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Syms Curriculum Incorporates Business Ethics

Business Halacha was recently added to the Sy Syms School of Business curriculum as a required class for all students, filling a Jewish studies requirement. I spoke to Sy Syms Dean, and Alvin Einbender Professor of Business Ethics, Dr. Moses Pava and RIETS Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Ozer Glickman about the origins and development of the course. Dr. Pava has dedicated his life to the study of business ethics and has published about ten books and dozens of journal articles on the topic; he explained that the recent changes to the Jewish core in Sy Syms were made because “students should be the ones that are in charge of their education and I want to give students more choices. This is really a part of giving students more choices.” Dean Pava went on to say that he tried to keep the Sy Syms core curriculum in line with YC while keeping the business component robust.

About three years into his tenure at YU, while he was still an accounting professor, the then-dean asked Dr. Pava to create a course on the Ethical & Legal Environment of Business. Dr. Pava noted that the course remains a core requirement for non-accounting majors. “So I got a textbook, and I used the textbook…it was a great textbook, I had a great semester, but I felt something huge was missing from our discussion,” Dr. Pava told me.

“It wasn’t really the way I do ethics, and it wasn’t the way our students do ethics in practice either,” the dean continued. Dr. Pava decided to integrate Jewish material and readings into the course itself. Rabbi Aaron Levine, who Dr. Pava described as “the father of Jewish business ethics” took Dr. Pava “under his wing” and Dr. Pava says he used many of Rabbi Levine’s readings for the course. Rabbi Levine was the Samson and Helina Bitensky Professor of Economics in YC and Chair of the Economics department. Rabbi Levine was also rabbi at the Young Israel of Avenue J and involved in the Beit Din of America. Dean Pava says that “with him, I started doing some of my own writing,” it was then that his career as a Jewish ethicist began. Dr. Pava wrote a book specifically for the business ethics course, published by Ktav in conjunction with Yeshiva University Press, with an introduction by former YU president and Rosh Yeshiva, Dr. Norman Lamm.

Dr. Pava wrote several other books, including the Jewish ethics workbook consisting of cases written up by students. Dr. Pava says he re-worked the student’s papers, but tried to maintain their originality. He said that to an extent, he still uses it. “Ethics fit with the mission of the university…and was kind of getting brushed under the rug,” Dr. Pava said. Professor Robert Greenberg, and Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman, who teach Ethical and Legal Environment of Business, were asked to integrate Jewish sources into their courses. “One of the best things about being the dean, is that I can begin to institutionalize some of the ideas I write about in my book and go beyond a single person teaching a single course,” Dr. Pava told me. He described the University’s decision to require a business halacha class as a “major breakthrough.” The new business ethics curriculum allows the business school to work closely with RIETS. Dean Pava mentioned that he had spoken with Rabbi Kalinsky about possibly creating a second, upper-level course.

“I think there’s a lot of topics that one could cover in these kinds of classes,” Dr. Pava said. The secular classes have a focus on ethics, regardless of whether or not the professor is Jewish, but the focus on ethics is relatively unique to Sy Syms, as a Jewish business school. Dr. Pava said that when creating the ethics curriculum they looked to NYU Stern and Wharton, as well as the University of Seattle, a Catholic school that integrated business ethics form a Catholic perspective into the curriculum. Many religious universities, Catholic especially, have integrated ethics into the curriculum, and Dr. Pava said he worked closely with them. He also conveyed the fact that Rabbis Glickman and Feldman were selected because they were relatable to the students and are experts in the subject material; he described them as being “among the best teachers in Sy Syms.”

I was unable to get in touch with Rabbi Feldman for this article, but I did communicate via email with Rabbi Glickman. Rabbi Glickman only started teaching the course last year, after Rabbi Feldman started, and described Rabbi Feldman as “a wonderful scholar with deep knowledge of Choshen haMishpat” and noted that he is a dayan, in addition to being a Rosh Yeshiva and synagogue rabbi. In contrast, Rabbi Glickman is a business executive and a Rosh Yeshiva, and was encouraged by Dr. Pava to add his personal experience to the course. Rabbi Glickman has worked as a trader, bank executive, and in hedge funds over his career. “I wanted to give the students a taste of my 35-year career in the business world and what it has meant to mediate it through my knowledge and commitment to Halacha,” he wrote. “I want Sy Syms students to understand that the advancement of the economy is a noble activity…bringing economic stability to the world helps advance civilization. It provides the capital for life-saving drugs, for education, to feed and clothe society.” Rabbi Glickman went on. “Yafah Torah im Derech Eretz…I want to convey that enthusiasm for Torah im Derech Eretz to my students,” says Rabbi Glickman.

Sy Syms at Beren, for the moment, does not have the same course, but it is currently being developed with Rabbi Saul Berman. Sy Syms at Beren students will be encouraged to take the course, but the course will not be launched as a requirement. The course is expected to launch in the spring. It will likely formally become a requirement for incoming students in the fall. Israeli visiting professors have also been coming for one-semester residencies on campus, as a component of the University’s commitment to Zionism, and because Dr. Pava feels there is a lot to learn from Israeli business at the moment.

Dr. Pava said he hopes the ethics curriculum would reduce cheating and plagiarism, which he described as “perennial issues.” He also noted that the career center runs programs together with the Roshei Yeshiva to teach Jewish ethics in the business environment. Dr. Pava wants the Roshei Yeshiva to work with the Sy Syms on reducing cheating, and getting students prepared for the real world.

The Dean plans to teach a mandatory course for incoming Sy Syms Honors and Entrepreneurial Leadership students on business and ethics in society, informed by a Jewish perspective. He expects the course to launch next fall and is part of a broader plan to strengthen the honors program.

Dr. Pava expressed that the reason why he is at Yeshiva University is to create courses like the Jewish ethics curriculum, he described the successful implementation as “gratifying”. Dean Pava explained that the new curriculum is part of the experience of being in the Jewish business school that goes beyond the morning Yeshiva program, and that this type of offering distinguishes Sy Syms and is not available anywhere else, even at the Catholic schools. He then channeled President Joel and said “nowhere but here.” With obvious pride, Dr. Pava went on to point out that Brandeis University offers a course in Jewish business ethics, and that a book he co-authored with Rabbi Levine is one of the required texts. “If you want to get it at Brandeis second hand, that’s fine, or you can come to Yeshiva University,” Dr. Pava said.