Torah Values for Life and Business

            April/May 2012    
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Essential Core Values for Individuals and Organizations, as Derived from the Torah

By Hershey H. Friedman, Ph.D. © 2011

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Core Value 1: Compassion for others, especially the weak and helpless

The Torah demands that individuals have compassion. This is why it is replete with laws that deal with acts of kindness, charity, and caring for the powerless and defenseless members of society. The Talmud views charity as part of gemiluth chasadim (performing deeds of loving kindness). Gemiluth chasadim includes all acts of kindness, such as attending to the dead, and is essentially the opposite of self-centeredness. The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 49b) asserts:

In three ways is gemiluth chasadim superior to charity:

  1. Charity can only be performed with one’s money; gemiluth chasadim can be performed either with one’s person [e.g., eulogizing the dead, carrying the coffin, making a bride and groom happy on their wedding day, or accompanying someone who is traveling] or with one’s money.

  1. Charity is only for the poor; gemiluth chasadim is for the poor as well as the wealthy.

  1. Charity is only for the living; gemiluth chasadim is for the living as well as the dead.

Gemiluth chasadim is one of three requirements demanded of humankind according to the prophet Micah (6:8): “ He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” The Talmud interprets “love kindness” as gemiluth chasadim . According to Simon the Righteous, it is one of three pillars (i.e., principles) on which the world rests (Avot 1:2). Society could not survive without gemiluth chasadim . Gemiluth chasadim is listed in the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Peah 1:1) among the acts for which “the fruits a person enjoys in this world, while the principal remains intact for him in the hereafter.”

The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 14a) interprets the verse in Deuteronomy (13:5), “After the Lord your God you shall follow” to mean that one must imitate God by performing acts of kindness. The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 14a) observes that the Torah begins and ends with acts of gemiluth chasadim by God. In the beginning of the Torah (Genesis 3:21) God made Adam and Eve clothing of skins; the Torah (Deuteronomy 34:6) ends with God burying Moses.

The Talmud recognizes gmiluth chasadim as a core value. The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra 9a), as noted above, states that charity is equal to all the other mitzvot (religious precepts) combined. One who performs charity is greater than one who offers all the sacrifices (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 49b). This is derived from the verse (Proverbs 21:3): “To do tzedaka and justice is more preferable to the Lord than sacrifice.” Here, the word tzedaka can be translated as either charity or righteousness.

The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Bathra 8b) considers the mitzvah of redemption of captives ( pidyon shvuyim ) to be a great mitzvah (“ mitzvah rabbah ”). Indeed, it is a form of charity that can save captives from starvation, torture, humiliation, and death.

There is no question that gemiluth chasadim , which includes charity as well as helping any of the unfortunates of society, is a core Torah value. There are a huge number of precepts in the Torah that deal with caring for the unfortunates of society. These include the stranger, the orphan and widow, and the poor. Today, we might include the handicapped in the above group since they are sometimes more helpless than orphans and widows. One may also include debtors in this group as well as employees and animals. Workers have to be protected since employers are considered to have the upper hand when dealing with employees.

The Stranger

The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 59b) notes that the principle of not maltreating, taunting, or oppressing the stranger is mentioned 36 different times in the Torah. It is also mentioned many times in the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Torah even provides a reason for not oppressing the stranger:

You shall not maltreat or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 22:20)

Do not oppress a stranger; you know the feelings of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

When a stranger dwells among you in your land, you are not to mistreat him. The stranger who dwells with you shall be treated as your native-born; you shall love him like yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19: 33-34).

The ‘stranger’ may be the paradigmatic “other” or outsider, and as such represents those individuals that even a civilized society has to be reminded to stand up for.

The Widow and Orphan

The widow and orphan are vulnerable in most societies. The Torah makes a serious threat to anyone who has the temerity to harm a widow or orphan.

You shall not afflict any widow or orphan. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry out to me, I shall surely hear their cry. My wrath will become hot and I will kill you by the sword; your wives shall be widows and your children orphans. (Exodus 22: 21-23)

There are numerous verses dealing specifically with widows and orphans. Sometimes, the orphan and widow are grouped together with the stranger, for example,

And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite that is within your gates, the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, that are among you, in the place that the Lord your God will choose to cause his name to dwell there. (Deuteronomy 16: 11)

The Psalmist (Psalms 146:9) also combines the three:

God protects strangers, the orphan and the widow He upholds, but the way of the wicked He makes tortuous (Psalms 146: 9).

