Accepting Responsibility for Mistakes

Q. I write a weekly ethics column for thousands of readers around the world. While I do my best to research each column thoroughly, it is inevitable that the many invaluable comments I receive from my readers occasionally lead me to revise my views. What should I do? 

A. You certainly owe your readers a great debt of gratitude. They are helping to save you from the grave transgression of providing misleading information.

You should write a special column of corrections and clarifications to your existing columns. The best time to do this is right before Rosh Hashana, so that you can start the New Year knowing that you did your best to rectify any incomplete advice you included in you column.


There you have it – advice from the Jewish Ethicist himself. Here are the addenda and corrigenda that I know of so far; please keep sending me any comments you have.

Also: Anyone who wrote a question and didn't get an answer, please write again. I received a virus last week which wiped out my entire hard disk. It's true that I can't answer every letter, but I do answer the majority. (I don't think the virus came from reader, but if it did, he or she should please apologize.)

MISTAKEN OVERPAYMENTS – August 19 The Jewish Ethicist: Bank Error in Your Favor - Collect $200

I see from the questions I received that the message didn't get across. Here's the bottom line:

  1. If you're sure the payment is not due you and you're not owed the money for some other reason, just return the money promptly.
  2. If you're not sure it's a mistake, or if you're keeping the money for an outstanding debt, notify the payer that you're keeping the money until the doubt is resolved or the debt is repaid.

Only if you're sure that there's an outstanding debt and notifying the payer will harm your ability to collect it should you keep the money without letting the payer know of the error.

WHEN THE CUSTOMER MAY MISUSE YOUR PRODUCT – August 12 The Jewish Ethicist: Marketing Lite Doctorates

A number of readers informed me that non-accredited degrees have a significant potential for abuse. This obligates the following clarification:

If the product you are selling has an obvious potential for misuse by the customer, then it's not enough just to assume everything is OK until you discover otherwise. Take basic steps to make sure that you are not an accomplice in your clients' wrongdoing!

In the case we talked about, the marketer should ask his employers what they know about how grads use their non-accredited degrees and what steps the institution itself takes to make sure their diplomas are used only in a responsible way.

EXTORTION – May 27 The Jewish Ethicist: The Extortion Game

Don't be hasty in assuming that giving in to extortion is the only way of getting justice done. Principled resistance to making these payments is often effective in preventing others from demanding them. Conversely, if you automatically just give in to demands for extortion money you may seem like you are inviting these demands.

Conclusion: Even when you are facing extortion, paying off should be considered a last resort.

CONCEALING THE FACT THAT YOU ARE SHOMER SHABBAT – June 17 The Jewish Ethicist: Religious Disclosure

The column explained that in almost cases it is forbidden to discriminate against shomer Shabbat employees, so it is permissible to take steps to protect against such discrimination.

I add that anyone who suspects that he or she is a victim of such discrimination can turn to Jewish (or other) civil rights organizations which can provide important information and legal help to help eliminate this unfortunate phenomenon.