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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 July 30, 2007 / 16 Menachem-Av, 5767

Respect and Suspect

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir


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Drawing the line between prudence and paranoia


http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: I understand business should be based on a relationship of trust. But I hear so many stories of people being cheated. Where do we draw the line between prudence and paranoia?


A: Certainly the Torah educates us to create a society of honesty and mutual trust. We are on the one hand commanded to act with integrity towards others: "Distance yourself from any falsehood" (Exodus 23:7); "You shall have righteous scales, righteous weights, and righteous measures" (Leviticus 19:36), and so on. But we also have various commands meant to reinforce trust towards others: "Judge your fellow righteously" (Leviticus 19:15), which our Sages interpreted to mean, give others the benefit of the doubt. (1) ; "Don't act vengefully and don't bear a grudge" (Leviticus 19:18) and others.

Our Sages went so far as to say, "Anyone who casts suspicion on the upright is stricken." This is learned from the story of Moses, who was commanded by G-d to free the people of Israel from slavery. Moses was concerned that the people would not listen to him, and protested, "They won't believe me". God replied, "Put your hand into your garment." The hand then came out stricken, which in Biblical times was considered a punishment for slander. (Exodus 4:1, 6-7.) Although this miraculous "punishment" lasted only a few moments, Moses was reminded that he should have faith in others. (2)


However, this does not mean we should naively rely on others to keep their commitments. On the contrary, the rabbis of the Talmud insisted that we should never rely on someone's honesty alone when we have the ability to properly document and enforce a transaction: "Anyone who has money and lends them without witnesses, transgresses 'Don't place an obstacle before the blind'. Reish Lakish said, he brings a curse upon himself." The "obstacle before the blind" is that the borrower will be tempted to deny the loan, thus engaging in a transgression. The Talmud then goes on to tell that the great sage Ravina refused to lend money for a mitzvah to his friend, the equally eminent sage Rav Ashi, without having witnesses and drawing up a proper contract. (3)


A common Hebrew expression is "Respect them and suspect them". We should always act in a respectful way towards others, but that doesn't obligate us to trust them with our property. The source of this is in a story of the Talmudic sage Rabbi Yehoshua. A complete stranger asked to stay the night. Rabbi Yehoshua obliged him by giving him a room in the attic, but also exercised prudence by removing the ladder so that the guest wouldn't be able to sneak out. The guest turned out in fact to be a thief; he wrapped all the valuables in the top floor in a cloak and tried to sneak out, but fell in the dark because of the missing ladder, and was caught red-handed.


Our sages summarized: "Other people should always be like thieves in your eyes, yet respect them as if they were Rabban Gamliel" (an especially honored and dignified Torah leader). Of course that doesn't mean we should treat every guest this way, and the passage explains that a person who has a good reputation should be trusted more. But it shows how we can simultaneously respect and suspect someone, by helping them to the best of our ability but taking reasonable safeguards against harm. (4)


A few years ago, the eminent scholar and Rabbinical court judge Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg gave an interview in which he stated that one of the most common reasons people end up in litigation in rabbinical court is that they make "friendly" informal agreements, leading to endless misunderstandings. This shows the wisdom of the Talmud's admonition that the failure to record transactions leads ultimately to mischief.


Of course there is always a gray area of ill-defined obligations, but trust is augmented when as little as possible is open to interpretation and misunderstanding. This is the secret of an ancient and seemingly bizarre Jewish custom. At any Jewish wedding, a guest is honored with reading the kesuba, or marriage contract, which clearly defines the legal obligation of the husband to the wife, including a divorce settlement. A marriage is the ultimate relationship based on trust; why should be launching it with a dry enumeration of legal obligations? The answer is that trust thrives when there is a clear and mutual understanding of obligations. Once this foundation is achieved, the sides can be flexible and understanding, but there is a need for an underlying bedrock of agreed-upon commitments.

SOURCES: (1) Babylonian Talmud, Shevuous 30a (2) Babylonian Talmud, Shabbes 97a (3) Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 75b (4) Tractate Kallah Rabasi 9:1

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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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