Shabbat Parashat Noach| 5765
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Question: In my place of work, in addition to ten regular, paid general holidays, they also pay those who take off for Yom Kippur and a day of Rosh Hashana. The employment agreement states that if a general holiday falls during an employee’s vacation, he chooses between an additional vacation day and getting paid extra for not utilizing all of his vacation days. The employers feel that they do not have to give these options this Yom Kippur, even though it fell on Saturday, when the business is closed. They also say that it is forbidden for a Jew to get paid for a Jewish holiday, and that I should not have the right to extra salary or an alternative. Is it actually forbidden? [The question was shortened and does not quote verbatim the pertinent clauses from the contract.]
Answer: A Jew must not only refrain from forbidden activity on Shabbat and Yom Tov but also may not be paid directly for permitted work he performs on those days. The commercialization of permitted activities causes them to be included in the prohibition of commerce on these days (Rashi, Ketubot 64a). One cannot even receive payment for renting out utensils for Shabbat, even if no Jew uses them for any type of work (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 246:1). It is possible to avoid a prohibition in most cases. That is if the paid work isn’t limited to Shabbat or Yom Tov but includes work or rental during the week. Then the problematic payment is “swallowed up” in the permitted payment (ibid.). There is much to say about when payment is deemed directly linked to Shabbat and when not, but we will see that there is no need to elaborate further in this case.
In truth, one is not really paid for vacation days. Rather one is paid for the work that he does during the period of a year (usually), with the payment dispersed throughout. The employer realizes that his workers need time off for recreation, family needs, and/or religious and civil observances. He thus pays his worker for a full year of work minus vacation days, as if he worked for a full year. Thus, in reality, you are just not being penalized for days off, whether on the civil New Year or the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur. Even if you get paid extra for Yom Kippur falling on Shabbat, that is because of an additional benefit that some employers give, that one who has less leisure time than he “deserves” is compensated for his diligence during his work time by an increased salary. You are not being paid for doing anything on Yom Kippur. There would be a serious question if a Jewish worker asked his Jewish employer to pay him overtime for work he did on Yom Kippur. That sensitive issue is not included in the question you raised.
However, the following consideration is crucial to keep in mind. (Because a few things are unclear from your question, we respond provisionally.) You not only are not being docked pay for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, but you don’t even have it taken off from your general vacation time. This is a generous arrangement, which not all observant Jews are awarded. Our understanding of the agreement is that these added vacation days are meant only for Jews, who need the days off, and you are not even asked to come in on gentile or civil holidays to make up for your absence. Thus, it seems highly inappropriate to take the special privilege intended not to interfere with your religious sensitivities and turn it into an opportunity to make extra money or get extra days off that others are not entitled to. Please realize that 100 years ago, Jewish employees were forced, sometimes sadistically, to choose between keeping Shabbat and Jewish holidays and being fired. We should be thankful that many elements of society are as accommodating to us as they are, especially in your case. If our understanding of the case is correct, then it is wrong and a likely desecration of Hashem’s Name and the character of our people to try to enforce the wording of the contract (we do not intend to serve as legal counsels to analyze its language) to take advantage of your employers’ good will.
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