Ten Commandments of Business Ethics

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The National Jewish Outreach Program Offers Age-Old Advice for Business Professionals Dedicated to Ethical Practices.

Did you know that SOX was preceded by Scrolls? In fact, thousands of years before Sarbanes Oxley scared businesspeople everywhere, the bible offered a code of ethics designed to keep professionals on the straight and narrow.

Inspired by a decade fraught with business fraud, the National Jewish Outreach Program is reaching back into history to offer Ten Commandments of business ethics. These ten tips, despite being based on more than 3,300 years of Jewish tradition, are timeless and exceedingly relevant even today.

“It is truly amazing to realize that the world’s oldest legal system put such a high priority on ethical business practices. In fact, it’s nothing short of revolutionary. We hope that these tips from the ancient Jewish tradition inspire a profound and healthy respect for honesty in business as was the original intent from the beginning of time,” said Rabbi Buchwald, founder of the National Jewish Outreach Program.

Ten Tips:

An Original Commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Steal” is one of the Ten Commandments that most people know well from history or Hebrew school or Cecil B. DeMille’s famous film (Exodus 20:15 and Leviticus 19:11). Those who place a high value on being honored by their children would do well to remember that the very same tablets that proclaim, “Honor thy Father and Mother,” forbid stealing even a single penny.

Cook Dinner, Not the Books: Numerous times, the bible proclaims the requirement for ‘just and honest weights and measures’ (Leviticus 19:35-36 and Deuteronomy 25:13-16). Reporting of financial information must be exceedingly precise, so that those involved in business behave openly and honestly. Even the great Moses had to give strict accounting of all the gifts dedicated to the Tabernacle (Exodus 38:21-31).

Do Not Delay Payday: Pay on payday and not a day later! Employers are obligated to set a date for payment and pay on that day without delay, or risk breaching the statute known as “Oshek” or extortion (Deuteronomy 24:14-15). It is also strictly forbidden to hold someone else’s money without their agreement or knowledge (Sefer Hachinuch Mitzvah 228).

Finders Keepers?: Not so fast. “Found money,” in fact ‘found anything’ must be promptly returned or the finder is the loser as well. In fact, Jewish texts go to great lengths to describe the effort one must put into finding the rightful owner of a lost item (Deuteronomy 22:1-3).

Bribery: Bribery extends to situations beyond paying off a judge or law officer and is strictly forbidden in business dealings. The prohibition may even extend to giving your corporate football tickets to the admission officer at the preschool to which you hope your child will be accepted (Exodus 23:8).

Shop it Around: It is O.K. to get estimates, but not to solicit quotes from vendors that you have no intention of engaging (Leviticus 35:17). Asking for a price, just to find out if you got a good deal on the equipment you already purchased elsewhere is considered sinful.

False Advertising: Advertising is fine. Misrepresenting goods or services offered is not. Not only is placing a stumbling block before a blind person literally forbidden (Leviticus 19:14), but Jewish tradition strictly prohibits any action that misleads others in any manner.

Competitive Advantage: A strict prohibition against slandering applies with particular emphasis to business competitors. As any good business consultant will advise, focus on your own strengths, not on the weaknesses of your competitors (Leviticus 19:16).

Insider Trading: For more than 3000 years, there has been a notion in Judaism regarding the prohibition of stealing information (taking information that was not intended for your knowledge.) Theft of information is just that – theft. In addition, Jewish law dictates that the law of the land must be obeyed (Dina D’malchuta Dina) which means that activities illegal under U.S. law, such as insider trading, are also forbidden according to Jewish law.

Golden Parachute: Forget your work termination clause and consider “final termination” for a moment. Jewish tradition teaches that the very first question a person will be asked in heaven is: “Have you conducted your business affairs with scrupulous integrity (Tractate Shabbat: 31A).

To speak with Rabbi Buchwald or for additional information about Jewish business ethics.

About the National Jewish Outreach Program

Founded in 1987 by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald to address the critical issues of assimilation and lack of Jewish knowledge, NJOP is now one of the largest and most successful Jewish outreach organizations in the world. To date, more than 920,000 people have benefited from NJOP’s innovative, free programs which have been held in 3,645 locations—including synagogues, community centers, military bases and college campuses—in all 50 states, nine Canadian provinces and 31 countries around the world. (http://www.njop.org).

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Ilya Welfeld
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