OU Introduces New Online Program Emphasizing Business Ethics

02 Feb 2010

Though we would like to think that the Orthodox Jewish community is impervious to flawed ethics, recent news has shown us that sadly, we are not exempt from faulty business tactics. In recognition of the fact the Jewish community could use a tune-up in business ethics that take place every day in the workplace, the Orthodox Union has created visual lessons in Choshen Mishpat, a section of the Shulcan Aruch (the written codification of Jewish law) that deals with Jewish laws pertaining to finance, torts, and legal procedures.

Daily 15-20 minute videos of OU rabbis and scholars from outside the organization, many from Lakewood, explaining different topics in Chosen Mishpat are now available on www.ou.org. Currently, there are around sixty videos available, with more to be added in the coming weeks. There will be seventy to one hundred videos in total. The project is being done in conjunction with the Bais HaVaad L’Inyonei Mishpat, the Center for the Study and Practice of Monetary Law in Lakewood, NJ.

Rabbi Steven Weil, OU Executive Vice President, originator of the idea and a lecturer in the series, stated, “The ability to master Choshen Mishpat (Jewish business ethics) is a sine qua non for any Jew engaged in real estate, sales, law, accounting, or marketing. The mastery and familiarity of Choshen Mishpat will enable Orthodox Jews to transform the discourse of ethics in the workplace and sanctify God’s name.”

This is not the first time that the OU is tackling the issue of ethics in the Jewish community. In the Winter 2005 edition of its acclaimed magazine, Jewish Action, devoted to exploring business ethics, renowned lawyer Benjamin Brafman wrote, “Those who openly display their devotion to God and Judaism have an obligation to be more honest, more careful, more courteous, and more prudent. A truly religious Jew must also be a law-abiding citizen and must act in a manner consistent with what one would expect of a deeply religious person. He or she must remain aware at all times that when a religious Jew takes even a slight misstep, it can be magnified beyond any measure of reasonableness.”

The OU also initiated a series of lectures preceding the High Holy Days called “Honest to God,” in various Jewish communities. At the time, Rabbi Steven Burg, National Director of OU Program Development, declared, “We want to send out the message that in addition to Shabbat and kashrut observance, ethical business practices are part and parcel of being a religious Jew. As always, the Orthodox Union is in the forefront of communal introspection and the communal response to the key issues in Jewish life.”

Rabbi Weil was the keynote speaker at the OU’s West Coast Torah Convention in December, where he spoke on “Recalibrating Our Moral and Ethical Compass.” He asked at the convention, “What defines a Jew? It’s the practical application of our theology, and how we engage in business.”

When discussing the reason for the continuing theme, Rabbi Alan Kalinsky, OU West Coast Director, declared, “What we saw in a swirling of current events that impacted on both Orthodox and non-observant Jews is a total lack of ethics. Jews and the business environment in general have become lax in following basic ethics and morals. Jews have to remind themselves that they have to set an example for the nations of the world.”

Michael Rosner, who is coordinating the Choshen Mishpat project, declared, “The OU feels it is of paramount importance that people have an easily accessible way to review practical business laws and ethics. This is the first time that we have ever had lessons in this subject, and we are already amassing a library of online videos, each with a pertinent and down-to-earth lesson in business dealings, in the hope that it will have an impact on our community in a positive way.”

Some of the topics already covered include “Borrowing without Permission,” by Rabbi Dovid Grossman; “Ba’al Talin, or Timely Wages,” by Rabbi Ari Marburger, a dayan (rabbinic judge) and author of A Practical Halachic Guide to Modern Business; and “The Beis Din Process,” by Rabbi Dovid Cohen, a well-known posek (halachic authority) in the Jewish world. More lessons will follow in the next few weeks, and all videos are archived on the OU website. Featured rabbis will include Rav Hershel Schachter, a rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University and OU halachic decisor; and Rabbi Zvi Ralbag, of Congregation Bais Ephraim Yitzchok in the Five Towns of Long Island, NY.

Videos can be viewed at www.ou.org. For more information, contact Michael Rosner at 212-613-8129 or rosnerm@ou.org.