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By the Sweat of Your Brow

Reflections on Work and the Workplace in Classic Jewish Thought

By David J. Schnall

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This volume is a collection of essays dealing with the nature and value of work, and the relationships it forges, in Jewish biblical, talmudic and religious literature. The author tackles issues important to contemporary management regarding productivity, occupational safety, public employment and the right to organize, even as he compares Jewish orientations to the workplace with those of Catholic, Protestant and secular ethical systems. In addition, he considers issues of peculiarly Jewish social concern such as the tension between material self-sufficiency vs. full-time study at public expense, as modal forms of righteous living.
Among his conclusions, Schnall finds that in Jewish thought, labor carries an inherent dignity, integral to human existence as part of God's grand balance. Productive labor is equated with life itself and is a precursor to personal blessing. Workers are to be treated with respect and compassion for they are equal to their employers as servants of God and partners in the human family. However, fulfillment can never be purely a function of work-related productivity and financial success. Employees must have time for family, community and personal spiritual development.
Members of a trade or profession have a wide variety of rights to self-governance, including the right to organize, to set wage standards and to internal discipline, subject to community approval. By the same token, workers must tend to their physical and emotional health so that they fulfill their obligation to provide an honest day's labor. Finally, those employed by the public carry a special trust. They are expected to operate at levels of higher quality and proficiency, so that they do not lose their right to organize and they are extended special consideration in regard to job security.
Praise for By the Sweat of Your Brow
In this collection of essays, Professor Schnall summarizes the primary attitudes and values of Jewish religious culture as it confronts and responds to the role of work and the workplace. He insists that the place of the worker and the mutual obligations that tie worker and employer to a vision of ethics and morality are "ordained by the word of God." Schnall draws from such sources as the Hebrew Bible and its classical commentaries, the Talmud, the rulings of early Jewish authorities and their reasoning in response to specific cases and petitions brought before them, the codes of Jewish law and tradition collected during the last 15 centuries, and modern works that apply this tradition to new economic structures and technologies that support them. The author concludes that productive labor is equated with life itself, and that workers should be treated with respect and compassion. His insights and reflections on the subject are both lucid and persuasive. George Cohen
Copyright American Library Association. All rights reserved

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