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Business World Examined in Light of Jewish Law

Exploitation of overseas workers. Insider trading. Tobacco industry misdeeds. Is traditional Jewish thought applicable to these modern-day business dilemmas?

Yes, says Yeshiva University ethicist Dr. Moses Pava, author of the forthcoming Business Ethics: A Jewish Perspective (Ktav Publishing, Hoboken, NJ, September 1997). It is the third book by Dr. Pava, the Alvin H. Einbender Professor of Business Ethics at Yeshiva University's Sy Syms School of Business.

"When it comes to business, the Talmud teaches us to look actively for ethical solutions rather than search for loopholes," Dr. Pava says.

In Business Ethics, Dr. Pava introduces and interprets classical Jewish texts, including the Torah and Talmud, and explains the applicability of Judaism's religious law and moral vision, in light of business person's practical life.

"It is not enough to offer pietistic and moralistic warnings," Dr. Pava writes in the 206-page volume. "If business men and women are left out of the business ethics debate, the substance and quality of the discussion will suffer."

Business Ethics is divided into three sections. The first discusses why people often fail at business ehtics and suggests how they might succeed. The second cover the goals and methods of Jewish business ethics, which Dr. Pava says differs in substance from secular approaches.

"In Judaism, the priority of ethics over self interest is clear," Dr. Pava says. He refers to the important Talmudic exhortation in tractate Bava Metzia, to exceed the strict letter of the law. The passage stipulates an employer's obligation to equitably compensate employees.

The third section of Business Ethics examines corporate social responsibility, the use of inside information, crooked charities, corporations' manipulation of workers and customers, and fraudulent accounting practices, among other topics.

The Exxon Valdez incident, Levi Strauss's pullout of China to protest human rights abuses, AT&T advocacy of community day care, Nestle's marketing of infant formula in Third-World countries, and Time Warner's release of rap songs with provocative lyrics are among the examples Dr. Pava cites.

"Most business curriculums teach students to view decisions almost exclusively as opportunities to maximize self interest," writes Dr. Pava, who teaches accounting and business ethics at the undergraduate Sy Syms School of Business and earned his Ph.D. in business from the Stern School of New York University. But, "important business decisions can also be framed as religious and ethical decisions," he adds.

Business Ethics is Dr. Pava's third book. His Corporate Responsibility and Financial Performance: The Paradox of Social Cost (1995) - co-authored with Dr. Joshua Krausz, the Gershon and Merle Stern Professor of Banking and Finance at Sy Syms School of Business - was selected by the American Library Associations as an outstanding business book in 1996.

Dr. Pava is currently co- editing, along with Dr. Aaron Levine, the Samson and Halina Bitensky Professor of Economics at Yeshiva University, the forthcoming Jewish Business Ethics: The Firm and its Stakeholder (Jason Aronson).

"Sometimes we fail at business ethics because we arbitrarily divide life in two, and don't apply our personal ethical standards in the workplace," Dr. Pava says. "But the Torah teaches us that a meaningful life is of one piece, and therefore must be pervaded with ethics."

"A dialogue centered on interpreting and applying Jewish business texts can serve to remind us that the world we pray in is the very same world in which we do business," Dr. Pava concludes in one chapter of Business Ethics.

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