Conservative Jewish holiday procedure question

To give a little background:

My boss is a conservative and quite observant Jewish person. I am not - and grew up in an area with a Jewish community of less than one-tenth of one percent of the population.

As such, he was on vacation for the duration of Passover, and out of contact.

After sundown on Monday, April 2nd (hence after the beginning of the first day of Passover), his mother (who is quite elderly) was rushed to the hospital for emergency heart surgery. Her other children (my boss’ brothers) were notified of this the following morning. They are significantly less observant than my boss, so they picked up their phone when called. It also took some time for them to be located as persons to call as my boss was listed as the primary contact on all the information anyone could find.

They only came up with the brothers’ names and phone numbers Tuesday morning when they called the office and I picked up the phone. I provided their names and contact information to the hospital after explaining repeatedly and at great length that no, my boss would not be picking up the phone.

As I wasn’t sure about the convention of the situation, I started taking a poll around the office. Since I work in a large corporate law firm in New York, I figured that there just had to be someone around who was Jewish enough to be aware of the rules but non-observant enough to actually be in the office on the first day of Passover. Working under the information I received (that there was a family medical emergency exemption to the customary no-contact rules), I sent my boss a note via messenger containing all the information I was in possession of. The note was an unsealed, unfolded piece of paper (so as to avoid opening envelopes) to be slipped under his front door after ringing the doorbell.

I did this on the principle that he would like to be notified and also because his brothers are exceptionally bad at managing crisis situations, and not the persons the hospital and doctors had as designated next-of-kin (that would be my boss only). He was the medical decision maker of record (which I knew as this is the second such emergency surgery his mother has required this year).

So my question is this (and I’m hoping a Doper of appropriate religious background will help me out):

Was that the correct action on my part?*

*For the record, he’s pissed I sent the note or attempted contact at all in any form.

Your boss was seriously pissed that you tried to let him know that his mother was rushed to the hospital for emergency heart surgery?!?

Your boss is a putz.

By the way, the rules for observance of Passover (Pesach) are somewhat different from the rules for observance of Shabbat or the Jewish Sabbath (besides the fact that Passover involves a long-ass family meal and eight days without bagels). AFAIK, unless Passover coincides with Shabbat, observant Jews are not prohibited from doing things like tearing paper and using electricity on Passover.

Many people would still not want to be interrupted during the celebration of the seder on the first evening of Passover, of course, because it’s a very important religious ritual as well as a long-ass family meal. But I don’t think the Shabbat prohibitions against performing various everyday actions come into play here.

Your boss is a schmuck. There’s nothing wrong with violating the sabbath when there’s a medical emergency to be dealt with. God doesn’t mind; He’s made it clear that life is far more important than silly rituals.

You mean conservative like observant Conservative Jew or conservative like observant Orthodox Jew?
And I thought saving a life took precedence over any religious observance.

I have Hassidic Jews in my family. They are practically Amish in their religiosity. They would want to be informed of a serious family medical problem at any time. In Judaism medical emergency always trumps ceremony. Your boss sounds like a jackass.

Observant Conservative Jew - not Orthodox or Hassidic, though.

I know concurrence on the Internet is a very rare thing. This is one of those times.

Medical emergencies generally take precedence over every religious practice in Judaism. I’m willing to allow a possible exception discussed in the Talmud or by Maimonides as a purely theoretical exercise, but I don’t know of any practical exceptions.

You did the right thing, Aangelica. Well done.

Your boss, OTOH, may want to have a talk with his rabbi. But that’s out of scope for GQ.

In the spirit of both GQ and Talmudic debate:

Is this a medical emergency within the meaning of that exception? Of course, if he’s a doctor, or with him is the medicine needed for a cure, then undoubtedly he must be contacted and he must act.

But he’s not a doctor. His mother won’t live or die depending on whether he’s contacted.

How is this a “medical emergency” with respect to him?

This is more or less what the not-really-very-observant Jewish folks in the office on Tuesday said, also.

However, it is undeniable that my boss is an asshole. His current standing record for longevity in an assistant is 3 years and change. He’s had two different assistants go to lunch and never come back. I’ll never make the record :slight_smile: However, working for him is also one of those “can’t loose professionally” sorts of positions. He’s a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad boss to be sure, but everyone and their dog is totally aware of that, so when you limit out on him and depart for greener pastures, nobody blames you in the slightest. Also, he is literally the best at what he does (certainly top 5 globally, arguably the absolute best), so working for him puts a certain gloss on Ye Olde Resume.

Mostly I was testing my understanding to make certain this was him being a jerk, and not me misunderstanding what the appropriate act would have been (or not been).

He was the only person empowered to make medical decisions in the event his mother was unable to do so for herself. Holder of her power of attorney in both medical and fiduciary matters.

So, while not being a physician himself, there were most definitely actions he must perform in a timely fashion. (Or was responsible for performing, since he didn’t actually perform them. Thankfully, his mother is fine and was never unable to decide for herself about her care - but she’s quite elderly and the circumstance could have arisen quite easily.)

In point of fact, the hospital people were fairly frantic by the time they got in touch with me - some 12 hours after she was admitted.

