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Time Off From Work to Pray

Religion Clause posted the following:

AP reported Friday that Hertz, the rental car company, is firing 26 Somali Muslim employees at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport because they refuse to clock out for their daily prayer breaks. The Teamsters local union that represents the workers says that the company agreed during negotiations last year that the employees would not need to clock out. Hertz says that the failure of many employees to return promptly after their prayers had created an unfair work environment.

Below is a short summary of this question from Rabbinic sources and what modern Israeli law has to say about whether employees should be given time off for prayer.

On Berachot 16a there is a discussion of this question:

תנו רבנן: הפועלים שהיו עושין מלאכה אצל בעל הבית – קורין קריאת שמע ומברכין לפניה ולאחריה, ואוכלין פתן ומברכין לפניה ולאחריה, ומתפללין תפלה של שמונה עשרה אבל אין יורדין לפני התיבה ואין נושאין כפיהם. והתניא: מעין שמונה עשרה! – אמר רב ששת, לא קשיא: הא – רבן גמליאל, הא רבי יהושע. – אי רבי יהושע, מאי איריא פועלים, אפילו כל אדם נמי! – אלא, אידי ואידי רבן גמליאל, ולא קשיא: כאן – בעושין בשכרן, כאן – בעושין בסעודתן. והתניא: הפועלים שהיו עושים מלאכה אצל בעל – הבית קורין קריאת שמע ומתפללין, ואוכלין פתן ואין מברכים לפניה, אבל מברכין לאחריה שתים, כיצד – ברכה ראשונה כתקונה, שניה – פותח בברכת הארץ וכוללין בונה ירושלים בברכת הארץ; במה דברים אמורים – בעושין בשכרן, אבל עושין בסעודתן או שהיה בעל הבית מיסב עמהן – מברכין כתיקונה.

A. Our rabbis have taught on Tannaite authority:
B. Workers who were at work at a household [take time to] recite the Shema and recite the benedictions before it and after it,
C. and eat their bread and recite the benedictions before it [the meal] and after it [cf. T. Ber. 5:24],
D. and recite [three times daily] the Prayer of eighteen [blessings].
E. But they do not descend before the ark [to lead the recitations of the Prayer in a synagogue].
F. And they do not lift up their hands [in the priestly benediction] [T. Ber. 2:9].
G. But has it not been taught on Tannaite authority: “[They say not the complete Prayer but only] an abbreviation of the eighteen benedictions”?
H. Said R. Sheshet, “There is no contradiction. The one position represents the position of Rabban Gamaliel, the other of R. Joshua [at M. Ber. 4:3].”
I. If it is R. Joshua’s view [represented at G], why specify that the rule applies to workers? [In Joshua’s view, the same law] pertains even to ordinary people.
J. Rather, both positions represent the view of Rabban Gamaliel, and there still is no contradiction between the two statements, for the statement [permitting the workers to say only the abbreviated version] speaks of workers who are laboring for a wage, while the other speaks of workers who are working for their keep [and the latter may take longer in reciting the Prayer].
K. And [in proof of the foregoing distinction] has it not been taught on Tannaite authority: Workers who were at work at a household take time to recite the Shema and recite the benedictions before it and after it and eat their bread but do not recite a benediction before it but they do recite the benedictions after it, stating both required blessings. How so? They recite the first of the two blessings as it is laid down, and in the second one, one opens with a blessing for the Land, then including “who builds Jerusalem” in the blessing of the Land. Under what circumstances [does this rule apply]? It applies to workers who are working for a wage, but in the case of those who are working for their keep, or with whom the householder was joined in the meal, one says the entire blessing as it has been laid down. (trans. Neusner)

R. Yosef Karo codies the law in the Shulḥan Arukh (OH 110:2). The challenge is to translate his terms of reference to the modern workplace.

הפועלים שעושין מלאכה אצל בע”ה, אם אינו נותן להם שכר חוץ מסעודתן, מתפללין י”ח, אבל אין יורדין לפני התיבה ואין נושאין כפיהם; ואם נותן להם שכר, מתפללין הביננו. והאידנא, אין דרך להקפיד בכך, ומסתמא אדעתא דהכי משכירין אותם שיתפללו י”ח.

Workers who are working at the home of a homeowner, if he doesn’t give them a salary outside of meals, they pray the eighteen blessings [i.e. the amidah], but they do not act as a prayer nor do they recite the priestly blessing. If he gives them a salary, then they pray [the shortened prayer] haveneinu. At present, there is no way to be strict about this, and the default is that they are hired [with the understanding] that they will pray the eighteen blessings.

The Mishneh Berurah (sub. par. 12) attempted to find a balance between allowing a worker to fully participate in prayer, yet also not to take too much time away from his work:

שיתפללו י”ח – וה”ה כל נוסח התפילה כשאר כל אדם וכתב הלחם חמודות דה”ה שמותרים לילך לבהכ”נ להתפלל בעשרה ועיין במ”א דזה דוקא במקום שאין דרך בעלי בתים להקפיד בכך ומ”מ אין יורדין לפני התיבה כ”כ הפמ”ג ובפר”ח איתא דהאידנא יורדין ג”כ לפני התיבה ונ”ל דאין להחמיר אם עי”ז לא יתאחר הזמן יותר:

Other authorities emphasized that how workers should behave is determined by what is the accepted practice (“מנהג המקום”).

Israeli Law explicitly allows employers to have a break for prayer. In the Hours of Work and Rest Law (Sec. 20:4) it states the following:

עובד רשאי להתפלל במהלך יום עבודתו בהתאם לדרישות דתו; זמן התפילה ייקבע במקום העבודה בהתאם לצרכי העבודה ואילוציה, ובהתחשב בדרישות דתו של העובד.

A worker is permitted to pray during the day according to the requirements of his religion. The time of prayer will be determined in his workplace as is appropriate to the needs and exigencies of work, and taking into consideration the requirements of the worker’s religion. [trans. MM]

A summary of Israeli labor legislation regarding rest can be found here. An English translation of the law that is not entirely up to date can be found here. See here for a discussion (Hebrew) of how this clause was added to the original law from 1951 and a court case that addressed this question. According to the answer given at the above link, time for prayer should be separate from other breaks that employees are entitled to. For a contrary understanding of the law see this post (Hebrew) that feels that the law only requires that an employer allow an employee to pray, but that it be on his or her own free time. Also see this (Hebrew) opinion that seems to also feel that the prayer time should be part of an already allotted rest period.

One Response to “Time Off From Work to Pray”

  1. 1
    7azon Yesha3ya:

    there is a significant difference here between the cases per bt berakhot, shulchan arukh and hertz. in the first 2 cases, we are discussing the obligations of jewish employees and jewish employers, both sides bound by halakhic dictates.
    hertz on the otherhand is an all american secular entity and the grieving employees are moslems relying on the fairness of the american secular legal system. i wonder what would halakha dictate a jewish employer to behave towards non jewish monotheistic employees and vice versa how should a frum employee behave with his non jewish employer.

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