The Poor
In Biblical times, large farms were the equivalent of big business, and several Torah laws describe what farmers must do to help the poor (these laws apply to all landowners). For instance, the corners of the field are not to be harvested by the owner but left for the poor. Individual stalks falling from the sickle during the harvest have to be left for the poor. In addition, a bundle of grain accidentally left in the field during the harvest is to be left for the indigent. Similarly, the farmer is not permitted to pick all the fruits off the vine or tree and leave it bare, but must leave the gleanings of the vine and the olive tree for the poor.

When you harvest the harvest of your land, you shall not complete your reaping to the corner of your field, and the gleanings of your harvest you are not to gather. You shall not glean your vineyard; and the fallen fruit of your vineyard you are not to gather; for the poor and the stranger you are to leave them. (Leviticus 19: 9-10)


If your brother becomes impoverished and his hand falters beside you, you shall strengthen him, whether he is a stranger or a native, so that he can live with you. (Leviticus 25: 35)

High prices are especially problematic for the destitute. The maintenance of fair and low prices was important to the sages of the Talmud. When the price for a pair of doves, a necessity for certain sacrifices, reached a golden dinar, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, President of the Sanhedrin, swore that he would not rest until the price dropped to a silver dinar. He even went so far as to revise the law concerning sacrifices in order to reduce demand for these doves; the price ultimately sank to one quarter of a silver dinar” (Babylonian Talmud, Krithos 8a). Similarly, Shmuel, a Talmudic sage, warned the sellers of myrtle branches — used during the holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles) — that he would allow the use of myrtles with broken tips if merchants raised prices when the holiday was approaching (Babylonian Talmud, Sukkah 34b).

In Talmudic times the obligation to help the needy was accomplished by having various special taxes: kuppah was the communal charity box for dispensing sustenance to the poor every week; tamchui was the community charity plate/soup kitchen and collected daily; and maos chittim was a special charity drive to provide funds for the poor for Passover (Levine, 1987: 125).
According to Maimonides (Mishna Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor, 10:7), one of the major codifiers of Jewish law, the highest form of charity is providing one with the ability to earn a living. He derives this from the verse in Leviticus (25: 35) that talks about “strengthening” the destitute individual. Maimonides feels that this may be accomplished by providing a gift or loan enabling one to start a business, taking the destitute person in as a partner, or helping the individual find employment.

The Worker

In many societies, workers are exploited by their employers. The Torah is concerned with ensuring that workers were paid and on time. Workers who labored in the fields had a right to eat the fruits on which they worked. Even servants had rights. The servant was entitled to hanakah, which is similar to severance pay. He was given enough so that he could be somewhat independent. Here are some relevant verses:

You shall not cheat your fellow and you shall not rob; the wages of a worker shall not remain with you overnight until morning.” (Leviticus 19: 13)

Do not send him [the servant] away empty-handed. You shall give him a severance gift from your flocks, from your threshing floor, and from your wine cellar... (Deuteronomy 15: 13 –14)

When you come [as a worker] into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat as many grapes as is your desire, to your fill, but you may not put any into a receptacle. When you come into your neighbor’s standing corn, you may pluck ears with your hand, but you should not lift a sickle on your neighbor’s standing corn. (Deuteronomy 23: 25-26)

Animal Rights

Animals are also helpless and can be easily exploited by humankind. The Torah has many laws dealing with animals. One of the seven Noahide laws that all people, Jew and Gentile, are supposed to obey deals with gratuitously hurting animals. The Torah (Genesis 9:4) avers: “Flesh with its life-blood in it, you are not to eat.”
The following are some Torah laws dealing with animals.

If you see the donkey of your enemy lying under its burden, would you refrain from helping him? You shall surely help with him. (Exodus 23: 4-5)

And whether it be an ox or sheep, you shall not kill it and its young both in one day. (Leviticus 22: 28)

If you encounter a bird’s nest before you on the road, in any tree or on the ground — fledglings or eggs — and the mother crouching on the fledglings or upon the eggs, you shall not take away the mother with her young. You shall surely send away the mother and take the children for yourself, in order that it may go well with you and you may prolong your days. (Deuteronomy 22: 6-7)

You shall not plow with an ox and donkey together. (Deuteronomy 22: 10) [It is painful for a smaller animal to work alongside a much larger animal.]

