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February 03, 1989 - Image 80

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-02-03

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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80

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 3, 1989

American Business Practices
Gain From Ancient Jewish Law

JUDITH L. ABRAMS

Special to The Jewish News

A

few months before he
was arrested, Ivan
Boesky turned down a
request for a contribution
from Rabbi David Teutsch,
dean of admissions at the
Reconstructionist Rabbinical
College.
"Luckily he turned me
down," joked Rabbi Teutsch
recently at the University of
Michigan on "Creative Colli-
sion: Ethics and Jewish
Business."
Boesky, the former
Detroiter who was convicted
of trading with insider infor-
mation on Wall Street, was
described by Rabbi 'Thutsch as
"quite philanthropic, active in
United Jewish Appeal, and a
man responsive to the needs
of the Jewish world." The
most disturbing
characteristic of Boesky, he
said, is that he is really more
like us than not.
"Even most well-educated
people lack a developed sen-
sibility about moral issues,"
said Rabbi Teutsch. He sees
an ethical gap between our
business lives and our
behavior outside the
workplace.
To first consider the pro-
blems of proper business prac-
tices, we need to define
business ethics as a sub-field
of ethics. In terms of Judaism,
such an understanding of
moral behavior becomes
complicated.
"Orthodox Jewish law,
Halachah, generates stan-
dards for making all deci-
sions," said Rabbi Teutsch.
Such principles, ironically, do
not address the particular
concerns of the business com-
munity. "Firstly, the world is
changing in a way Halachah
is not," said the rabbi. Most
American Jews consider
themselves liberal in terms of
ethical decisions. This life
often clashes with American
values and creates a Jewish-
American life. Teutsch de-
nounced what he called "a
hyphenated life" in favor of
an existence which combines
the best of both cultures.
Instead of acting as a source
of tension for American Jews,
ethics "can guide us through
the points of disjuncture in
our lives." The difficulty is
that "there is no absolute
right thing to do," said the
rabbi. "We must remember
that all decisions come out of
a cultural and historical con-
text?'
Rabbi Teutsch suggested

Rabbi Teutsch missed a contribution.

fusing our lives as Americans
with our history as Jewish
people. He cited the idea of
ownership as an area in
which these two lives diverge.
In America, individual
owners control and run
businesses. Such a mindset
derives from English common
law. Jewish thought, however,
considers God as the owner of
all property with man as his
steward.

In terms of business regula-
tions, Judaism and American
values also differ, he said. In
the United States, there is
more government regulation
today than in the past, but
the Latin idea of caviat emp-
tor, "let the buyer beware,"
pervades much of the
business community.
Jewish law, however,
operates on what Teutsch
calls, "the fundamental prin-
ciple of disclosure." When
someone sells an item, he is
obligated to inform potential
buyers of the history of the
product. In terms of selling a
used car, for example, the
seller must inform the buyer
of all aspects of the car's
performance.
Judaism takes this attitude
one step further. The used car
owner must operate under
the aupices of an implied war-
ranty. He must investigate
the condition of the car before
attempting to sell it.
Judaism does not view
business as a zero-sum game
in • which there is a finite
amount of wealth. Instead, it
strives to create economic
relations that benefit all
parties.
Jewish law, the rabbi said,
exacts a positive definition of
labor relations. Oppression is
forbidden. An employer can
not reduce the dignity of

employees because, like him-
self, workers are fellow
creatures made in the image
of God.
In the fourth century, a
Jewish mandate evolved re-
quiring employers to provide
their workers with adequate
bathroom facilities. "In
America, we did not adopt
such a practice until 1947,"
said Rabbi Teutsch. "It still
doesn't exist today for farm
workers," said a women in the
audience.
In American business, the
government regulates. The
rabbi said, Judaism offers a
less adversarial approach. If
someone in a community
runs a business property,
such as a butcher, competitors
are not allowed to enter that
market.
Some fear such practices
would lead to exploitive
monopolies. Under Jewish
law, however, the butcher can
only charge a reasonable
price for his goods. The exact
price is regulated by members
of the community, not by the
free market.
Rabbi Teutsch suggsts com-
bining Jewish law with
modern business practices,
which would involve many
compromises. "This is no easy
equation," he said. "If we con-
sider our business decisions
as they transform our inner
lives, we can make ourselves
the people we want to be."

"mml l IN BRIEF

I'i'

THE SOUTHEASTERN
MICHIGAN VENTURE
GROUP will hold its month-
ly breakfast meeting at the
Somerset Inn in Troy on Feb.
14 at 8 a.m. At these
meetings, entrepreneurs have
a chance to meet with in-

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