Issues in Jewish Business Ethics

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business ethicsMany pre-modern Jewish communities enacted sumptuary laws--regulations limiting the extent to which one could engage in ostentation in celebrations or conspicuous consumption in everyday life. This emphasis on modesty in consumption is echoed in the criticisms leveled by some Jewish scholars against the advertising industry, for arguably disseminating inaccurate information about goods and services and seeking to stimulate consumption by encouraging us to covet what others have. The latter flies in the face of the sentiment expressed in the rabbinic adage, "Who is wealthy? He who is satisfied with his lot."

An issue of social and economic policy that has divided Jews no less than other citizens is the question of gun control. A case can be made that Jewish law forbids the sale of weapons to those who will use them for offensive purposes in illegitimate ways, such as to commit a crime or support an unjust regime. One might argue, however, that the original strictures were simply a way of preventing small and beleaguered Jewish communities from being drawn into the military clashes between surrounding powers, and that the advantages of unrestricted trade should now be enjoyed even by those who want to deal in weapons. This debate has implications both for individuals and for governments, including that of the State of Israel, whose military industries provide a significant proportion of its exports.

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