Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Standards Of Halacha In The Workplace

Ynet (via Vos Iz Neias) is reporting that a new dress regulation will be taking effect at the Shas' Maayan Torah education network in Israel. Specifically, the regulation states that all women employed there must wear a full head covering when reporting for work. In addition, the only acceptable form of head-covering for women is a scarf -- wigs are not permitted (the article doesn't address snoods or other non-hair-like coverings). According to a source in the article, women have been threatened with dismissal if they do not dress according to code.

This new regulation has many women outraged. As you can imagine, there are women who work there who cover their hair with sheitels or other materials. In addition, the article makes no distinction between married and unmarried women.

Some of the VIN commentors have taken the approach that an employer has the right to dictate how employees dress and if you don't like it, you're free to go work someplace else. That's certainly true. If my boss, for whatever insane reason, dictated that employees come to work in bumblebee costumes everyday, I could either go to the costume shop or find a new place to work.*

However, in the above case, my boss has made his bumblebee decree for arbitrary reasons. In this case, however, there is a rationale behind the regulations -- obstensibly, the rationale is halacha. Whomever is issuing these decrees obviously feels that women are required by halacha to wear complete head coverings. And, I suppose, it's not entirely unreasonable to use halacha as a guideline for employee conduct in a religious office in a religious state.

But one has to wonder just how far this can be taken. If one can rule that millions of otherwise observant women who cover their hair with sheitels are violating halacha (despite the fact that millions of frum Jews around the world and in Israel itself view this as perfectly acceptable and within halacha) and therefore worthy of termination, then where does it end?

Should an employer be allowed to raid the contents of employee lunchboxes to make sure they're only using chassidshe shechita or cholov yisroel? Should an employer be allowed to tell employees that they can't go to an otherwise glatt kosher resturaunt for lunch because it doesn't meet his/her personal standards (real or imagined)? Should an employer be allowed to fire a worker who rides to work on a non-mehadrin bus where one is available? In short, where does it end? At what point do we say that the employer doesn't have the right to enforce his brand of halacha at the workplace

Yes, there is still the principle that a worker is not a slave and is free to quit her job at any time. If she doesn't like the rules, she's free to move on. But that's not really the answer is it? I don't know what the economic situation in Israel is like at the current time, but I can't imagine that they're unemployement problem is any better than ours is here in the U.S. Just saying "go get another job" is not the answer -- it's not always so easy. Who says the person can find another job quickly, and at the same salary? In addition, employees have certain intagible benefits that come from being in a job -- seniority, repuation, familiarity with co-workers and the surrounding of the workplace, job security and other benefits that we all enjoy from working at a place after a certain amount of time. By forcing a worker to move on, they lose a lot (if not all) of these benefits. I'm not convinced that forcing an worker to lose these benefits simply for the sake of someone else's interpretation of halacha (when their own is kept by millions of otherwise frum women around the world) is acceptable and proper.

Again, no one argues that there should be minimum standards of dress for both genders in the workplace. And, yes, halacha should probably play a role in that code in a religious office in Israel. But you can't just apply the strictest standard of halacha. It's simply not fair.

The Wolf



* Yes, I understand that there may be other options, but that's really beside the point.

19 comments:

Lion of Zion said...

"the article makes no distinction between married and unmarried women"

i highly doubt the directive is also intended for unmarried women. if it were, that would be a big change in the norms that have been accepted throughout the jewish world

(but there is a precedent for single girls to cover their hair, as per the rambam)

A Pusheter Yid said...

Trying to convert us all?
http://www.mypicx.com/05062009/Wolf/

BrooklynWolf said...

Pusheter,

No, of course not. I don't control the ads that Google puts up.

However, because you sent me an image of the ad, I can block it.

Thanks,

The Wolf

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

Oy vey.

1) This Torah network of Shas is headed by Rav Ovadia Yosef. In HIS Torah network, he certainly has the prerogative to dictate what standards of halacha its employees must live up to. It's not a matter of enforcing the strictest halachic standard--it's THE standard for Sephardim who follow Rav Ovadia and for this network.

2) Having these standards enforced in one's own Torah network in no way implies that he "rules that millions of otherwise observant women who cover their hair with sheitels are violating halacha"!
Where do you get such outlandish ideas?
The termination isn't for violating halacha. It's for not identifying with the company's "product".

Analogy:
It's like the CEO of Parker Pens insist that all employees of his company use Parker pens for writing. Is that so far fetched? I think using another pen brand in this company would be making a statement of "no-confidence" in the company's product. That's an insult to the employer.

3) Because of the statement value involved, this only goes as far as things on public display like head-coverings. Your example of raiding lunchboxes is clearly reductio ad absurdum.

Unfortunately, the gross misreading/reductio ad absurdum of this decision is typical of your posts about chareidim, Wolf.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

(when their own is kept by millions of otherwise frum women around the world)Wolf.

Halevai there would be millions of frum women wearing sheitels in the world! From your blog to God's ears.

BrooklynWolf said...

FKM,

Having these standards enforced in one's own Torah network in no way implies that he "rules that millions of otherwise observant women who cover their hair with sheitels are violating halacha"!
Where do you get such outlandish ideas?
Very simple really. If he maintains that halacha *requires* a full head covering with only a scarf, then he must also maintain that those who don't adhere to it are violating halacha.

And, lest you tell me that the halacha only applies to Sephardim, then let him make the rule only apply to Sephardim as well.

Your analogy to Parker pens is not really relevant. Using another brand of pen is not a major factor in most people's lives. A more appropriate analogy would probably be firing a IT guy at Ford because he drives a GM car. Sorry, I don't think that all employees of a firm *have to* use the firm's products.

