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December 2, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Defending the Right to a Jewish State

Heather Hale: Compliment your kids without giving them big heads

Megan Shauri: 10 ways you are ruining your own happiness

Carolyn Bigda: 8 Best Dividend Stocks for 2015

Kiplinger's Personal Finance editors: 7 Things You Didn't Know About Paying Off Student Loans

Samantha Olson: The Crucial Mistake 55% Of Parents Are Making At Their Baby's Bedtime

Densie Well, Ph.D., R.D. Open your eyes to yellow vegetables

The Kosher Gourmet by Megan Gordon With its colorful cache of purples and oranges and reds, COLLARD GREEN SLAW is a marvelous mood booster --- not to mention just downright delish
April 18, 2014

Rabbi Yonason Goldson: Clarifying one of the greatest philosophical conundrums in theology

Caroline B. Glick: The disappearance of US will

Megan Wallgren: 10 things I've learned from my teenagers

Lizette Borreli: Green Tea Boosts Brain Power, May Help Treat Dementia

John Ericson: Trying hard to be 'positive' but never succeeding? Blame Your Brain

The Kosher Gourmet by Julie Rothman Almondy, flourless torta del re (Italian king's cake), has royal roots, is simple to make, . . . but devour it because it's simply delicious

April 14, 2014

Rabbi Dr Naftali Brawer: Passover frees us from the tyranny of time

Greg Crosby: Passing Over Religion

Eric Schulzke: First degree: How America really recovered from a murder epidemic

Georgia Lee: When love is not enough: Teaching your kids about the realities of adult relationships

Cameron Huddleston: Freebies for Your Lawn and Garden

Gordon Pape: How you can tell if your financial adviser is setting you up for potential ruin

Dana Dovey: Up to 500,000 people die each year from hepatitis C-related liver disease. New Treatment Has Over 90% Success Rate

Justin Caba: Eating Watermelon Can Help Control High Blood Pressure

The Kosher Gourmet by Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon Don't dare pass over these Pesach picks for Manischewitz!

April 11, 2014

Rabbi Hillel Goldberg: Silence is much more than golden

Caroline B. Glick: Forgetting freedom at Passover

Susan Swann: How to value a child for who he is, not just what he does

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Financial Tasks You Should Tackle Right Now

Sandra Block and Lisa Gerstner: How to Profit From Your Passion

Susan Scutti: A Simple Blood Test Might Soon Diagnose Cancer

Chris Weller: Have A Slow Metabolism? Let Science Speed It Up For You

The Kosher Gourmet by Diane Rossen Worthington Whitefish Terrine: A French take on gefilte fish

April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review April 28, 2008 / 26 Nissan 5768

Busy work

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir


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http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: Sometimes an employee has pretty much finished his inbox, but if I send him home early or let him lounge I'm afraid his work ethic will suffer together with that of other workers. So usually I invent some task I don't really need, but I feel kind of guilty.


A: There is no doubt that giving busy work is ethically problematic. The Torah warns us not to give an indentured servant "crushing labor:"

"If your brother becomes impoverished and is sold to you, do not work him like a slave. . . This is because I brought them out of Egypt, and they are My slaves. Don't work him with crushing labor, fear God" (Leviticus 25:39-43).

The expression is reminiscent of the "crushing labor" imposed on the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. (Exodus 1:13-14.)

Interestingly, the sages of the Talmud understood this commandment to refer not to very difficult labor, but rather to demeaning labor such as busy work:

"Don't work him with rigor" — don't say to him, 'Warm the cup,' but really there is no need; "Cool the cup for me" but he doesn't need; "Hoe under the vine until I get back". (1)

And even though today there are no indentured servants, the ethical lesson is clear: Giving busy work can be demeaning and should be avoided. The great medieval explanation of the commandments, the Sefer HaChinuch (346), writes on this commandment that even though it is no longer binding, "it is proper for a person to heed this commandment even today, with the poor belonging to his household, and to take great care with it. And let him remember that wealth and poverty are a turning wheel in the world." (2)

However, your concerns about work ethic and morale are also echoed in our tradition. In the time of the Mishna, it was the responsibility of the man to provide income while the wife's responsibility was to take care of household production. If the wife is wealthy and can hire servants (in the time of the Mishna a dishwasher, clothes washer, etc. was a person, not a machine), then she is exempt from working herself, but the Mishna states that she should not be completely idle because "idleness leads to license." Likewise, a husband may not forbid his wife to work, because "idleness leads to ennui". (3)

Here is another example: What happens if a day laborer is taken on but it then becomes clear that the employer erred and there is actually no work for him to do? If it will be impossible for the worker to find another job that day, the employer has to take responsibility and pay for the worker's missed day. But since the worker also benefits since he gets a day off, the pay is less than the usual pay for a day's work. But the Talmud makes an exception for "the residents of [the town of] Machoza, who if they are idle become weakened." (4) Evidently the men of Machoza engaged in specialized physical work, and their work was also their workout. If they were idle, they couldn't just go home; perhaps they would have to spend the day in the gym (or whatever the 7th century equivalent was) to maintain their condition.

The Talmud also tells us that if one person "borrows" another's idle servant, the borrower is exempt since the master is better off if the servant is not idling. (5)

These three examples show that the employer may have a valid interest in keeping a worker busy: to keep him from ennui, to keep him involved in work to keep his ability current, and to keep his work ethic alive. It is true that none of the three examples deal with busy work per se, but all show that there is a benefit to work even above and beyond the actual fruits of the labor.

So I generally write that what is improper is gratuitous busy work, busy work that doesn't serve any valid workplace goal. However, even when the assignment is justified for the above reasons, the extent and nature should be commensurate with these goals. If for instance the worker has a special reason to want to leave early, so that his early departure won't in this case affect workplace morale, then there is no justification for keeping him busy until closing just because in general that is better for morale. If the object is to keep him sharp, like the "residents of Machoza", then find a task which actually fulfills this objective. If the object is to keep his motivation high, try to find a task which he enjoys and finds challenging, even if the results may not be so critical — for example, ask him to write up a business idea even if he is a lower-level employee.

Busy work can be demeaning and demoralizing, showing the worker that his time is worthless in the eyes of the employer. Yet idleness and early departures have their own corrosive effect on morale. To the extent employees have to be kept busy, tasks given to them should be tailored as closely as possible to their abilities and interests.

SOURCES: (1) Sifra Behar on Vayikra 25:43 (2) Chinuch 346. The exemption for an ordinary worker is in Sifra Behar on Vayikra 25:42. (3) Kesubos 59b (4) Bava Metzia 77a (5) Bava Metzia 97a

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JWR contributor Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir, formerly of the Council of Economic Advisers in the Reagan administration, is Research Director of the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, Jerusalem College of Technology. To comment or pose a question, please click here.

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