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Havruta 4: The Business of Ethics

The financial crisis affects us all: it shakes our foundations. We all need to look in the mirror and reflect
Stuart Schoffman is a research fellow at Shalom Hartman Institute. For more than 20 years, as a writer for the Jerusalem Report and Jewish newspapers in North America, he has combined Jewish scholarship with reportage and analysis of politics, religion and culture. His translations from Hebrew include books by the Israeli authors A.B. Yehoshua, David Grossman, and Meir Shalev. Before making aliya in 1988, he worked as a journalist for Fortune and Time magazines in New York, and

Our fourth issue of Havruta is devoted to a timely topic, The Business of Ethics.”
The financial crisis affects us all: it shakes our foundations. We all need to look in the mirror and reflect, writes Donniel Hartman . Rather than point fingers and assign blame, we should make a virtue of necessity, as individuals and as a community, and turn crisis into an opportunity for moral growth. His lead article is anchored in traditional texts, from the Garden of Eden story to the teachings of Rabbi Hillel. It sets the stage for the remainder of our issue, which seeks to blend theory and tachlis, halachic principle and practical wisdom.
Havruta No. 4: The Business of Ethics

Our roundtable of thoughtful commentators tilts toward tachlis, and each brings his own Jewish identity to the discussion. Veteran Federation executives Bob Aronson of Detroit and Barry Shrage of Boston talk about the ways that the economic meltdown (and its notorious pyromaniac, Bernard Madoff) have had an impact on their communities. Isaac Herzog, Israel’s Minister of Welfare and Social Services and grandson of former Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Herzog, discusses the challenge of religious ethics in public life. Peter Joseph, a New York equities investor, offers his perspective as businessman and philanthropist, and on the Israeli side, SHI fellow Yoske Achituv, a leader in the religious kibbutz movement, describes the evolution of the religious collective model in a capitalist society. Micha Odenheimer, an American-born rabbi who created an Israeli volunteer organization in Nepal, writes about Jewish economic justice in a globalized world. Rounding out the symposium is journalist Amotz Asa-El, a longtime observer of the Israeli economic scene.
Our featured articles in this issue, written by SHI scholars, deal with aspects of Jewish law, legend, and philosophy, each interesting in its own right, and all germane – in one way or another – to the ethical and practical concerns of the present hour. Melila Hellner-Eshed and Orr Scharf, in a close reading of a classic tale by the Hasidic master Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav, interrogate the value and meaning of money. Philosopher Yitzhak Benbaji examines the role of compassion in Israeli social policy, through the twin prisms of the Talmud and Immanuel Kant. Menachem Fisch, Director of the Institute’s Osher Center for Religious Pluralism, reopens the Passover Haggadah and uncovers a powerful ethical scenario.
Zvi Zohar, an SHI expert on Sephardic halakhah, and Nathan Katz, a specialist in Indo-Judaic studies, join forces in a case study of Jewish ethics in the 19th-century Indian pepper trade – a subject with implications for the cross-cultural commerce of the 21st century.
Finally, as behooves our new era of anxiety, we offer two articles with a self-critical edge. Ishay Rosen-Zvi, a scholar of Mishnaic literature, utilizes a story about Jesus from the New Testament to illuminate the tensions that may arise between Jewish law – in this case ancient laws of religious vows – and ethical common sense. In our Afikoman section we bring a text not nearly so old: a lacerating attack by Theodor Herzl, published under a pen name in 1897, against unethical Jewish businessmen who give the rest of us a bad name. In the age of Madoff, how could we finish any other way?
Historians will eventually debate the extent to which the digitized revolution, the virtual successor of face-to-face commerce, has wrought havoc with the market economy and financial sobriety. Print media are just one of many casualties of the recession. Only yesterday, we got our news from newspapers. Today, we get it free, too much of it, at the click of a mouse. We at Havruta believe that holding a magazine in your hands, turning the pages at a leisurely pace, is more conducive to reflection than the cold quicksilver glare of a computer screen. We hope that you will want to save your copy of Havruta 4 – on your shelf, not just your hard drive. We hope too that you will want to read through it again a year or two from now, with a smile of relief and thanks that we have survived the storm.

You care about Israel, peoplehood, and vibrant, ethical Jewish communities. We do too.

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