Saturday, October 25, 2008

What about Some Personal Responsibility?

This week's parsha was 'teeming' with relevant themes for the Orthonomics blog. But after checking out VIN and YWN I'd say personal responsibility has hit the top of my list of subjects I'd like to give a little time too. In this week' parsha we see two instances of failure to take personal responsibility.

Over at YWN the editors have printed the most chuptzpadik headline I've ever seen: Impatient Employees At Raleigh Hotel Run To Media For Attention. At least VIN was more neutral in their headine and just printed the story: Fallsburg, NY - Employees At Raleigh Hotel Claim They've Not Been Paid.

The general manager of the former Raleigh Hotel, managed by a group of "ultra-Orthodox" Jews, has the chuptzah to go on record and say (to protesting employees who staged a sit-in):
"The Brooklyn office was closed during the two weeks of the Sukkot and Simchat Torah holidays. A payroll company sent paychecks to that office, but nobody was there to mail them to the employees," "the same thing happened last year" (my kids can't get away with this excuse), and "My workers are basically happy there" (they are just "impatient").

I hope the managers clopped 'Al Chet' in advance. The excuses are beyond ridiculous, especially since they have done it before. The Michtav MeEliyahu comments on the future tense of "Vaochel" in Adam's response on why he ate from the Eitz Ha'daat, "I ate and I will eat again" explaining that Adam believes he would succumb if faced with a similar temptation. Mr. Ari Friedman, "I'm sorry, the checks are in the mail, and this will not happen again" is the proper response, not 'I didn't pay them on time and we will do it again because Yom Tov gets in the way.'

Someone should take up a collection for these workers to demonstrate that the Torah specifically commands us to pay workers on time to 1) make things right and 2) to demonstrate to our own brethren that not paying on time is simply unacceptable.

P.S. Sorry if I'm in a bad mood, but I sit and have sat on shul budget committees and cannot even begin to tell you the extent of non-payment. Tzniut and dan l'chaf zechut get a lot of air time and are the subjects of many a "campaign." I'll let my blog be a campaign for some simple, common sense yashrut. Pay these workers already!!!

P.P.S. I'm sure this doesn't apply to any of my readers. But if you haven't paid for this year's arba minim already, put it at the top of your list. I'm no posek, but I sat on a budget committee in a shul and we had a list of people that picked up their lulav but never paid for it. Certainly they couldn't have fulfilled their obligation?

Update: The original story (Headline: Delayed paychecks raise ire of Raleigh Hotel staff) and reader comments.


Anonymous said...

Only some Halachos are important. Tznius and stuff. You know how it is. Honesty in business. Yashrus. Basic Mentchlechkeit. It's kind of a drag, you know.

Juggling Frogs said...

Shaking my head side to side in disappointment (at them) and nodding in agreement (with you), SephardiLady.

Dave said...

Read the comments on VIN, and you'll see the majority of the posters... attacking the unpaid workers. Or the newspaper (which in publishing this has apparently proven it is run by anti-semites).

Leah Goodman said...

Halanat sachar... assur m'dioraysa.

rosie said...

I wonder what the halacha says about buying the most expensive arba minim and owing money to people or buying each child in a large family their own kappora chicken when not being able to afford it. Maybe it is time for rabbis to address that issue the same way that they address the music ban issue.

Orthonomics said...

Dave-The commentors at both sites are unbelievable. There is no personal responsibility, no rachmanut for the workers who need the money. Dan L'Chaf Zechut for certain abominable acts has won, and basic yashrut and metschleikeit has lost. Shameful.

Orthonomics said...

L-Like you, I would love it if a respected Rav would bring up the subject of chumrot/hiddurim for those that aren't paying their bills/are sinking deeper into debt/aren't meeting their obligations.

Dave said...

SL: Not to mention the astounding amount of overt and proud racism in the political threads at VIN.

It really is disappointing.

Ezzie said...

My wife works for a frum agency (SpEd) in NYC. For some reason, they didn't do direct deposit for the first month, and instead sent out checks - and sent her check to our old address by mistake. We happen to know the couple who lives there, but they were out of town for Yom Tov, so they immediately cut her a new check and asked that we simply return the other one when we get it from our friends.

