But Peulat Sachir organizers are preparing for a wave of criticism nonetheless. Much of the debate over the initiative revolves around one question: Is labor ethics a Jewish issue?
Fine, the owner of Pat’s Restaurant and Catering, thinks it is.
“Rabbis should get involved in more than kashrut,” he said. “I think [the initiative] is important — the community would know that the businesses they support are cognizant of correct business practices.”
But businesses are mandated to uphold labor laws anyway, said Gagy Shagalow, owner of Munchies on Pico Boulevard. An initiative led by religious leaders would have no added benefit to the community, he said.
“This is up to the law — it’s not up to the rabbanim to get involved in legal issues,” Shagalow said. “Either you follow the law or you don’t. The state takes care of businesses that don’t follow the law. It’s not a Jewish issue.”
Muskin and the other rabbis involved disagree. They say Judaism should not be confined to the synagogue, and point out that traditional Jewish law extends to marketplace regulation.
Choshen Mishpat, a text that outlines business ethics, is a heavily studied section of halachah (Jewish law), Muskin said. Members of the Jewish community are required to obey the “laws of the land” (Choshen Mishpat, 369:11), and the Torah commands employers to pay workers promptly and accurately because their lives depend on it (Deuteronomy 24:15).
“We have an obligation, as Jews, to be a light unto the nations and to set an example of ethical and moral behavior in all walks of life,” Korobkin said. “We’re supposed to be as observant in our offices and our homes as we are in our synagogues. For an observant Jew, his observance should be manifest in the way that he runs his business — not just in whether or not he wears a kippah or eats kosher food.”