Shortly after the Bernard Madoff story broke, "Religion & Ethics Newsweekly" broadcast a program called "Jewish Reaction to Madoff Scandal."
Among those interviewed was Robert Lappin of the Robert I. Lappin Charitable Foundation of Salem, Mass., which trains teachers and educates children about Judaism and sends Jewish teens to Israel.
Lappin was only one of thousands of Madoff's victims. So was his foundation. Money manager Madoff pleaded guilty to a multibillion-dollar investment fraud.
The foundation's funds and most of Lappin's personal funds were wiped out. The foundation closed, but supporters have rallied to help. Many Jewish institutions and charities had invested with Madoff, and some were forced to close.
In the broadcast, Rabbi Yitzchok Breitowitz of Silver Spring, Md., said Madoff's crime was an affront to the Jewish religion.
"When a person behaves in such a way that the Jewish people, the Jewish religion, the Torah and ultimately God is treated with disrespect and disdain in the eyes of others, that is considered to be a sin that is much more serious than the particular actions which constituted the sin in the first place," he said.
"The Talmud in fact tells us when we go up to heaven and give an accounting of ourselves, the very first question that the Almighty asks us is whether we conducted our business affairs with integrity and honesty.
"If you are not honest in business, you are not a religious Jew, because the same Bible, the same God that requires certain ritual observances - keeping kosher, observing the Shabbat and the like - says you have to be honest in your business affairs."
As with Judaism, other faiths have teachings and principles that should serve as guidelines for conducting business ethically.
Christianity: Henry Spaulding, Christian ethics professor at Nazarene Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., said the Christian faith should be lived out in all of life, including business.
This holistic approach to morality means "the virtues of graciousness, fairness, justice, generosity and honesty should guide a Christian business scheme for ethics," he said.
He said Christians in business should form associations that will help them to promote moral values in their business practices.
"Whether a person owns the business or works for the one who owns the business, the Christian narrative calls for the virtues of graciousness, fairness, justice, generosity and honesty," he said. "Therefore, if an employee is asked to do something that is unethical, the answer should be 'no.' If there is cost to this, then it is part of what it means to bear the cross of Christ."
Islam: Because Islam looks at itself as a way of life, not just a religion, business ethics cannot be separated from a Muslim's daily life, said professor Rafik Beekun, author of "Islamic Business Ethics" and co-director of the Center for Corporate Governance and Business Ethics at the University of Nevada.
"In the Qur'an, man is described as the trustee of God on earth, so he must act in accordance with the conditions of that trust," he said. "The role model for Muslims is the Prophet, and the word that God uses to describe the Prophet's pattern of behavior is khuluq, which is a derivative of the word 'ethics.' So the role model for Muslims should be a model of behavior that is based on ethics."
Because Islam does not distinguish between a person's public and private life, work and business are viewed as acts of worship, Beekun said.
"So if I'm not cheating my customers and suppliers, I not only get the benefit from the sale to my customers, but my ethical behavior would also be considered a good deed by God," he said.
In Islam, various concepts are important in a business relationship. These include justice, trust, benevolence and fair wages.
Hinduism: Hasu Doshi, who has been a businessman for more than 30 years and is active in the Kansas City Hindu community, said his spiritual faith and Indian cultural heritage form the basis of his business philosophy.
He has integrated five principles into his business acumen, he said.
1) Karma: "The belief that one does to others as he or she wants done to oneself," he said. "I treat my clients and business partners with the same respect and professionalism as I would want to be treated."
2) Aham Brahmsa: "The belief that Braham (or god) exists within me and all living beings, in many different forms. I keep this in mind when I interact and talk to other professionals."
3) The whole can only be the sum of its parts: "The belief that everyone is needed to accomplish a task successfully, and at the end of the day, whatever I accomplished was done to the best of my ability."
4) Pure thoughts: "The belief that everything that I think, say or do should be clean and especially moral."
5) Equanimity: "Evenness of mind, especially under stress. I make daily business decisions based on reason and not on emotion."
Buddhism: With what has happened in the corporate world, many people have feelings of anger and resentment, said Ron Bremer, a Kansas City businessman who has conducted workshops on business ethics in Buddhism.
"Buddhism teaches us that these emotions are the direct cause of our suffering and offers a path for overcoming them," he said. "One step along that path is called 'right livelihood,' and it means making one's chosen work part of one's spiritual practice, not some secular thing separate and apart."
There is no better place for spiritual practice than in the workplace, Bremer said.
"Buddhism teaches us not to harm others, to help others and to purify our own minds," he said. "When faced with unethical behavior in business, we can choose not to respond in kind under the mistaken view of 'meeting the competition.'
"We can set an example of ethical business behavior that respects our colleagues, our customer and yes, even our competitors in the full knowledge that our business practices are part of our spiritual practice of helping everyone with whom we come into contact."
Most of all, a person can control his or her actions and emotions that arise from interactions with others.
"Will all of this guarantee personal financial success in the business world?" Bremer asked. "Of course not. But it will guarantee that we will be part of the solution and not part of the problem."
By HELEN T. GRAY