employees and employers, too, are regulated by Jewish law. The Talmud recognizes the legitimacy of regulations promulgated by "the residents of the town" governing wages and working conditions. The definition of that body is later stretched to include guilds of tradesmen or craftsmen who were allowed to adopt binding regulations. The rights and interests of workers as well as management are to be taken into account by someone to whom a labor dispute is brought for arbitration or adjudication.

Jewish civil law is cognizant of laws and regulations in the wider non-Jewish societies among which all Jews lived for centuries. The authority of the government is recognized in such statues as that which requires that Jewish subjects (in our day, citizens) pay the taxes levied upon them fairly and honestly. "The law of the land," according to talmudic regulation, "is the law."

More broadly than the dictates of law, Jewish ethical literature prescribes the application of general ethical principles in one's business affairs as in every other aspect of one's life. One is expected to take precautions not only to avoid taking unfair advantage of those with whom one does business, but even to guard against creating the impression of impropriety. For the sake of one's own good name and for the reputation of the Jewish people--and, ultimately, the God whom Jews claim to serve--one must be remain above suspicion and be perceived as fair and honest, even at the cost of some legitimate gain.

Jewish ethics encourages the individual to go beyond the letter of the law in determining one's obligations to others in the economic realm, as in others. No one is expected to agree to being taken advantage of, but one is to take even greater care not to gain from any advantage one has over others. In this way, one brings to one's own life and one's community a measure of the holiness with which Jewish spiritual practice seeks to imbue even the most mundane affairs.

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