Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Can a shul let its Jewish caretaker violate shabbos?

Another day, another email:
I have a question that I was wondering maybe some of your dear readers could shed some light…

A particular shul I know (not my one) has a caretaker who is employed to work (as well as on other days) on Shabbat. Apparently, since working there, he has claimed that he had a Jewish mother.

This leads to an obvious problem. If he is believed, then they cannot have him work on Shabbat.

Unfortunately though, they cannot stop him working on Shabbat as he could sue for unfair dismissal based on racial discrimination (the irony of it all). In the UK, Jews are legally termed as a race, which has caused other problems to do with Jewish school, but that is another issue. There was a suggestion that he could be suspended on full pay for Shabbat only, but that way, both parties would suffer – the shul would still need to employ someone else for Shabbat, and it would be on his record that he was suspended which could affect him in the future (official employment records don’t explain or show that there were halachic reasons).

The unofficial policy of the shul at the moment is to turn a blind eye, ignore it and hope that the caretaker is mistaken.

There is no suggestion that the caretaker is being dishonest in any way, is trying to scam anyone, he is a very nice chap, works well, and likes standing at the back of the shul during davening with his newly acquired Polish siddur, whenever possible.

The Beadle

I'm confused about the employment records. Do these follow workers everywhere? There's nothing like that in the US. Isn't there some way the records can be massaged so that his absence on Shabbos doesn't reflect poorly on him, without the shul also telling a lie? (If you were chasidim, you'd know how to do this.)

I think there's another problem you haven't identified. How can the shul benefit on shabbos from this man's work? The problem isn't just that the shul is requiring/allowing a Jew to work on shabbos, but that his work creates a benefit enjoyed by the shul members, that halacha prohibits.

Where's your Rav? What's his view?

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