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Jack Riemer Review–South Florida Jewish Jounral and Jewish News Service


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LEADERSHIP IN THE BIBLE: A Practical Guide for Today by Paul Ohana and David Arnow, published by iUniverse, Bloomington, In. 2014, 240 pages, paperback, $19.95

The Talmud says that “there are seventy faces to the Torah”. That means that a poet will look at a line in the Bible and see it differently than a grammarian does, that a historian will look at a line in the Bible and see it differently than a lawyer will.  In this book, a management consultant and a psychologist look at the Bible, and they see things in it that most of us would never notice.

The authors focus on Abraham, Joseph and Moses and see what principles of leadership and management they demonstrate, and then they apply these principles to the questions that managers deal with today.

For example, they ask: when Abraham negotiates with the Town Council of Hebron over the purchase of a burial plot for Sarah, why does he insist on paying for the land, when the Town Council offers it to him as a gift, not once but three times? And why does he insist on buying this piece of land and, when he has already been promised by God that the entire country will someday belong to him and to his descendants? And why does he pay the full asking price, without quibbling or counter-offering, as we would expect him to? And why does he insist on a contractual and registered agreement?

The answers that the management consultant and the psychologist offer to these questions are sound. Their answer to the first question is that the land may have been promised to him by God but that does not mean that he can sit back and do nothing. Real estate does not work that way—not then, not now. The answer to the second question is that gifts are nice to receive, but gifts can be rescinded. He pays the full price, and he does not quibble, or counter-offer, because his priorities are clear. He wants this particular piece of land, and he wants it immediately so that he can bury his wife, and so that he can create a family tomb. He is not looking for a discount or a knock-off or a substitute. He wants this place, and he wants it now, and it is from this starting point that he conducts his negotiations. And he wants a registered deed because he wants this land to belong to his people forever, and he wants to make sure that their claim can never be questioned.

Arnow and Ohana do this kind of analysis with many of the biblical stories and laws that we are familiar with, and in each case, they draw lessons for businessmen today. My favorite is this one:

From Abraham’s negotiation with God over the city of Sodom, they learn a number of lessons about how to succeed in negotiations. One of them is that you must understand the other: What is his agenda? What is his bottom line? What is his motivation? They analyze the biblical tale, and show how in every step in the negotiations, Abraham worked from an understanding of what God needed.

 And then they add a marvelous modern example, When Theodore Roosevelt was running for the presidency, his campaign office had printed hundreds of thousands of copies of a leaflet, in which they had used a certain picture of him on the cover. And then they discovered, much to their dismay, that this picture was copyright!

What should they do? There was no way that they could afford to pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties that the copyright owners might charge, and the leaflets had already been printed.

The campaign manager wrote to the company that owned the rights to the photograph, and told them that they were considering using their picture on the cover of a leaflet that they would be using in the campaign. He pointed out that the publicity that this pamphlet would bring to their picture would be worth millions of dollars to them, and so he asked them to make a bid for the right to have their picture on the cover of their leaflet. The company replied with an offer by cable, and the crisis was averted.

I am not sure that the campaign manager’s strategy would meet the biblical standards of honesty in business affairs, but it was certainly a creative way to avert a crisis.

Business managers and psychologists as well as students of the Bible will find this an educational and an entertaining book to study.

I confess that I was a bit troubled at first by the idea of using the Bible in order to teach management methods. It reminded me of Dr. Heschel’s observation that to praise the Bible as literature is like praising the manuscript of Einstein’s theory of relativity by saying that the author had a nice handwriting. But after reading this book, I think that criticism is really not fair, because, if by management we mean the ability to communicate with others and to persuade them to do what is right, then the Bible can be read as a guide to management after all. And if you accept this premise, Arnow and Ohana do their job very well. Businessmen who have never studied the Bible seriously and students of the Bible who have never thought much about business will both learn much valuable information and will both gain new perspectives on their work from this book.


Rabbi Jack Riemer’s reviews appear frequently in journals of Jewish and general thought in America and abroad. He is the editor of Jewish Reflections On Death, published by Schocken, So That Your Values Live On, published by Jewish Lights, and the three volumes of The World of the High Holy Days, published by Ber.



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