“Jewish Ethics of Employee Treatment and Communal Responsibility” by Dani Passow, p. 4-5
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While seemingly supporting a minimum wage, Jewish tradition also recognizes the importance of not being overly restrictive on economic dealings. For instance, the concept, “in order not to shut the door in the borrower’s face” appears numerous times in the Talmud. It generally refers either to granting certain rights to a creditor or to restricting the rights of a borrower, both of which encourage a creditor to lend, ultimately helping the borrower by providing the opportunity to receive a loan. One could replace borrower with employee in this principle and come to the same conclusion: Too much clamping down on the economy can be stifling and ultimately helpful to no one. This situation seems to set up a conflict between the basic human rights of employees and a free market. Yet, these two values don’t really contrast since the rights of workers are is subsumed in the value of a free market. The whole purpose of limiting economic restrictions, as stated by the Talmud, is for the benefit of the weaker economic party, the borrower, or by extension, a laborer. Nevertheless, “in order not to shut the door in the borrower’s face” cannot override a biblical law (such as the prohibition of oppression), which suggests that the value of immediate action in aid of the economically weak trumps long-term economic modeling even where such models seem to be in the ultimate best interest of the economically vulnerable.
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Suggested Discussion Questions:

1. How does Passow conclude that “too much clamping down on the economy can be stifling and ultimately helpful to no one”? Can you think of an example in today’s economy in which this could be true?

2. Whose rights do we ultimately prioritize? On what basis?

3. Is it fair to always prioritize the immediate needs of the workers in favor of the good of the economy? Is there a way to prioritize both and create a system in which everyone benefits?

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Time Period: Contemporary (The Yom Kippur War until the present-day)