Because of the statement value involved, this only goes as far as things on public display like head-coverings. Your example of raiding lunchboxes is clearly reductio ad absurdum.Fine -- toss out the lunchbox. The other two examples I gave are public behavior issues.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

Unfortunately, the gross misreading/reductio ad absurdum of this decision is typical of your posts about chareidim, Wolf.I don't believe this to be the case, FKM, but I'm certainly willing to admit that I could be wrong. I think I might make this comment the subject of a future post.

The Wolf

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

"Very simple really. If he maintains that halacha *requires* a full head covering with only a scarf, then he must also maintain that those who don't adhere to it are violating halacha. Wolf.

Um, ever heard of minhag? Differing community standards? Shulchan Aruch and poskim are shot through and through with these kinds of gradations.
The distinction between "daas Moshe" and "daas Yehudis" which is relevant here is a classic.

Larry Lennhoff said...

I can't believe I'm going to support FKM against Wolf, but the command to accept truth wherever you find it applies here as well.

The organization, based on your description, is requiring women who work for it to wear a full scarf while at work. The organization apparently is headed by ROY. ROY has repeatedly paskened that a sheitel is not acceptable as a head covering(*).

Where I would say a line would be crossed would be if they would fire anyone who wore a sheitel while off the job.

In the US, I'm told it was a career killer for a Ford employee to own a car made by someone other than Ford. In my own experience working with employees of PepsiCo, when we went to a restaurant they always ordered a Pepsi, never a cola or a Coke. And if the waitress said "We only serve Coke - is that OK?" they would say no and order a non-soft drink. That level of control seems unjust to me, but it clearly exists.

You can support eilu v'eilu in the public square while still insisting on observing your own shita in your private space. The workspace falls in the middle - I would suggest a Sephardic owned high tech company should not enforce such a specific ruling, but an organization personally headed by ROY might be entitled to be a little stricter.

mother in israel said...

I'm adding my support to FKM's point. ROY doesn't distinguish between sephardim and ashkenazim--he claims to pasken for everyone.
I know of a Bet Yaakov that posted a sign that mothers of students had to wear wigs. This was a stab at children of sephardim and an attempt to force them out of the school without saying so openly.
The story you refer to is part of the ongoing battle for segregation between sephardim and ashkenazim in the school system. Really, it's about ashkenazim who don't want sephardim in their schools--this is a counterattack and has little to do with halachic standards.

BrooklynWolf said...

Larry,

Fair enough. Your points are well taken. However, I wonder if there might be two mitigating factors here.

1. In the examples you bring, a person may experience career setbacks for buying a Coke or driving a GM car, but I don't know that they'd actually be subjected to termination.

2. Even if they were subject to termination for such acts, it was probably made clear to them upfront before employment started that those were the terms. OTOH, you can't ask an employee who has been working there for ten years to suddenly sell their car and buy a Ford.

That's sort of what's happening here. Women have been working there under the assumption that normative (not to imply that ROY's rules are not normative -- you know what I mean) tznius rules are acceptable. To have the rules changed in such a major way after employement starts is somewhat unfair in my opinion.

The Wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

Um, ever heard of minhag? Of course I have. But do you think it's proper to enforce your *minhag* on someone else in the workplace?

The Wolf

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

Yes, if it's a workplace which is also a Torah institution that is a symbol of your community. A community institution has every right to enforce community standards.

This might have been unfair if Ashkenazi women were forbidden by their minhag to wear scarves. But since they can easily "upgrade" to scarves with virtually zero negative repercussions (and probably save a ton of $ in elliminating daily sheitel wear and tear), you are literally "crying wolf" here.
:)

Anonymous said...

We can all argue about this all day (whether it makes sense or not) - but what I comes down to is the law I'd think.

In the US at least, this would appear to be illegal, based on this website http://www.eeoc.gov/types/religion.html

"Employees cannot be forced to participate -- or not participate -- in a religious activity as a condition of employment. "

Whatever way you spin it - this is a religious activity that an employer is forcing you to participate in - no different than if a Christian employer would force you to go to prayers every Sunday as a condition of employment. It seems wrong to force your religious beliefs upon your employees, and probably is illegal in Israel too I'm guessing.

SA said...

"then let him make the rule only apply to Sephardim as well."

He's a sephardi posek, it's pretty obvious that this psak only applies to sephardim. I also assume his psak allowing the eating of kitniyot on Pesach also only applies to sephardim. Or you assume that psak also applies to everyone as well?

Anonymous said...

Wolf, you say "And, I suppose, it's not entirely unreasonable to use halacha as a guideline for employee conduct in a religious office in a religious state." I don't agree with the premise that Israel is a religious state or that a "religious state" means religious according to halacha or one particular interpretation of halacha. The modern state of Israel was founded to be a safe haven for jews and a place where jews could practice their religion without fear and discrimination. It was not founded as a state where the more religious should or could impose their views on others who are less observant or secular.

BrooklynWolf said...

Anon,

Thanks for the comment.

Your position certainly has merit and, in fact, I may even agree with them.

I purposely chose my words carefully. I didn't say that the rules should be based on tznius obligations, but said that it's not unreasonable for the rules in a Jewish state to be based on them. But because something is "reasonable" that doesn't mean that it has to be that way. One can certainly disagree with a preposition, even if it is reasonable - at that point, it becomes a matter for policy debate.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

ROY's ruling is par for the times we live in. How long before others retaliate and many won't be able to work for many organizations and companies because of arbitrary regulations.

And, mind you, this is from a man who sent Arafat birthday greetings each year and is chauferred daily in a Mercedes-Benz.

Our beautiful and sweet rligion have been hijacked, folks, and its probably too late to ever get it back... And all because the regular people like you and me did nothing to stop it.

Bob Miller said...

How is this any different from requiring a company uniform or safety shoes, assuming that it only applies when on-duty?