In this issue

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 Dec. 18, 2006 / 27 Kislev, 5767

Decent Working Conditions, Part 1: Equitable Treatment

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir

Printer Friendly Version

Email this article

Moral principles on how to treat your employees

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Q: Do employers have a responsibility to provide workers with decent working conditions?

A: Employers need above all to respect all agreements with workers. The Torah recognized that even though work agreements are in theory ordinary contracts between equal parties, in fact the employer tends to have the stronger position and is often in a position to cheat the worker with impunity. Scripture has a special word, 'oshek,' to describe this kind of behavior. The Torah has a number of explicit verses warning us not to exploit the worker in this way, for example: "Don't withhold (ta'ashok ) the wages of the poor and the needy, or the stranger in your land in your gates" (Deuteronomy 24:14). And in scores of places the prophets warned the wealthier classes against this kind of abuse, for example: "Don't cheat the stranger, the orphan, and the widow, and don't spill innocent blood in this place; and don't go after strange gods to your own harm" (Jeremiah 7:6).

Employers also need to respect workers' rights as established by legitimate laws or universal custom; the Talmud tells us that communities have the authority to regulate wages and prices in the public interest. (1)

However, we do not find any direct evidence in the Torah or in later Jewish law that any specific level of working conditions is mandated. If a particular level of wages or a particular workplace environment was agreed upon by both sides and is not restricted by law and regulation, we don't find any categorical basis to call the employer unethical or exploitative. There is no Torah-mandated minimum wage; on the contrary, any wage level agreed upon between employer and employee is legal even if it is considerably cheaper than the going rate.

Donate to JWR

However, there are a number of principles found in Jewish law which create varying degrees of moral obligation to treat workers "well", meaning at some minimal level even if they would consent to less. Here we will list a few:

In secular law, "equity" refers to cases where the letter of the law is suited to the majority of cases, but in a particular case rigid enforcement seems unfair and in fact contrary to the spirit of the law. In Jewish law, there is a parallel concept called lifnim mishuras hadin, meaning going beyond the letter of the law. Appropriately enough, this principle is learned from the verse "Do what is right and what is good." (Deuteronomy 6:18 and Nachmanides' commentary.) Even though the entire Torah is meant to give us explicit directives as to what is right and what is good, there is still a need for a general directive to act fairly and equitably for all those exceptional cases which fall between the cracks.

For example, the Talmud tells the story of Rabba bar Bar Chanan who hired some porters to move casks of wine; due to an unfortunate accident the casks slipped and broke. According to the strict letter of the law, the porters are obligated to pay a large sum for damages. However, the judge Rav felt that this judgment was unfair given the circumstances. The main reason for obligating people in damages is to make sure they take proper care, and in this case it seemed that the workers had indeed done their best to make a safe move. Another problem was that the workers were very poor, and could not afford to pay for the wine, while Rabba bar Bar Chanan was a wealthy person who could easily absorb the loss. In the end, Rav instructed Rabba bar Bar Chanan to drop his lawsuit and furthermore to pay the porters their wages! (2)

In another case, a Rebbe Chiya, an experienced businessman, gave some free advice to a poor woman. The advice turned out to be mistaken and caused the woman a loss. Rav instructed Rebbe Chiya to make good the loss. Technically he was not liable, but given the reliance the lady placed on Rebbe Chiya and the great burden of the loss, Rav considered that an exception to the rule was called for. (3)

There would be many comparable cases in today's marketplace. A wealthy employer would be expected at the very least to keep from collecting fines and damages from employees for losses due to circumstances beyond their control. This would be a characteristic of an equitable workplace.

SOURCES: Babylonian Talmud, Bava Bastra 8b (2) Babylonian Talmud, Bava Metzia 83a. (3) Babylonian Talmud, Bava Kamma 99b

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes inspiring articles. Sign up for our daily update. It's free. Just click here.

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.


You've enjoyed his columns on JWR for years. Now the Jewish Ethicist has culled his most intriguing — and controversial — offerings in book form.
Sales help fund JWR.


Stand up for elders' rights
Garage sale gem
By taking my relative in, am I helping or making the situation worse?
Public Service or Public Relations?
Do professionals need to strive for complete objectivity?
Does future reward make ethical behavior selfish?
The whole truth — Even in the marketplace?
Judaism and the afterlife: Reincarnation, heaven and hell
The Jewish belief in resurrection of the dead affects how will live in the here and now
Ethical guidelines on what to say and what's proper to keep to yourself
Is it wrong to get credit for something you didn't do?
Ethics and sportsmanship
The ethics of forwarding email
Must a supplier honor a discount offered by a rogue sales representative?
Should I boycott my daughter's fashion show?
Should you respond to all those annoying email pop-up requests?
Do I have to reimburse someone who tried to do me a favor?
Seeking credit card debt settlement
Can I threaten to spread the word about someone who cheated me?
How can the terminally ill tap into their life insurance?
Is there value in an unhappy marriage?
Where does the Almighty fit into your corporation's mission statement?
Does an expert witness have to be impartial?
Should I give recognition to a modest man who did a great deed?
In representing my firm, can I tell a white lie?
Defrauding insurance to save a life
Can top level management unilaterally give away money to corporate dollars to charity?
Loans to Family Members
How much worker supervision is too much?
Should I turn in a colleague for inappropriate acts?
Priority in charitable giving
Trolls and ogres
How many hours of work is too many?
Can I promote my product by having it unobtrusively written into a story?
He's not heavy he's my brother
All's fair in war?, II
All's fair in war?
Girth vs. worth
Is it proper to tax bequests?
Ethics of Being Overweight
Penalized for working swiftly
When is it a bluff?
'Rate and switch'
My paycheck is late!
Should schools cater to an elite?
All's fair in love?
Comfort and Competition
Do I need the caller's permission to put a call on the speakerphone?
Overtime for lost time
Is it unethical to play suppliers against each other to get the lowest bid possible?
Do family members have precedence in charity allotments?
What the world of business can teach us about our annual process of repentance and renewal
Are religious leaders subject to criticism?
Vindictive Vendor: How can I punish an abusive competitor?
Blogging Ethics: Is the blogger responsible for defamatory posts?

© 2005, The Jewish Ethicist is produced by the JCT Center for Business Ethics