Labor Rights

Text

left to right

In sum, Jewish tradition has been clear and consistent—the treatment of workers and their right to organize are among the basic underpinnings of a just society. From the synagogue to the state house, Jews must therefore call on those who govern to find the path toward economic justice regardless of how difficult that road is to travel. Our heritage, as the sweatshop workers and copper miners of yesterday, bears witness to it. Our tradition compels it.

left to right

Nevertheless, because employee rights laws are meant to be universal, there is a public expectation for all workers to be treated according to a minimum standard. By refusing to grant those rights to an employee, one is essentially setting up a class distinction between people to whom the law does and does not apply. Such a distinction clearly offends the human dignity of those who aren’t, in practice, granted their legal rights. We have seen that meeting standards within one’s occupation is important because of relative social expectations.

left to right

There are many instances in Jewish tradition where one performs an extra act, not required by law, which serves to cultivate an awareness of a specific value. For instance, when one performs certain acts of heating on Shabbat, one technically does not violate the prohibition against cooking. However, since that act might be experienced as an act of cooking, the Halacha requires the act be performed with some modification. This modification functions as a reminder, or heker, that there is a value in refraining from cooking on Shabbat.

left to right

In many realms in Jewish society, one can appoint an agent to carry out some task. For instance, one can elect an agent to purchase land on one’s behalf, to propose marriage, or to give charity. One can even be considered an agent for another without being appointed as long as the purpose for which they are acting as agent is something that is beneficial to the principal and that the principal would have agreed to had they been offered. Nevertheless, the sages of the Talmud place sole responsibility with the agent when the assignment involves violating a religious prohibition.

left to right

This conception of the relationship among all Jews [one of arevut, of guarantorship] suggests that one should refrain from patronizing a restaurant that does not meet ethical standards of employee treatment. If the employer is ethically bound to pay minimum wage, overtime, and treat the employee fairly then, as arevim, guarantors, at the very least we shouldn’t actively support the employer’s violation of these rights. Perhaps we should even take measures, such as boycott or protests, to stop the employer. The Sefer Chassidim elucidates this principle: “"Were it not for arevut...

left to right

The problems with restaurants serves as an important example of a larger problem that exists in a globalizing society. As more and more jobs are outsourced overseas, and produce is shipped around the world, we generally have no contact with the people who are producing the goods we consume. In order to uphold the dignity of those laborers who produce our consumer items, we need to be extra vigilant on both technical and emotional levels. Technically, we need to support organizations that monitor employee treatment.

left to right

While seemingly supporting a minimum wage, Jewish tradition also recognizes the

right to left

Generosity is the bestowal of good upon one who has no claim or entitlement to it. To pay a worker their wages or a creditor their debt is not generosity, but fairness and justice. However, giving charity to the poor, bringing guests into the home, and bestowing gifts are acts of generosity. [Translation by R. Yaakov Wincelberg, edited for gender neutrality. Translated from Judeo-Arabic]

הנדיבות היא בטוי לענקת רוב טובה למי שאין לו תביעה וחיוב על המעניק. כי לתת לפועל את שכרו ולפרוע לבעל חוב את חובו אין זו נדיבות אלא צדק ויושר, ואלו צדקה לעניים והכנסת אורחים ומתנות וכדומה, הריהם בגדר נדיבות.

right to left

One who trusts God is not hampered in his trust by great wealth because he does not rely on it. He sees it as a reserve he has been commanded to make use of under certain specific and temporary circumstances. He does not become arrogant if he remains wealthy, he never reminds anyone he gave money to what he did for him and he never asks compliment for his gratitude. Instead he thanks his Creator for having made him an agent to His kindness.
[Yaakov Feldman translation]

right to left

Walking in the field - The language here is of plants (si'ach) of the field, under one of the trees as if to say that Isaac was planting trees to see how they grow. Another interpretation - the language is of conversation (si'chah), to speak with one who wants to speak with him.
[AJWS translation]

לשוח בשדה - לשון שיח השדה תחת אחד השיחים כלומר לנטוע אילנות ולראות ענין פועליו. ד"א לשון שיחה לדבר לאיש הצורך לדבר עמו.

Syndicate content