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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 Dec. 26, 2006 / 5 Teves, 5767

Decent Working Conditions, Part II: Dignified treatment

By Rabbi Dr. Asher Meir


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Providing a proper working environment.


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


A: We explained last week that the main obligation of employers in Jewish law and tradition is to keep their word — not to provide any specific level of wages and conditions. However, despite the absence of any binding formal requirement, there are a number of salient ethical principles which create a certain level of moral obligation. One we mentioned last week is lifnim mishuras hadin, making a compromise even when the strict law is on your side in a case where sticking to the letter of the law would lead to an unfair outcome given the special circumstances of the case. This week we will discuss an additional consideration which is often applicable.

DIGNIFIED TREATMENT
When it comes to the rights of workers, the Torah mainly insists that any agreements be honored. No specific conditions are mandated. However, this is not true for an indentured servant (eved ivri). The Torah does impose extensive responsibilities on the employer/master of such a worker.


An indentured servant is a Jewish man or woman who is sold into service for a period of up to six years. In some cases these people sell their own services; in other cases they are sold in order to provide restitution for serious property crimes. (The Torah does not prescribe imprisonment for such crimes; the overall Torah approach is one of rectification rather than penalization.)


For example, it is forbidden to give an indentured servant demeaning work as if he or she were a chattel slave. Only tasks of the kind conventionally given to hired workers are permitted. "As a hired worker year by year shall he be with him; don't give him crushing labor in your sight" (Leviticus 25:53).


Another example: the Torah commands the master to give "severance pay" to the parting servant after his years of servitude are completed. "Surely grant him of your flock and your threshing-floor and your wine press; what the Lord has blessed you give him (Deuteronomy 15:14). This gift is meant to enable the newly independent worker to get an economic start in life, in an occupation wherein he acquired experience and "on the job training" by the master.

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The Torah acknowledges that sometimes an indentured servant wants to stay beyond the mandatory six years, because he appreciates the job security and working environment he enjoys as a servant. "If he should say to you, I will not go out from you, for he loves you and your household and it is good for him by you" (Deuteronomy 15:16). From this verse, the Talmud infers that it is the obligation of the master to ensure that it is indeed "good for him". The indentured servant has to be treated like an ordinary member of the household. "It is taught: 'for it is good for him with you' - with you in eating, with you in drinking. So it shouldn't happen that you eat white bread while he eats coarse bread; you drink old wine while he drinks new wine; you sleep in a bed of fleece while he sleeps on a bed of straw." (1)


It is clear that the Torah here does prescribe a specific minimum level of support for an indentured servant; he has to have a living standard comparable to that of the master's and has to be given severance pay.


How would these strictures be applied to an ordinary worker? According to one opinion, all commandments applying to indentured servants apply also to hired workers. (2) But most authorities disagree with this; the special rights of an indentured servants are necessary safeguards given the fact that he his denied his freedom. But an ordinary worker is perfectly free to agree to menial or demeaning labor as long as the recompense is sufficient for him.


Even so, we find that the Sefer Hachinuch (an early guide to the rules and ethical messages of the commandments of the Torah) repeatedly reminds us that the underlying reasons for these commandments can also apply to ordinary workers. For example, regarding the prohibition on demeaning labor, he writes: "Even though it is not obligatory nowadays, because there are no indentured servants, even so it is appropriate to take care with this commandment even today with poor people in his household, and to be very scrupulous about it. And he should remember that wealth and poverty are a revolving wheel in the world." (3)


This would apply particularly to a domestic worker, for this is the situation of an indentured servant as well as the example of the Sefer Hachinuch, who refers to "poor people in his household."


Likewise, regarding the commandment to give the parting servant a substantial gift to give him a start in life, the Sefer HaChinuch writes: "Even nowadays the wise person will hear and learn the lesson, that if he hired a fellow Israelite who served him for a long time, or even shorter, that he should grant him at his departure from whatever blessing he obtained from G-d." (4) And we find that many contemporary authorities cite this mitzvah as one rationale for mandatory severance pay as it is customary nowadays. (5)


So while the Torah does not mandate any particular level of salary or working conditions, the privileges given an indentured servant point to an ideal of a workplace where the worker has access to basic amenities as accepted among normal households, and a workplace which demonstrates appreciation for achievements and contributes to the worker's independence. These ideals will not be applicable in every workplace or in every situation, and after all someone does need to be hired to do menial tasks! But, as the Sefer Hachinuch, points out they are something to keep in mind, and to make the employer display empathy and give some thought to how he would feel as an employee in his own workplace.


SOURCES: (1) Babylonian Talmud, Kiddushin 20a. (2) Responsa Maharam Rotenburg IV:85. (3) Sefer Hachinuch 346. (4) Sefer Hachinuch 482 (5) See e.g. Responsa Minchas Yitzchak VI 167

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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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Previously:

Decent Working Conditions, Part 1: Equitable Treatment
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