Yes, they messed up, but they did so immediately rectified the situation. Many other places simply don't care, as in the post.

Zach Kessin said...

My wife works for a frum agency (SpEd) in NYC. For some reason, they didn't do direct deposit for the first month, and instead sent out checks - and sent her check to our old address by mistake. We happen to know the couple who lives there, but they were out of town for Yom Tov, so they immediately cut her a new check and asked that we simply return the other one when we get it from our friends.

Hey everyone screws up now and again, but a decent person will try to fix it and not blame someone else.

Anonymous said...

It is only a symptom of the following two maladies prevolent in the frum community:
a. a lack of respect for Halachos related to Yashrus in business
b. a contempt for non-Jews and even non-Frum Jews. Kovod Habriyos is not thought to include all Briyos as modeled my many in certain circles.

It is unfortunately commonplace sickness.

Anonymous said...

There's a reason chazal say you can tell a person's character "b'kiso, b'coso, u'b'kaaso" (by his behavior after drinking, when he's angry, and with money). The laws of tzniut are important, but they don't necessarily say much about character (true modesty does, but you can't tell much from sleeve length). The laws of kashrut are important, but you can't tell much about character from looking at the hekshers on someone's shelves. It's when it comes to paying employees or responding when angry that you can see a person's middot. That's always been the case.

I think focusing on "kashrut not yashrut" is natural. "Kashrut" doesn't necessarily require good middot, "yashrut" does.

Anonymous said...

Just to clarify, I don't think it's good that we as humans tend to focus on the external, "kashrut," while neglecting mitzvot that are more difficult to obtain and require sacrifice and good character. I just think it's natural that 1. we want to feel like good people and like we're improving ourselves and 2. we don't want to work hard. The result is focus on ways in which we can feel like we've improved without making difficult sacrifices.

Orthonomics said...

Ora-Thanks for your insightful comments. I still must say, paying your workers seems so basic to me and I believe it is so basic to your average American that this behavior is shocking. As we can see from the comments at YWN and VIN, it is not shocking to your average Orthodox Jew.

It is sad to say, but I've worked for non-Jews/organizations, non-frum Jews/organizations, and Orthodox Jews/organizations and I have never had problems with the former two. I'm sure there are instances of non-payment throughout the country, but it seems as if 'we' have a collective issue. Certainly there is an issue of dismissal of the issue.

Anonymous said...

I hate to say this, but I think part of the problem is that we just have too many mitzvot nowadays (k'v'yachol). There are so many mitzvot, and so many customs, and so many chumrot on the mitzvot and on the customs that it's just too easy for one to pick and choose what he wants to keep and what he doesn't want to keep and still believe he is frum and appear to others to be frum.

I almost wish that the only mitzvot we had were yashrut-related. Can you imagine if the only way to gauge whether someone was frum was how upstanding they were? That people could eat and drink whatever they want and wear whatever they want, but all we'd care about is if they were good people to the core?

The other issuse is that it's so easy to pick one maxim over another and still be frum all the while. When it's beneficial to your cause you can point to dan l'kaf z'chut (when you're the one being judged) instead of ha'lanat s'char. Or you can point to lashon ha'ra (when you're the one being exposed). Just too many mitzvot and the focus is always on the wrong ones it seems.

Anonymous said...

Sephardi lady--
Keep in mind that many (most?) people have not learned how to read past media bias. It could be that if the article hadn't been so biased, the responses would have been different (althouth I was pleasantly surprised to see that the article included quotes from employees and a mention of their bad situation, unable to afford food and medicine, etc).

I think in this case it's easy for the frum Jews involved to feel that they weren't responsible--it was the payroll company that sent to wrong place, during a time when the office was closed. They probably see opening the office specially to get the paychecks as "extra," which is ridiculous, but I'm guessing that's what they think.

I would tend to agree that these problems are particularly prevalent in certain communities. On the other hand, just to have a positive story as a counterbalance, I worked as a cleaning lady both in the states and here in Israel, and frum families were my best clients, even before I was frum, and even a couple who didn't know I was Jewish. They always smiled, always offered coffee, asked if I needed a break, and paid promptly at the end of the day. So there are plenty out there who treat workers fairly, and even go above and beyond what's necessary.

