Meir Tamari

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Dr. Meir Tamari (born 1927) is an economist and author. He is a seminal figure in the field of Jewish business ethics and was among the first individuals to give university courses, write scholarly works, and establish study centers in this field.

Biography[edit]

Meir Tamari was born Leopold Fagov in Cape Town, South Africa, in 1927, and graduated from the University of Cape Town with a degree in economics in 1948.[1] Tamari was an active member of the Zionist Bnei Akiva youth group, and in 1950 he joined other members of this group in moving to Israel. At first he settled in Kfar Darom, moving soon afterwards to Kibbutz Shluchot.[2] (It was from the palm—Hebrew tamar—trees in Shluchot that Tamari coined his Hebrew name.)[3]

In 1960 Tamari became an economist at the Bank of Israel, attaining the status of Senior Economist in 1967. He was responsible for the bank's Corporate Finance Project, analyzing the economic characteristics of manufacturing firms. This study attracted international attention. In 1971 Tamari served as a special consultant to the UK Royal Commission on Small Firms, and later he was invited by the French Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) to make a comparison of corporate financial patterns in various countries. This research formed the basis of his doctoral thesis at the City University of London, which granted him a Ph.D. in 1976. The thesis was later published as a book, Some International Comparisons of Industrial Financing.[4]

Subsequently, Tamari served as Senior Lecturer in Economics at Bar Ilan University. Bar Ilan defines itself as a religious Jewish university, but Tamari was disturbed by the seeming disconnect between the Jewish and academic identities of the school and its students. He writes: "Although the university is an Orthodox Jewish institution, I found myself teaching course in corporate finance in exactly the same way I would have done in any other university in the world, with the content completely divorced from a Jewish value system."[5] He began to introduce more Jewish sources and content into his economics courses, in order to emphasize that Jewish tradition adopts a particular ethical approach to economic issues and problems.

Ultimately Tamari "created a special course that would attempt to present to the students this value system and its practical application to economics".[6] This was the first, or among the first, accredited business ethics course ever offered in any Israeli institution of higher learning. These courses helped Tamari to lay the foundations of his unique approach to Jewish business ethics. He also began an intensive lecture schedule to lay audiences worldwide on the topic of Jewish Business Ethics.

In 1987 Tamari published his landmark work, With All Your Possessions: Jewish Ethics and Economic Life. The book, based on the Bar Ilan University course, is still in print after 20 years. This was followed in 1995 by The Challenge of Wealth: A Jewish Perspective on Earning and Spending Money, Al Chet: Sins in the Marketplace in 1996, and Jewish Values in our Open Society: A Weekly Torah Commentary in 2000.

In 1992, Tamari founded the Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility, on the campus of the Jerusalem College of Technology. He continues to serve as the honorary Head of the Center. Today the center is known as the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem.

Meir Tamari lives in a suburb of Jerusalem with his wife Devora. He continues an active schedule of writing and lecturing.

Thoughts[edit]

Tamari's approach to business ethics is characterized by integration and harmonization of the various aspects of Jewish economic activity. In With All Your Possessions, Tamari criticizes Werner Sombart and Max Weber for focusing solely on contemporary Jewish behavior, and neglecting Jewish tradition and religion. By comparison, Aaron Levine of Yeshiva University, who has published many well-received books on the topic of Jewish business ethics, bases his approach almost exclusively on the religious side, namely normative dictates of Jewish law (halacha). Another common approach focuses on homiletic expressions from the Bible and other Jewish sources about the importance of integrity. Tamari's work combines all these resources. Tamari's work is particularly noteworthy for extensive use of communal records of medieval Jewish communities. Communal enactments recorded in these records are often significantly different from the kind of codified legal directives used by Levine.

Economic Systems[edit]

Tamari does not claim that Judaism dictates a specific type of economic regime; he writes: "Judaism does not propose any specific economic theory or system; rather, it proposes a moral-religious framework within which the theory or system must operate".[7] However, in other writings he makes clear that Judaism does place certain limits on economic systems.

Journalist Yechezkel Lang cites him as follows: “There exists a distinctly Jewish framework in which economic activity may take place”, he says. “The divorce of Judaism from [the economic] sphere of activity produces a distortion in true Jewish living and has led to uncritical acceptance of various theories that bear no relationship to the economic behavior developed by the Jew”.

Tamari says, for example, that we find champions of capitalism using the Jew as a role model for private enterprise. The problem with these arguments is that they separate Jewish economic practices from Jewish sources. These sources impose important restraints on the free market model, restraints that derive from the peculiarly Jewish concepts of mutual responsibility while capitalism is based on egotism and selfishness.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who viewed socialism as a modern expression of the Mosaic code and the moral.

According to Tamari, despite Judaism’s insistence on economic justice, charity, and mutual assistance, it also recognizes the legitimacy of private property, the profit motive and the market mechanism.[8] In other words, neither socialism nor total laissez-faire capitalism could be consistent with Jewish values.

Awards[edit]

Tamari is the recipient of many awards, including the "Transparency Shield" awarded annually by the Israeli chapter of Transparency International.

Selected publications[edit]

  • Some International Comparisons of Industrial Financing, Technicopy Ltd. Gloucester UK 1977
  • With All Your Possessions: Jewish Ethics and Economic Life Jason Aronson Northvale New Jersey 1987
  • In the Marketplace: Jewish Business Ethics Feldheim Publishers New York 1992
  • The Challenge of Wealth: A Jewish Perspective on Earning and Spending Money Jason Aronson Northvale New Jersey 1995
  • Al Chet: Sins in the Marketplace Jason Aronson Northvale New Jersey 1996
  • Jewish Values in our Open Society: A Weekly Torah Commentary Jason Aronson Northvale NJ 2000.
  • Truths Desired by God. An Excursion into the Weekly Haftarah (2011), Gefen Publishing House. ISBN 978-965-229-451-7

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Meir Tamari, Some International Comparisons of Industrial Financing, Technicopy Ltd. Gloucestershire UK 1977 p. v.
  2. ^ South African Jewish Genealogy
  3. ^ Personal communication
  4. ^ Meir Tamari, Some International Comparisons of Industrial Financing, Technicopy Ltd. Gloucestershire UK 1977 p. v.
  5. ^ Meir Tamari,With All Your Possessions, p. xi
  6. ^ Meir Tamari,With All Your Possessions, p. xi
  7. ^ With All Your Possessions p. 10
  8. ^ Jewish Weekly

Sources[edit]

  • Jewish Weekly
  • Personal communication
  • South African Jewish Genealogy
  • Tamari, Meir; Some International Comparisons of Industrial Financing, Technicopy Ltd. Gloucestershire UK 1977.
  • Tamari, Meir; With All Your Possessions

External links[edit]