January 9, 2017 Gender segregation rules in the Hasidic workplace
A reader asked: Are there any particular rules I need to be aware of when working with Hasidic Jews?
There are some Hasidic men with whom I’ve had a professional relationship for my entire adult life, and yet I’ve never had a significant personal conversation with them. Ever. It’s pretty startling. I never said “I’m getting divorced” or “I’m moving.” I just notify them to change my exemptions and reporting address.
When I was first hired by a Hasidic company I was still Hasidic, and as one of its members, my employers naturally felt they could expect more from me. I had to sign an agreement in Yiddish as follows: (note, no outsider would ever be told anything like this)
Some of the translations:
From the Organization that Guards our Barriers – Important Laws for Workplaces:
- It is forbidden for a man to talk extra words with a woman, and of course not to get into a friendly conversation, or god forbid to kid around (make jokes) or laugh, etc. It is permitted to talk about things that need to be done, and it is also permitted to say “good morning” or wish “mazel tov” etc. One needs to be careful, however, not to say it in a friendly way.
- If a woman needs to say something to a man, she should not stand too close to him, only at a distance.
- It is forbidden to address a woman or girl by her first name, only by her family name.
- It is forbidden for a man and a woman to compliment each other “personally”, for example, to say “you did a good job. It is only permitted to say “the job” was well done. In the event that a man gives a compliment to a woman or vice versa, then the other person must pretend that they didn’t hear.
- It is forbidden for a man and a woman to speak about themselves as “us.” For example, instead of saying “we need to talk to them” one needs to say “they need to be talked to
The above was the contract from one company that was very stringent. Over the years I’ve learned that there is a great spectrum of religiously acceptable behavior among Hasidic professionals. But it can never hurt to go in understanding that on some level, the ideal of piety in workforces looks like that: strict, strict separation of the sexes.