Oh, and "dan l'chaf zchut" is really problematic. I believe that many people think they're doing the right thing by believing the best about everyone, all the time, even when it gets to the point of "rachem al haachzariim" (mercy for the cruel). But that's not the case. There are definitely times when it necessary to publicize the ugly truth and accept it as true, in order to change situations for the better. Having worked in the media and gotten permission to write about certain subjects (we actually had a rabbi on staff who would judge on more complicated topics and decide what needed to be published), I know halacha does allow us to say and believe (although not believe 100%) many negative things when necessary. I'd like to see more understanding of exactly when we need to assume the best and when we need to tackle communal problems without feeling the need to say "oh, it probably didn't really happen that way." I'm not sure how the best way to get there is, but a good start might be community rabbis mentioning it in their drashot (Sephardi lady, do you think your rabbi would want to tackle this one?).

Anonymous said...

Not sure what the most chutzpadick headline is..... what YWN wrote was exactly the truth!

The angy workers ran to the media to grab attention to ensure that they get paid and that this does not happen again.

What's the big deal?

I think the headline is brilliant. No opinion whatsoever.

Get real, and stop looking to criticize.

Orthonomics said...

Calling the workers "impatient" is ridiculous. They are owed their pay. It sure as heck isn't impatient to be expecting to be paid, especially if you are running out of food.

Charlie Hall said...

Blaming others -- such as the payroll company -- is the height of irresponsibility. If someone sells me treif meat, and I cook it and eat it, I've still committed an aveira and I still have to rekasher my kitchen. But apparently in frum circles we Jews only follow ritual law and not ethical law.

Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...


I guest post on DovBear. I linked to your post and expanded a bit on my comments above. Thank you for continuing to bring issues like this to the forefront.

Orthonomics said...

Am Kshe-Please rewrite your comment with less identifying information. I agree with your sentiment that the non-payment should NEVER have been taken lightly. . . ..just rewrite the comments. So sorry.

Anonymous said...

SL has hit a grand slam here. It's unfortunate that it must be written, but written it must be.

This is a very serious problem. I have had similar experiences, with 'frum' people not paying what they owed me. It leaves a terrible, bitter, and unkosher taste. Of course, not all are like that, but too many of certain types are.

I would like to share the following which I saw about Rabbi Dr. Joseph Breuer zt"l, of Frankfurt and later Khal Adas Yeshurun in Washington Heights in NYC (free translation from Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz, volume IV).

The chumros (stringencies) that were beloved to Rav Levi Yosef Breuer were in those sections of Shulchan Oruch of bein adam lachaveiro, in the area of yashrus (straightness/uprightness), in which German Jews excelled. He argued 'What is the meaning of being a complete Jew, a shomer Torah umitzvos? Not a person that is careful only in a yesh omrim (to observe a minority opinion) in Shulchan Oruch about tefillin being so and so, or in the laws of Shabbos that such and such may not be done, and therefore is stringent in those matters. Rather, a complete Jew is a person who is careful as well in every minority opinion in Choshen Mishpat, that even bein adam lachaveiro, in every detail of business, only Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat decides, and not simply so, but even every minority opinion re business halacha and law of gezeila is adhered to as well.'

Anonymous said...

I think this also has to do with a galut mentality that's present in Israel as well. We've become used to splitting things into "religious" and "secular." And since our batei din no longer have the ultimate say when it comes to dinei mamon, all the laws of proper business dealings are all too often thought of as "secular" while only kashrut and shabbat and tzniut and other rules in which the non-Jewish or non-frum world has no say are considered "religious." Once we start thinking that way, it's not such a big step to the point where people don't even consider learning the laws of business or asking a rabbi about whether or not to go send checks on chol hamoed, because that's not a religious topic, and rabbis are only for religion. I think if people knew they'd have to face a beit din for financial transgressions things might be different.

Orthonomics said...

Litvak-Thank you for your comments. They are always appreciated.