I found out that my business partner is planning on doing something that is possibly illegal, but in a way that avoids creating any liability for himself. Am I allowed to continue the partnership?


The laws of ethical business practice are complex, depend on many detailed variables, and ultimately require the assistance of a specially qualified rabbi to be properly navigated.

To get you started, though, here are some general points to consider:

The Torah prohibits a Jew from "placing a stumbling block before the blind." Our tradition generalizes this prohibition to include anyone who's on a bad track. In other words: If someone's on his way to stumble in sin, don't be the guy who put the stumbling block there. According to the strict letter of the law, this principle doesn't apply in cases where the other person can perform the sin unassisted.

Nevertheless, the sages added a safeguard called "strengthening the hand of sinners." Now, even in a case where the other person could have sinned without our help, we are forbidden from providing materials or other assistance when we know it will be used for a sinful purpose. We are not allowed to provide weapons to dangerous people, for example, even though we know they can get the same elsewhere.

You need to consider whether that applies in your case. Is your partnership with this person assisting him to do something unethical? Since it's hard to be objective, that's another good reason to discuss with an experienced rabbi.

And here's another angle to consider: The Torah tells us not to invite suspicions on ourselves simply because of "the desecration of the name of Heaven." In other words: Jew = G‑d's representative in this world; Jew acts fishy = reflects poorly on G‑d. Truly, it is the job of every human being to go about their business with respect for G‑d and humankind. A Jew is meant to set an example - certainly not to be suspected of the opposite.

Think for a minute: What is a Jew doing in business anyways? If we are to be a "holy nation," what on earth are we doing out there in the market? We should stay in the synagogue and the yeshiva and be holy there. But no, the purpose of a Jew is to bring holiness into the mundane and to discover G‑dly wisdom and spirituality there, creating true value in the world. In truth, the whole point of your business is not to make money - there are many other ways G‑d could provide that. The whole point of your business is to "sanctify G‑d's name."

Knowing what business is truly about is good for business too. Think of your business as a giant cup - the receptacle into which G‑d pours blessings of livelihood and sustenance. Just like we wash out or wipe clean our kiddush cup before pouring in the wine on Friday night, so, too, we need to make sure our business is clean of any abuse of our fellow man and his property in order to receive G‑d's blessings in full.

While I hope you are in touch with a local rabbi qualified to handle the intricacies of such questions, I'm happy to help you find one should you need. Best wishes for tremendous profits in living your life as a holy business, may that provide you great success, materially and spiritually.

Leviticus 19:14; Talmud Avodah Zarah 6b and Yoma 86a; Sifri to Deuteronomy 15:18; Tosfot to Talmud Shabbat 3a, “BeBah”; Rambam, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 5:11; Igrot Moshe, Yoreh De’ah 1:72.