Keeping One's Word in Commercial & Non-Commercial Contexts

Document Type


Publication Date

January 2007


In Hebrew, the process of earning a living is sometimes referred to as Milhemet ha-Hayyim (literally, the 'war of life'), because it involves daily battles against dangerous adversaries. And there are many casualties in this war. Consider, for instance, the countless thousands of employees and investors who lost their entire life savings in the corporate collapses between 2000-2003. Consider, also, the equally countless numbers of people who, influenced by the immoral ambiance of the commercial environment in which they struggle, have developed so thick an ethical callous that they have lost all touch of what constitutes proper conduct. While secular ethics, especially but not merely professional ethics, seem predicated on the assumption of role-differentiated morality, whereby separate sets of normative rules apply to a person's private and commercial lives, Jewish law demands a single, consistently high level of moral behavior. This article focuses on one ethical concept: fulfilling one's oral commitments. The article attempts to accomplish two principal objects. First, it illustrates the Jewish law process. It shows how Jewish law rules are derived from the analytical exegesis of primary sources. Second, it shows how Jewish law flexibly employs a wide range of sanctions to ensure that a person fulfills his or her oral commitments.