Religion & Beliefs

Cough It Up- Laborers Should Be Paid On Time and Other Jewish Business Rules

Since yesterday was Labor Day here in the States, and since I actually had class on Labor Day (not that I’m bitter) I’ve been thinking about Jewish law in connection with physical labor, laborers and business. We’ve talked before about … Read More

By / September 4, 2007
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Since yesterday was Labor Day here in the States, and since I actually had class on Labor Day (not that I’m bitter) I’ve been thinking about Jewish law in connection with physical labor, laborers and business. We’ve talked before about slavery and how much of a problem it still is in the world. Recent estimates put the number of slaves in the world today around 27 million. This number includes many millions of women used as sex slaves, and several million children. But labor issues are relevant in less extreme situations as well. You can always try to buy fair trade, which helps to ensure that farmers with small farms and/or artisans are being paid a fair price for their services and goods. And maybe the easiest way to keep some the labor mitzvot is to always pay for what you buy right away, especially when it involves labor. This means everyone from your contractor to your bartender. Leviticus 19:13 says, “Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.” Which is to say, if you hire someone to do work for you, and they do the work, don’t leave them high and dry—even if it’s only for a little while. We tend not to think about this kind of thing because it seems obvious, but in my experience Jewish organizations are incredibly bad at paying on time. One of my first jobs was working for a synagogue, and they didn’t pay me for more than three months. I had to go begging for my money a number of different times. And yes, I know this is a problem largely because Jewish orgs are often in a major budget crunch, but that’s really no excuse. We should always pay for what we get at the very first opportunity. This is really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Jewish take on business ethics. It’s not just about treating workers with respect, and freeing captives. There are rules about embezzling, fraud and bankruptcy. The Talmud even tells the story of a labor strike during the Second Temple Period.

For an overview of other halachic stances on business scenarios check out this comprehensive listing of links from the Darche Noam Institute. Now go tell your secretary she’s a rock star, and buy some fair trade chocolate for your plumber.