You are not to muzzle an ox while it is threshing. (Deuteronomy 25:4)

The Debtor

Debtors in many societies have few rights; until recently, there were special prisons for people who could not repay their loans. One of the precepts of the Torah deals with lending money to the poor. The Torah (Deuteronomy 15:8) states: …you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” The following are some verses dealing with debtors.

One shall not take a mill or an upper millstone in pledge, for that would be taking a life in pledge. (Deuteronomy 24:6)

And if he is a poor man, you shall not sleep with his pledge. You shall surely restore to him the pledge when the sun sets, that he may sleep in his garment and bless you; and it shall be righteousness unto you before the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 24:12-13).

Talmudic sages enacted numerous takanot (enactments/ordinances) as legal remedies when they saw that a core value of the Torah was being violated and/or to promote the public welfare. This is why Hillel the Elder instituted the Prosbul (a document that in effect transfers the loan to the court, which may collect the debt on behalf of the creditor) when he observed that people refused to lend poor people money before the Sabbatical year (Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 36a). According to Torah law (Deuteronomy 15), the creditor is not permitted to collect his loan after the Sabbatical year. A potential creditor who uses a Prosbul , no longer fearing that the debt will be canceled by the Sabbatical year, will therefore be willing to lend money to the needy.
The Talmud enacted other rules using the principle of “not to close the door in the face of borrowers” (Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 49b-50a). In fact, this is the reason the rabbis enacted the principle that a creditor is permitted to collect his debt from medium-quality land belonging to the debtor; according to the Torah, the creditor should only be permitted to collect from the lowest-quality land (Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 50a). The Talmudic sages understood the importance of protecting a core value of the Torah and helping the destitute with loans is part of the core value of compassion. This is similar to the idea expressed in the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Temurah 14b) justifying the writing down of the oral law: “It is better that one letter of the Torah should be uprooted rather than the entire Torah should be forgotten.” Sometimes Torah laws had to be “uprooted” to protect a core value of the Torah.

Other Vulnerable People

In ancient times, women were at a great disadvantage. A man could divorce his wife without her consent and she would not receive anything from her husband. The sages of the Talmud instituted a kethubah , a document that protected the wife by recording what the husband would give her (the minimum was 200 zuz ) if he died or divorced his wife. The purpose of the kethubah , according to the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Kethuboth 11a) was so that a man would not treat divorce as a “light matter.” Of course, it also provided some security for a divorcee or widow. Later on, Rabbi Gershom ( ca. 950 - 1028) prohibited a husband from divorcing his wife against her will. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi changed the rules of inheritance so that daughters would each inherit 10% of the father’s estate even when there were sons (Babylonian Talmud, Kethuboth 68a).
One of the unfortunates of society is the mamzer (usually translated as bastard but in actuality a child that results from incest or adultery). The mamzer has done nothing wrong and is the innocent victim of the wrongdoing of his/her parent(s), yet the Torah limits him as far as marriage The Torah states (Deuteronomy 23:3): “A mamzer shall not enter the congregation of the Lord”; the mamzer may not marry a legitimate Jew or Jewess but marriage between two mamzerim (plural of mamzer ) is permitted. Clearly, the purpose of the law was to discourage adultery and incest.
The Talmudic sages were not happy about the law and had an interesting interpretation of the following verse (Ecclesiastes 4:1):

I returned and observed all the oppression that take place under the sun; I saw the tears of the oppressed, with none to comfort them; their oppressors have great power, with none to comfort their victims.

Daniel the tailor says that this verse refers to the plight of the mamzer (Midrash, Leviticus Rabbah 32:8) ― he is the “oppressed” person referred to in this verse. After all, the mamzer did nothing wrong; it was his parents that engaged in the illicit sexual relations. The “oppressor” is the Great Sanhedrin that uses the “power” of the Torah ― the verse of “A mamzer shall not enter the congregation of the Lord”― to distance the mamzerim . God himself says that He must comfort them and they may have an impurity in this world but in the world to come they will be of pure gold.
The sages of the Talmud looked for every possible legal loophole in order to avoid declaring someone a mamzer . The Talmudists felt that if mamzerim got mixed in with the rest of the population, we leave them alone and do not declare their status (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 71a). The Talmud even declares that in messianic times, the mamzer will become pure (Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 72b).

For continuation, go to Page Three

The author is a Professor of Business and Marketing at Department of Finance and Business Management, School of Business at the Brooklyn College of the City University of New York


from the April 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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