Jewish Theology of Business Ethics

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ethics quizProtection for the rights of employees is grounded in biblical law, beginning with a prohibition against delaying payment to a day laborer (Leviticus 19:13). Rabbinic civil law underscored that point, claiming that one who does delay payment violates not one but four biblical injunctions, and added the provision that wages must be paid in money and not in goods. Workers' rights are also protected in rabbinic law by granting them an exemption to the general rule that financial claims must be based on more than just a statement under oath. An employee denied wages could establish such a claim merely by making a statement in court.

The individual encounters the world of business as a consumer as well. Biblical and later Jewish law provide for a number of forms of consumer protection. As early as the laws of the Torah, fraudulent pricing and inaccurate weights and measures are outlawed. The biblical prophets railed against unfair market practices as much as they did against such other moral failings as idolatry and licentiousness, and the rabbis of the Talmudic era did the same. Going beyond mere sermonizing, Jewish law specifically recognizes a consumer's right to abrogate a sale made under deliberately falsified conditions or at an exorbitantly high price.

Traditional sources sometimes adopt positions that are troubling to some modern Jews, such as setting a higher standard for how one treats one's fellow Jews that that applying to dealings with non-Jews, or certain restrictions on workers' rights to organize. As in other areas of life, though, the Jewish spiritual and legal tradition attempts to bring to the economic sphere a down-to-earth sense of how the realm of the sacred may be encountered, and personal piety made manifest, in one's everyday affairs, including in the world of business.

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