Dear Rabbi,

An observant Jew recently joined my staff. He is a reliable employee, an honest man and a hard worker. But for the past few weeks he has been telling us that he needs to leave early on Fridays to be home in time for the Sabbath and the same on the eve of Jewish holidays.

I am a little clueless when it comes to the rules of Judaism, but in my world Saturday doesn’t start on Friday! For now, I have been letting him leave, but I’m not sure if I can let this continue.

Is my employee taking me for a ride?

Answer:

I can honestly tell you that in Judaism when it comes to the Sabbath and Jewish holidays there is no clock. Rather it is always based on the Creator’s clock - the sun. I.e., Days, nights, morning and evening are all calculated based on when the sun rises and sets. Furthermore, when creating the world, G‑d proclaimed, “And it was evening and it was morning, one day.”1 Accordingly, Jews consider evening to be the beginning of a new day.

As such, the Sabbath actually begins on Friday shortly before sunset. Thus, during the winter months, when the sun sets earlier, the Sabbath and major Jewish holidays begin earlier.

What is Prohibited?

On the Sabbath and major Jewish holidays orthodox Jews do not perform a host of activities, including travelling and doing business. See our Sabbath: A Day of Rest for some of the basic rules.

What to do?

Come to Manhattan and several hours before the Sabbath you will see flocks of Jewish people heading to the trains. Take a look, for example, at B&H Photo Video, called by the Associated Press, “One of the biggest and most famous camera stores in the world.” The store is owned by an observant Jew and closes every Friday at 1:00p.m. and remains closed all day Saturday. Likewise, the store is closed on the eve of Jewish holidays and the actual holidays too.

Nevertheless, employees in these stores do not work less than those working in other stores. Being Sabbath observant should not hinder one’s ability to contribute a full work week. Sit down with your employee and figure out the best way for him to complete his hours – you can ask him to work Sundays or longer hours each day during the week.

Bear in mind, a day of total rest each week will increase your employee’s productivity. Additionally, respecting your employee’s religious observance will only increase his respect for you and the work you are accomplishing together.

Some Things to Keep in Mind

  1. You can always check when the Sabbath and Jewish holidays begin, on our Candle Lighting Times for Shabbat and Holidays page.
  2. You can also find a list of Jewish Holidays when work is prohibited.
  3. Keep in mind that it does take some time to travel and to perform basic preparations for the Sabbath or holiday.
  4. Some employers choose to consider Jewish holidays as vacation days. Others use it to their advantage and offer their Jewish employees the option of working on secular holidays. This way, employers can have someone in the office for emergencies and phone calls on the days most employees are absent.
  5. After sunset the employee will not be able to respond to phone calls or emails no matter how urgent.
  6. Judaism is not an “all or nothing” religion. Many are growing in their observance and for example, at this time may choose to keep the Sabbath, but do not fully follow the kosher dietary laws.
  7. If you see a lack of productivity let the employee know and remind him that you expect him to produce similarly to the other employees.

See Why do Jewish holidays begin at nightfall? and Days from our Jewish Calendar minisite.