Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

15 Adar 5766 - March 15, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










Produced and housed by
Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
The "Invisible Hand" Can Boost Torah Observance

Some people like to think that business is business and business decisions made by businessmen are purely rational, economic choices. Professor Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel prize for proving that choices are not always rational. We could offer the experience of the chareidi community — both good and bad — as further proof.

A case in point is the recent retirement of Dan Propper after 25 years as head of Osem Food Industries, and a total of 40 years with the company. Propper, who is from the founding family of Osem, oversaw the growth of Osem from sales of tens of millions of dollars to its current level of over $600 million a year. Its stock rose smoothly and steadily, proceeding almost as if it were a high-yielding bond, returning over 144 percent in a decade, without any apparent risk. His tenure is considered an unqualified success.

Almost alone among Israel's major companies, Osem under Propper conducted itself within the letter and the spirit of halochoh, in ways that went far beyond the minimum necessary to get chareidi business — which is the standard that most of the better Israeli companies follow (the worse ones try to be seen as halachic while cutting corners and cheating at every opportunity).

Osem always had a strong, responsible company rov — originally HaRav Yitzchok Meir Charlap zt"l and then his son HaRav Yaakov Moshe Charlap — who commanded respect in outside circles due to his knowledge and integrity, and who was consulted and made a party to all the workings of the company.

The deep commitment expressed itself in many ways. Just recently in the middle of constructing a giant distribution facility in the Modi'in area near Shoham, a burial cave was discovered on the site. As soon as the issue arose, the company agreed to bear the cost of the proffered halachic solution.

During shmittah, Osem's products were always available to the mehadrin community. Even though it was pressured to use the hetter mechirah, it manufactured its products under the limitations of the strict shmittah observance standards — and showed that it could be done by a major food producer.

A similar issue is the sale of chometz by food companies. Several years ago Maran HaRav Eliashiv shlita ruled that all such sales should be legally binding and enforceable transactions, with ironclad fines that would apply if any of the provisions of the sale were challenged in any forum. There was a concern that the officers of the companies viewed the sale of chometz as a purely religious ceremony with symbolic value, but nothing more. This concern was reinforced when some companies balked at signing the new tough sale contracts, but Osem was one of the first large concerns that accepted all the new conditions.

Osem is an example of what we see as good will, since the company went considerably beyond what minimal business calculations would dictate. We have also, in other companies, seen cases of what was clearly bad will, which in the end was overcome by the power of the purse.

One recent case is that of cell phones. When the rabbinical panel first made its demand for phones that met its basic specifications of being an instrument whose function is limited to talk, the major companies said that they could not do it. The community stood behind the rabbinical demands, including the chareidi media which refused to accept any advertising for non-approved cell phones. Yated can attest that this involved a significant sacrifice on our part. Three of the four large companies eventually agreed, and recently the fourth — which had publicly insisted that it would not "capitulate" — announced that it was beginning negotiations with the rabbonim.

Another minor success is the recent decision of El Al to install personal screens for its inflight movies, making it much easier for passengers not to watch them. El Al was one of the last airlines to have large screens. We do not know why, but we do know that chareidi passengers have been asking them to make the change for years.

The Israel Electric Company (IEC) still insists on controlling the production of electricity on Shabbos in a way that necessitates human intervention. The technology exists to avoid this, and it operates in many plants around the world where Shabbos is not even a factor. Perhaps there is an economic logic to the behavior of the IEC, but it escapes us — though we suggest that perhaps if the chareidi parties can pass a law removing the incentive of overtime pay for work on Shabbos it may go a long way towards promoting Shabbos observance in Israel.

Yes, there is still a lot of work to do. However, the unfettered marketplace, especially in Eretz Yisroel, can work to our advantage.

All material on this site is copyrighted and its use is restricted.
Click here for conditions of use.