Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Biblical Foundations of Business Ethics

Academic journal article Journal of Markets & Morality

Biblical Foundations of Business Ethics

Article excerpt

The Hebrew Bible is replete with precepts that deal with business ethics and thus can be used as a starting point for those interested in developing higher moral standards for business. Some of the issues discussed in this paper include: environmentalism, caring for the poor, not discriminating against the stranger, fairly treating employees, paying wages and rents on time, providing fringe benefits for employees, maintaining honest and stable prices, ensuring accuracy in weights and measures, honesty in selling and negotiations, acting in a manner that ensures one is above suspicion, and providing an honest day's work. The author concludes that Scripture makes clear that individuals and organizations that act ethically will achieve ultimate success.

Introduction

Most organizations realize that acting ethically is a good business practice that pays in the long run. A company that desires to create a positive image has to be concerned with customers' needs, society's needs, the needs of employees and suppliers, and the interests of shareholders. Each of these concerns, for our purpose, can be subsumed under the rubric of acting ethically.

The Hebrew Bible, particularly the Pentateuch (i.e., the Torah), is replete with precepts that deal with business ethics and can, therefore, be used as a starting point for those interested in developing higher moral standards for business. This paper will describe some principles that can be derived from the Hebrew Bible. Although the Bible was given at a time when individuals mainly lived in an agricultural society, many of its ideas can be easily extended to a modern industrial society.

This article is not necessarily concerned with the exact Jewish law (halacha) in business situations. Rather, the focus of this article is on the spirit of the law, demonstrating that many ethical issues of today had their counterparts in the Bible and the Talmud. The Talmud, which is the compilation of Jewish oral law, explains and expounds on the Hebrew Bible and consists of the Mishna and Gemara. The Mishna, originally an old oral tradition, was compiled and edited in written form about 1,800 years ago, while the Gemara, which consists mainly of commentaries on the Mishna, was completed approximately 1,500 years ago.

The Talmud is principally concerned with halacha (Jewish law), but it also provides a detailed record of the beliefs of the Jewish people, their philosophy, traditions, culture, and folklore, i.e., the aggadah (homiletics). The Midrash, a separate scripture, recorded the views of the Talmudic sages and is mainly devoted to the exposition of biblical verses.

Caring for the Environment

Many companies today support the cause of environmental preservation. They are committed to "green marketing" and are developing products that result in less waste and pollution. In biblical times, pollution may not have been as serious a problem as it is today, but the Bible does contain laws that exhibit a great deal of concern for the land. For instance, the Bible does not allow soldiers to cut down fruit trees, even when conducting a siege of an enemy's city. (1) The Talmud extends the prohibition of not destroying fruit trees to any type of wasteful destruction. (2) In fact, the Talmud considers wasteful destruction of any kind a violation of the Torah.

Soldiers are instructed by the Bible to designate a special place outside the camp to be used as a lavatory. In addition, soldiers must keep a spade with their weapons and use it to cover their excrement after relieving themselves. (3) The purpose of these laws was not for hygienic reasons (although this may have also been a factor). The reason given is: "Therefore shall your camp be holy; so that He see no unseemly thing in you." Polluting the land with bodily wastes is an improper way to behave and is offensive to the Lord.

The Bible commands the farmer to give the land a complete rest in the seventh year. …

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