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The Times of Israel has a feature on B&H, the Satmar owned camera store. B&H has been successfully sued several times for discriminating against non-Jewish employees, including for paying them less than Jewish employees, and blocking them from management positions. In the article, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who is an Orthodox rabbi and an author of several Jewish business books is quoted in the article as saying:

Lapin maintains that none of the aforementioned allegations undermine B&H’s integrity. “Where in the Torah does it say that you have to pay all employees the same rate? Where in the Torah is equality depicted as a virtue? The answer is nowhere at all.” The company’s business model, according to Lapin, adheres to God’s plan insofar as it’s described in, “His book.”

“The notion that there’s a moral flaw in people who, because they don’t pay all their employees the same — I’m not sure I see the basis for that in morality. It may not be fair, it may not be legal, those are not my areas. But to say that there is a clash with Jewish values simply would not be true,” said Lapin.

Is Lapin's view correct? Excluding dina d'malchuta issues, is it correct that there is no moral problem in Judaism with workplace discrimination? If so, what sources support this claim?

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    If someone agreed to work for a certain price, what's wrong with that? Some people negotiate better than others.
    – Double AA
    Jan 18, 2015 at 17:38
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    related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/17318/759
    – Double AA
    Jan 18, 2015 at 17:40
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    @DoubleAA B&H may be negotiating harder with non-Jewish employees, while more quickly acceding to the demands of Jewish employees. Again, I don't know if that's against halacha or "Jewish values" (though it sounds like marat ayin to me), but it certainly feels wrong.
    – user5540
    Jan 18, 2015 at 17:43
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    I don't know what feels wrong about it. It's not like they're forcing anyone to do anything. You've never asked a friend to have their boss look at your resume? Business is all about who you know.
    – Double AA
    Jan 18, 2015 at 17:48
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    ועשית הישר והטוב. Also if it draws negative attention to Jews, you should probably avoid it.
    – Shababnik
    Jan 5 at 5:57

2 Answers 2

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B"H

You're asking us to prove a negative.

One has to know every halacha in the torah thoroughly to say for certain "no", which is not often feasible.

However, I'm not aware of any halacha that suggests that one has to pay all of one's employees the same rate for the same task.

If there would be an issue, one may suggest that it's related to the prohibition it Onnat Maamon, which means to charge more than market value for certain goods, or buy them for less than market value, with several exceptions.

However, according to all of the sources I can find on the matter (see link above), this only applies to actual goods, moveable items and land. If one were to find a source that it also applies to services, then one may argue that by paying some employees less than others for the same exact job, then either they were overpaying one or underpaying the other, which may be in violation of price fraud.

Nevertheless, as mentioned, the sources I was able to find limit Onnat Maamon to goods only:

fundamentally, when one overcharges or underpays a fellow member of Bnei Yisrael, he transgresses the Lav of Ona’ah, whether it is a transaction of movable goods or real estate.

In addition, I'm not aware of the implications of Onnat Mamon in regards to non Jews, according to the sources it only applies to Jews.

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  • Welcome to MiYodeya and thanks for this first answer. Since MY is different from other sites you might be used to, see here for a guide which might help understand the site. Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Jan 5 at 5:47
  • Onaat Mammon can apply to employment in some circumstances... CM 227:36
    – MDjava
    Jan 8 at 20:36
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הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, כָּל שֶׁרוּחַ הַבְּרִיּוֹת נוֹחָה הֵימֶנּוּ, רוּחַ הַמָּקוֹם נוֹחָה הֵימֶנּוּ. וְכָל שֶׁאֵין רוּחַ הַבְּרִיּוֹת נוֹחָה הֵימֶנּוּ, אֵין רוּחַ הַמָּקוֹם נוֹחָה הֵימֶנּוּ.‏

He [Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa] used to say: One who is pleasing to his fellow men is pleasing also to God; and one who is not pleasing to his fellow men is also displeasing to God.

-- Avot 3:10, with translation from The Hirsch Pirkei Avos, where it's designated 3:13

The designation of מקום for God implies the universal relationship of God to the world. ... The designation for human beings, which embraces all of mankind, regardless of individual differences, is בריות, literally "creations." ... Just as all men, being the creatures of God, enjoy the same relationship to the One Who is their sole Creator and are united through Him, so, too, despite all the many ways in which individuals differ from one another, people should draw close to one another; ... Yet there is a way of living together that all of us can accept, so that no one becomes unpleasant and burdensome, hostile or unkind to the other, but instead each of us finds pleasure in the company of the other and feels drawn to him. ... If you are really wiser, better, and nobler than others, then strive also to be more pleasant and amiable, so that people will like to be near you and absorb into their own personalities, some of your wisdom, goodness, and moral nobility.

-- Commentary from The Hirsch Pirkei Avos, ibid.

In this mishna, we learn the basic Jewish moral value of "acting like a mensch" - behaving toward all people with whom one interacts in a way that they find pleasing. It seems to me that behavior toward employees that they consider unfair would naturally be in tension with this value, as people pretty universally prefer and expect fairness from the people they interact with.

To be sure:

  • Different people have different understandings of what is fair.
  • Particularly in the complex realm of human resources practices, it's impossible to please everyone, or indeed to behave in a way that everyone considers "fair."
  • In any human interaction, there are other Jewish values in play that could be in tension with that of pleasing all people. This mishna is certainly not presenting an absolute demand that our every action must be the one that people around us prefer.
  • The specific details of the HR environment at B&H and the merits of the workers' complaints are not fully available to us, and this question is not asking us to adjudicate whether B&H executed an appropriate balancing of all of the relevant Jewish values in its HR behaviors.

What this question does ask is whether one can flatly state, as Rabbi Lapin seems to in the article (though newspaper quotations frequently leave context and nuance on the cutting-room floor) that "there is no moral problem in Judaism with workplace discrimination." It seems to me that, as it is a pattern of behavior that naturally causes people to be displeased, workplace discrimination clearly presents a moral problem within Judaism. Appropriate solutions to that problem will vary.

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  • Presented as an extension of the merit of Z'kenti Morati Sarah bat Hillel, who recently passed away, who told me about how she grew up saying Pirkei Avot on Shabbat afternoons, and who was a big believer in fairness.
    – Isaac Moses
    Jan 9 at 21:58
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    יהי זכרה ברוך - sounds like she was a pretty cool gal Jan 9 at 22:06
  • The passage from Pirkei Avot is compelling, but it doesn't answer the question posted. Your answer applies to manage the reputation of the Jewish community when people become aware of the discrimination and are displeased by it. Your answer does not address the behavior. The question remains, - is there no moral problem in Judaism with workplace discrimination? "Don't do this because it upsets people" is much different that "Don't do this because it is against Jewish values."
    – user34203
    Jan 9 at 23:37
  • @PaulWalker the point of this mishna, which I believe is a profound and foundational one, is that upsetting people is against Jewish values, essentially, not as a matter of PR.
    – Isaac Moses
    Jan 9 at 23:53
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    @PaulWalker I may need to clarify how I think this principle applies, as you're getting it differently from how I intend. The problem isn't that it looks bad to the surrounding community; it's that the workers felt cheated. By behaving in a way that the workers felt was unfair, the company displeased them, thus putting its behavior in tension with the value expressed in this mishna. "God is not happy with you" describes tension with a core Jewish value, not a PR misstep.
    – Isaac Moses
    Jan 10 at 1:32

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