Rabbi Israel Salanter (1809-1883), father of the Musar movement.
Once, Rabbi Salanter visited a new matzah bakery in order to check its work practices and level of kashrut. He reviewed all the manufacturing procedures extensively and observed the intense labor and toil of the employees. At the end of Rabbi Salanter’s visit, the bakery owner proudly asked him, “What does the rabbi say?” He answered, “The Gentiles accuse us, G-d forbid, of using the blood of Christian children in matzah. While this is not the case, from what I have seen here, there is indeed a violation of the prohibition on blood in food. The blood of the workers is mixed with the matzah! I will not certify this bakery as kosher.”
In another case, Rabbi Salanter was asked what demands particular attention when baking matzah. He answered: “One must be scrupulous not to yell at the woman kneading the dough.”
He was also quoted as saying, “It is prohibited to enhance your mitzvot at the expense of others.” One day Rabbi Salanter was hosted by a rich man. When he performed the ritual hand-washing before the meal, he used a sparing amount of water. He was asked, “Doesn’t the Torah say it is praiseworthy to wash with a lot of water?” He answered, “I can only do that in my own home. Here, however, I must consider the needs of the servant who must carry the buckets of water.”
When attending large dinners, Rabbi Salanter also hurried to finish eating quickly in consideration of the waiters and other workers, who had to wait until the end of the meal to go home. “Justice, justice you shall pursue in order that you may live in and inherit the land.”
The Midrash (Sifra, Leviticus 86; Midrash Hagadol, Leviticus 25:39) explains this to mean that one is not permitted to make a servant engage in degrading work (e.g., removing his master’s shoes), perform work that has no purpose (i.e., "busy" work), or carry out a task without a defined limit (e.g., "hoe until I return" when the servant does not know when the master will return).
In any case, however, [the defendant] is to be placed under the ban; for he is told, Go remove the damaging [animals] you own, in accordance with R. Natan. As it was taught, R. Natan said: How do I know that one may not raise a bad dog in his house or place a shaky ladder in his house? As it is said, “Do not bring blood into your house” (Deuteronomy 22:8).
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights contains 30 articles enumerating a number of “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family;” Articles 5, 13, 23, and 24 are those that are most relevant to business practices as they are more likely to be violated by businesses.
Article 23: (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
Article 24: Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Article 13: (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
Rabbi Yehuda Brandes, "Judaism and Human Rights: The Dialectic Betwen 'Image of God' and 'Holy Nation'"
What is the relationship between Judaism and modern discourse on human rights? The short answer to this question is that the humanistic and liberal values that underlie modern human rights discourse are not foreign to Judaism. Quite the contrary: they exist within it and emanate from it, in the Bible, halakhic literature, and modern religious philosophy.
The book of Genesis, especially the story of the Creation, is the wellspring of fundamental human principles. The creation of human beings in the image of God serves as the starting point from which primary values are derived. These include human life, human dignity, property, equality and freedom, and the family. Many precepts originate from these fundamental values. The value of life, first mentioned in the Bible in the verse “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed” (Gen. 9:6), leads to injunctions such as “You shall not murder” (Exod. 20:13) and “Do not stand idly by when your neighbor’s life is threatened” (Lev. 19:16).
The values of equality and freedom stem not only from the fact that all human beings were created in the divine image but also from the fact that they are all descendants of Adam and Eve; the corollaries of these values include the laws of labor relations, which mandated fair and equal treatment of workers by employers even in societies that practiced slavery, and are all the more applicable in our own day and age.
The universal dimension of the Torah is found in the book of Genesis, which contains ethics that were given to all human beings descended from Adam and Noah. This constitutes the ground floor, the basic values of the Torah and Judaism, parallel to the modern system of human rights and hardly different from it in any essential way. The next level, designated “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6), represents the dimension of the selection of Israel to bear a special divine mission.
Before the Israelites received the Torah at Sinai, we learn that the purpose of this gift was to make them into “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
The concept of a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” obligates the Jewish people to observe an additional and much broader set of precepts than the basic and universal code constituted by the “Seven Noahide Commandments”; even though this code actually encompasses much more than seven precepts, the Torah imposes on the Jewish people an extremely comprehensive canon of statutes that are not incumbent on other nations.
The two tracks are presented not as merging but as colliding—the track of the “image of God,” which is the basis of human rights, and the track of “a kingdom of priests and holy nation,” which constrains and limits universal human values.
How do the Torah and Halakhah deal with the tension between these two tracks or two opposing systems for living? The fundamental axiom is that we are not dealing with tension and contradiction between the Torah and some external and alien culture, but with an internal tension that stems from the existence of two principles that coexist within the Torah itself. Dealing with and resolving these two opposing poles is the very soul of talmudic thought. It is based on the notion that “both these and those are the words of the living God” (BT Eruvin 13b): both of these contradictory positions are valid and true, and no final and absolute decision can be rendered in favor of one or the other.
DevTalk on approaches companies are taking to address human rights abuses in global supply chains, delivered April 2016, to be posted here soon: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheBerkeleyMDP
goodguide.com, behindthebrands.org, ethicalconsumer.org, fairtradeusa.org, shiftproject.org, bcorporation.net, look at companies' CSR and sustainability reports