Each week Rabbi Yoel Domb writes about issues of business ethics related to the Torah portion of the week.
One of the most common ethical issues in the business world is the use of company resources by employees. Where do you draw the line between an employee utilizing corporate resources for the benefit of the company and using them solely for his own personal gain? For example, an employee may have access to a company car during the day and at night, but whereas in the day he rarely travels for the company, he is constantly using the car for social engagements at night.
There are really two aspects involved here: 1.) The tax issue 2.) the personal benefit issue. In terms of taxes the company will claim that the employee receives the car as part of his job and thus they are entitled to deduct it as a company expense even if not all of his journeys are for the company. Needless to say the tax authority will demur, claiming that only company -related activities can be deducted as expenses. In a landmark legal case in 1959 the Israeli tax authority sued the Dan bus company, claiming that the clothes which had been given to the employees were not just a uniform, but constituted a taxable allowance. The court distinguished between clothes which basically served the employer, which were deductible, and those which could technically be used only for the employee’s benefit, which were not .
This problem transcends the legal arena if we take into account that a company is supported by shareholders who expect the employees to utilize resources and facilities for the good of the company. Similarly, a government office which is supported by taxpayers money should ensure that this money is put to good use and not wasted on employees needs. On the other hand, it is impossible to totally eliminate personal benefit. For example, if an employee continues to wear his work clothes while driving home in a company car, he is using company facilities for his own benefit.
In Parshat Tezave the priestly garments are described in detail. The Torah emphasizes that these garments are “for honor and for glory,” so that the high priest should look dignified and regal as befits his illustrious position. The Torah also states another function of these clothes: “to sanctify him (Aaron, the high priest) for My service.” The implication of this dual purpose seems to be that a high priest’s duties do not end when he completes the Divine service. He is on show at all times and must maintain his regal attire accordingly. However, even the high priest is forbidden to wear these garments when he leaves the Temple (Rambam, Klei Hamikdash 8:10), as they were donated for holy use and cannot be utilized for his own benefit.
There are differing views regarding a regular priest who has completed his service. Rambam (better known as Maimonides) maintains that since the clothes were given in order to derive benefit from them, the priest is permitted to wear them for the rest of the day, as long as he is in the Temple . The commentators (see Ri Korkos ,ibid 8:11) infer from this that he is allowed to put the priestly garments on again even if he took them off after completing his service . However,Tosafot (Yoma 69a) says that a priest may not put on his priestly garments after taking them off, and is only permitted to continue wearing clothes he worked in.
The source of this dispute appears to be another Talmudic statement: “There is no law of sacrilege regarding the priestly garments, since the Torah was not given to angels.”(Kiddushin 54a)The law of sacrilege requires atonement for any profane benefit derived from holy objects. However the Torah recognizes that priests cannot divest themselves of their clothes immediately upon concluding their service and therefore they may continue to wear them. Rambam sees this as a definitive ruling which allows the priest to derive any benefit from the clothes, while Tosafot contend that this is only permitted because of human fallibility but does not grant a sanction to derive other personal benefit from the clothes.
The above discussion shows us that the Torah was cognizant of the inherent problem in allowing individuals to use public resources, and sought to establish guidelines which would define when the individual can use such resources. Ultimately each company and each office must maintain its own rules, but the message is clear: The employee should not consider company property to be his own, as we learned from the Torah’s prohibition against priests taking home their garments, since these were designated for hallowed service. Yet he may use the facilities even when not directly involved in company work, since “the Torah was not given to angels.”
Rabbi Yoel Domb is a graduate of JCT and a member of the faculty of the JCT Bet Midrash. He was awarded a fellowship from the Center for Business Ethics for the academic year 2000-2001. He is currently researching topics of business ethics in Jewish Law and is preparing a curriculum to facilitate the teaching of these topics in Rabbinical seminaries (Yeshivot).