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The Employer's Boss

05/24/2019 03:16:50 PM


Aaron Feuerstein was known as “the Mentsch of Malden Mills.” Here’s why:

In 1906, Aaron’s father and grandfather built a company called Malden Mills. Malden Mills was one of the largest employers in the town of Lawrence Massachusetts and would continue to grow, eventually employing over 3,000 workers.

In the 1960’s Aaron took control of the company. Tough economic times forced the company into bankruptcy in 1981.

Soon after, Malden Mills rebounded with the release of its newest textile, “Polarfleece.”

In 1995, Malden Mills invested millions of dollars into new equipment and research into creating Polarfleece out of recycled materials. Tragically, a fire destroyed the factory complex and left all the employees out of work.

What would the Aaron do next?

He could have easily pocketed the insurance money, closed up shop and retired. Instead, Aaron decided to rebuild the factory right where it had stood and kept the jobless employees paid at full salary during the downtime, at a cost of $1.5 million per week. He also pledged to keep their family’s benefits for at least 3 months.

Malden Mills was rebuilt, and the employees were able to return to work without facing the devastating effects of a community without employment.

Aaron credited his decision to his belief in Jewish Law, which prohibits oppressing the working person who is “poor and needy,” because he is considered a brother. In his own words:

“I have a responsibility to the worker, both blue-collar and white-collar. I have an equal responsibility to the community. It would have been unconscionable to put 3,000 people on the streets and deliver a deathblow to the cities of Lawrence and Methuen. Maybe on paper our company is worthless to Wall Street, but I can tell you it’s worth more.”

In this week’s Torah portion Behar, the Torah instructs about the Yovel-Jubilee Year as follows: “You shall sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all its inhabitants.” Simply put, this command was about releasing all servants. So why does the Torah refer to the freedom for ‘all the land’s inhabitants’?

An answer is offered base upon the Talmudic teaching: “One who acquires a servant, it is as if he has acquired a master over himself.” According to Jewish law, a master was obligated to treat their servant as well as, if not better than, themselves. “If a master only owns one pillow, it is to be given to the servant.”

Therefore, the Torah speaks about ‘freedom’ for all, both servants and masters.

This profound principle applies to all employers. The employer’s obligations extend beyond a salary.  He must also consider and be responsible for proper working conditions, the worker’s physical and mental well-being, and to treat them with proper respect.

This attitude, originating in the Torah, is sadly lacking in many societies today. Too often masters try to take as much advantage of their worker’s as possible. But the Torah teaches us that life is a two-way street. We all have what to give to others, and we all have what to receive and learn from others. We ought to recognize this, and accordingly recognize our place and role in this world.

Mon, February 26 2024 17 Adar I 5784