Chapter 9:  How Will This Affect My Career?


          "Gather in your grain". (Deuteronomy 11:14)


          The oral tradition explains this biblical verse as a commandment to earn a livelihood.

          There is no contradiction between living a religious life and pursuing one's career goals. Although a Jew believes ultimate success or failure is determined by the Almighty, he is still bidden by the Torah to extend all his efforts towards earning a living.  Judaism repels the notion of an indolent zealot who depends entirely upon Divine support without plying his hands in labor.  Ever since Adam, the first man, was told, ”By the sweat of your brow you will eat bread,” (Genesis 3:19); humankind has been expected to work for sustenance. 

          Livelihood must come from work that is honest, legal, and permitted by the Torah.  This, of course, rules out the possibility of becoming a "hit man" for the Mafia, producing pornographic videos and preparing cheeseburgers at Burger King.  It also limits someone who is a Kohein (from the priestly tribe), who is prohibited from coming into contact with a corpse, from pursuing a medical career or administrating a funeral chapel. 

          Still, almost all forms of work remain viable and it is possible to find religious Jews working as doctors, lawyers, policemen and engineers; many are involved in business enterprises, others are active in the arts.

In and of themselves, none of these pursuits are contrary to observant Judaism, some however, are more difficult to fit into an observant lifestyle.

In America today, Jews enjoy legal protection from job discrimination and cannot be fired for being Sabbath observers. Laws notwithstanding, if in fact a Jew is faced with the choice of keeping Shabbos or keeping a particular job, there is no room for compromise; he must seek other employment.

          Michael, who worked at the race track, handicapping horse races, had to seek other employment because his job required him to work on Shabbos.  . 

          Susanne, a C.P.A., who works for a medium size firm, is able to maintain her observant lifestyle even during tax season by working Sundays and evenings, to make up for work missed on Saturdays.

          Where your job does conflict with a religious lifestyle, don’t get caught up in the all or nothing syndrome, which goes something like this, “I have this great job, that I can’t see giving up, so I don’t want to pursue religion at all right now.”  This is very shortsighted thinking.  The job you love now may not be so fulfilling in another year; you may be relocated or your new supervisor may have a problem with anger control. Why place limitations on your personal lifestyle choices because of something so unpredictable?  You are better off pursuing your long term personal goals instead of putting all your eggs in the professional basket.

It is hard to know ahead of time just how far one’s interest in Judaism will take him.  There may come a point when the practice of religion becomes more personally gratifying than one’s career.  There are numerous stories of people preferring observance over their current job.  It would not make much sense to deny yourself the possibility of increasing your personal happiness and fulfillment because you are momentarily content with your present employment.

Realistically, we’re not suggesting dropping your current lifestyle to immediately embrace observance, but one should not be dissuaded from considering a more Jewish lifestyle on account of a decision that they may or may not be forced to make at some future time.  If such a choice should ever become necessary, you will be better equipped to make it after you have made yourself more fully aware of the rewards of each option.  You are, undoubtedly, aware of the benefits of furthering your career.  In the interest of making a wise decision, you should become familiar with the benefits a Jewish life has to offer.

Don’t get us wrong! We’re not saying, “the heck with professional career opportunities.” We are saying, “you can be extremely successful in your job and at the same time be a devout Jew.”

Why don’t you ask observant Jews, who do work in all sorts of professions and businesses, how they balance Judaism with their career. You don’t necessarily have to make an appointment with U. S. Senator Joseph Lieberman  (Independent– Connecticut) to find out how he is able to be a highly regarded politician, run for president, and still be Sabbath observant. There are probably a few fine, friendly and successful observant Jews in your back yard; they would be thrilled to talk to you; go and speak to them!

          Other concerns a Jew in the workplace must be aware of, involve the myriad laws of Jewish business ethics. In fact, there is an entire section in the Code of Jewish Law addressing this topic.

Jews are required to be scrupulously honest in their business dealings and to sanctify G-d’s name through acting fairly and pleasantly with all people, no matter what line of work they are in.

          Don’t be misled by the libelous accusations about religious businessmen being crooks and charlatans – that’s what the Jew haters say about Jews in general. It’s a lie, plain and simple. Those few “religious looking” who are bad apple, aren’t really religious.

Religious Jewish law is very clear about maintaining a high standard of business ethics. Any religious Jew who doesn’t follow the law will eventually be ostracized and shunned by the community. The Talmud teaches us when a Jew comes up for the final judgment in heaven, the first question the heavenly court asks is, “did you deal honestly in business?” 

Irving Bunim, a religious Jewish businessman and philanthropist, is known to have once called a gentile supplier and informed him, “Today is a special day for my business.”  The supplier asked why the day was special. Bunim answered,  “everyday Jewish law teaches us to act fairly and honestly in business but rarely am I given the opportunity to exhibit this behavior to others- but today is different. Today is special because I have the opportunity to demonstrate how a Jew conducts business.  You were supposed to send me one bolt of expensive cloth but instead you sent me 10 bolts - but charged me for only one; the mistake would probably never be found. I want you to know I’m returning the 9 bolts of cloth.” 


Last updated on: 01/20/2020
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