Torah Values for Life and Business

            April/May 2012    
Search the Jewish Magazine Site: Google

Search our

Opinion & Society




Essential Core Values for Individuals and Organizations, as Derived from the Torah

By Hershey H. Friedman, Ph.D. © 2011

For Previous Page, go to Page Four

Core Value 4: Integrity

Of the Torah’s 613 precepts, more than 100 deal with business (Tamari, 1987: 35). The Biblical prohibition against stealing is the eighth commandment of the Ten Commandments. It is also discussed more thoroughly in Leviticus (19: 11-13): “Do not steal, do not deny falsely, and do not lie to one another. Do not swear falsely by My name… Do not cheat your fellow and you shall not rob.” The Torah (Exodus 23:7) also states: “Distance yourself from a false matter.”

Honest weights and measures are stressed in the Torah. For example, Scripture states (Leviticus 19: 35-36) : “You shall not commit an unrighteousness in justice, in measures of length, weight, or volume. Just scales, just weights, just dry measures, and just liquid measures you shall have.” The Torah (Deuteronomy 25: 13 –16) also states:

You shall not have in your purse a stone-weight and a stone-weight – a larger and a smaller. You shall not have in your house a measure and a measure – a larger and a smaller. A perfect and honest stone-weight shall you have, a perfect and honest measure shall you have, in order that your days shall be prolonged on the land that God your Lord is giving you. For an abomination to God your Lord are all who do those things, all who act corruptly.

Scripture (Proverbs 11:1) also makes the point that: “ A false scale is an abomination to God; but a just weight is His desire.” One might say that honest weights and measures also fall into the category of justice. Business ethics, in general, is connected to justice and the practice of righteousness.

One of the prophet Isaiah’s criticisms of Israel dealt with unethical business practices. Isaiah (1:22) complained that: “Your silver has become dross, your wine diluted with water.” According to most commentaries, this is not a metaphor but refers to actual deceptive practices in ancient Judah and Jerusalem that angered the Lord.

The prophet Amos (8:5) also rebuked the ancient Israelites for unethical business practices including “making the ephah (a dry measure) smaller and the shekel larger and falsifying the scales of deceit.” Individuals as well as organizations have to refrain from any type of unethical practices.
Zechariah (8: 16-17) said:

These are the things that you are to do: Speak the truth every man with his fellow; with truth, justice and peace, judge in your gates. And let none of you contrive evil in your hearts against one another and do not love false oaths; because all these are things that I hate, declares the Lord.

Honesty in business is so important that the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbos 31a)
believes: “The first question an individual is asked in the afterlife at the final judgment is: ‘Were you honest in your business dealings?’”

Core Value 5: Justice

There are numerous laws in the Torah that discuss the importance of justice. In fact, the Torah (Deuteronomy 16:20) states very emphatically: “ Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, so that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” One is not permitted to show partiality to the poor when it comes to justice (Exodus 23:6) or favoritism to the rich. The Torah (Leviticus 19:15) states: "Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the mighty, but in righteousness you shall judge your nation.” Justice is not only for the citizen; the Torah (Deuteronomy 1:16) declares: “…and judge righteously between a man and his brother and the stranger that is with him.” On the verse “justice, and only justice, you shall follow,” Hertz (1992: 821) observes that “justice is the awe-inspired respect for the personality of others, and their inalienable rights.” Hertz makes the point that throughout Scripture the individual who tramples on the rights of the weak and helpless (orphans, widows, strangers, the destitute, etc.) is seen as the enemy of both God and humankind.

Justice must be a core value of Judaism. When Abraham hears that God intends to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, he brazenly dares ask (Genesis 18:25): “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?” Even God must act justly. After all, this is what He demands of humankind. icah 6:8 says 'What does the Lord requi
The prophets also spoke of justice. Isaiah (1:17) declares: “”Learn to do good, seek justice, help the oppressed, render justice to the orphan, and plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah (5:16) avers: “The Lord of Hosts will become exalted through justice, and the Holy God will be sanctified by righteousness.”
He states (Isaiah 56:1): “ Observe justice, and do righteousness.” Isaiah recognized the connection between righteousness / justice and peace (Isaiah 59:8); one cannot exist without the other. In his words (Isaiah 32:17): “The effect of righteousness will be peace; and the result of righteousness, quietness and confidence forever.” Isaiah (11: 2-5) describes the Messiah as one who has strength, knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and a fear of God. He will judge the poor with righteousness. The Messiah brings peace and it comes with impartial justice. Zechariah (8:16) asserts: “…truth, justice, and peace are you to adjudicate in your gates.” Micah (6:8) states clearly what God demands of humankind: “ He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Jeremiah (9:22-23) declares:

Thus said God: Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the strong man boast of his strength, let not the rich man boast of his wealth. But let him who boasts boast about this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices lovingkindness (chesed), justice (mishpat), and righteousness (tzedaka) on earth; for in these things I delight, declares the Lord.

Sacks (2005:51) notes the difference between mishpat (justice) and chesed (lovingkindness). Chesed “exists only in virtue of emotion, empathy, and sympathy.” It requires “not detached rationality but emotional intelligence.” Justice, on the other hand, is “best administered without emotion.” The correct way to administer justice is by being detached, disinterested, and impartial.

The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 6b) addresses the problem of tzedaka and mishpat . The Hebrew word tzedaka is translated as righteousness but also means charity, and actually hints at both. The Talmud has difficulty understanding how King David did both in judgments. The verse (II Samuel 8:15) indicates that David “administered justice ( mishpat ) and righteousness ( tzedaka ) for all his people.” One answer provided by the Talmud was that David was indeed impartial when acting as a judge. If, however, he decided a case against a poor person, he would pay the claimant with his own money. In this manner, David was able to practice both justice and righteousness. Another answer provided by the Talmud is that compromise (mediation or arbitration), which satisfies both parties, is considered justice combined with righteousness. Compromise, as noted above, is also a way to have justice with peace, according to the Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 6b). Providing justice and peace allows the judge to fulfill what Zechariah (8:16) demands: “…truth, justice, and peace are you to adjudicate in your gates.”

Nachmanides (1195 – 1270), a major commentator on the Torah, believes that the verse “And you shall do that which is right and good” (Deuteronomy 6:18) is a general commandment that follows the specific, detailed precepts of the Torah. It is necessary since it is impossible for the Torah to list every single injustice a person could commit against another. Therefore, the Torah lists a general principle of “doing that which is right and good.” It includes situations that are not mentioned in the Torah such as going beyond the strict requirements of the law and trying to achieve a compromise. Compromise is sometimes superior to following the letter of the law. The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 6b) notes that when both parties in a lawsuit compromise and give up something they might actually be entitled to by law, it is easier for them to preserve a friendship. The price of strict justice, unfortunately, can be eternal hatred between the defendant and plaintiff. The Talmud also sees going beyond the requirements of the law as a Torah requirement; obeying the strict letter of the law is not enough. Jerusalem was destroyed for following the strict letter of the law and not doing more than the law required (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 30b).

For continuation, go to Page Six

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

Material and Opinions in all Jewish Magazine articles are the sole responsibility of the author; the Jewish Magazine accepts no liability for material used.