All of this is written on the assumption that your boss is conservative (ie Orthodox) rather than Conservative (a somewhat less tradition-bound group within Judaism). I see on preview that this is not so, but I’ll leave it in, but I’m puzzled as to his response - I would think that a Conservative Jew would be even less likely to get upset. Perhaps he does not have the Jewish education to realize that he’s wrong on this front.

If your boss had in his power the ability to do anything that would increase the odds that his mom would live through the event, then he should want to know. Although much of Passover is like the Sabbath in terms of strictures (other than specific laws having to do with food preparation and carrying stuff in public, one observes the laws of the Sabbath on the first two days and the last two days of the holiday; the four days in the middle are much less strict), one is allowed to violate the Sabbath (and nearly all other commandments, other than a few really big ones like not killing) to save a life. On the other hand, if there was nothing at all he could do, then he wouldn’t be able to rush to her if she’s not in walking distance, because he can’t just violate the holiday because he’s worried or would want to be there. So I can understand that he would have preferred not to know, because it just makes him sit there and freak out for the next two days without being able to do anything. But he’s a jerk to be angry at you, because you were doing the best you could with limited information - I’d have been very grateful to you for being so thoughtful and trying, and honestly would probably have preferred to know what was going on anyway, even if there was nothing I could do!

FWIW, my family has an answering machine and leaves the volume turned up. If anybody’s around when a message is left on the Sabbath or a holiday, we’ll listen to the message as it’s being left, would hear if it was some dire health emergency and would pick up if necessary (which, thank God, has never happened). Before answering machines, my father’s family had a code for such emergencies - call, let it ring twice, hang up, then call again immediately, and family members would know to pick up. As far as I know, it’s never been used, but to this day, my father will tense up and listen for a third ring if someone calls the house, worrying that his elderly aunt has had an emergency and is relying on the ancient code.


(Non-observant but fairly knowledgeable [for an Atheist] Jew chiming in)

Oh! Thanks GilaB, I didn’t know that. So erase what I wrote earlier about it not being necessary to worry about whether Putz-Boss would pick up the phone, tear open an envelope, etc., on the first night of Passover.

I wanted mostly to make sure I hadn’t actually committed a major offense, since my practical knowledge of the observances of the Jewish faith is essentially nil.

My boss, as I have mentioned, is not known for his reasonableness or people skills, so it’s often difficult to tell if he’s being an asshole or I have actually done something inappropriate.

I was totally confident when sending the message that I was going to hear about it either way. It was a reasonably classic damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation :slight_smile: I went with erring on the side of compassion - because most reasonable people would prefer to at least know - and because the hospital refused to allow his brothers to make decisions until every effort to contact him had been expended.

I called his house first - just in case - but I already know he’s got voicemail rather than an old-style answering machine. As far as I know, he doesn’t have a code of any sort :stuck_out_tongue: If he does, he hasn’t told me what it is!

I could understand someone not answering their phone during Passover Seder- my in-laws do that, too, and we ask people to turn off their cel phones during seder. But that’s not really a Jewish observance thing- they don’t answer their phone during Thanksgiving dinner, either, AFAIK.

We’re Conservative, but don’t observe any rules about not using the telephone on Shabbat or holidays, FWIW. The thing about Conservative Judaism (and all non-Orthodox Judaism) is that there’s a very broad spectrum of observance among members of the same denomination. Non-Orthodox Jews do, for the most part, feel pretty free to pick and choose what observances we will follow. So it doesn’t really make sense to make a blanket statement like “all Conservative Jews would or wouldn’t do X in situation Y”.

But the thing about those observances is, you as a non-Jew are not expected to follow them. Most of us wouldn’t expect you to even know much about them- most non-Jews we come into contact with don’t.

In short, I would say he’s being a jerk.

The middle days are normal weekdays, religiously speaking. Taking off from work isn’t required. The (doubled) first and seventh days are festival days, and subject to the festival rules, which are a little less strict than the Shabbat rules. (Unless, of course, a festival day falls on Shabbat, as the 7th day of Passover will next year.) So if someone was in town but out of contact for the full length of the festival, something smells – well, if not unkosher, then at least hometzdik. :j

A girl likes to be considerate of other people’s beliefs, though. I knew, for example, that Shabbat rules would be in effect for the first and last two days of the holiday with limited contact available on the other days - so I was actually aware that contacting him was problematic and in all probability an unwelcome intrusion.

It sounds like the consensus is that I didn’t do anything inappropriate, though, which is actually a relief. With him, it’s remarkably difficult to tell.

Scuba_Ben, this year, the first two days of Passover were Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, and the last two days were Monday and Tuesday of this week. Last Friday was Good Friday, on which many offices are closed. So the only normal workday for many people of the middle four days (Thursday through Sunday) was Thursday, and I can understand if somebody just decided to take the whole thing off and chill. (The other option, which I chose, was to desperately try to catch up on everything I had missed while away, and get ahead of what I would be missing over the last two days!) Of course, that doesn’t excuse acting like a jerk when someone goes well out of their way to considerately inform you that your mother’s ill!

Aangelica, I’m sorry your boss is so difficult! I cringe when other people are jerks and pretend it’s because of religion - it makes it so much more difficult for the rest of us who are observant.

In my case, I was out Tuesday and Wednesday, in on Thursday, and my customer was out Friday and Monday. So from a practical point of view, your point is well taken. Heck, once I found out that nothing was going to happen on Monday, I considered taking Monday off for the seventh day of yom tov.