My boss is a very religious man of the Jewish persuasion. He is altogether a Very Nice Bloke, and I’d be the first to defend him on any other occasion.
A couple of weeks ago though, we were in the staff kitchen alone and started chatting. He popped his cup in the sink, rinsed it, then just stopped MID CONVERSATION and began his prayer routine. I missed this at first and continued talking, whereupon he put his hand up to shush me. Thirty seconds later, he resumed the chat where we had left off.
Sure, it’s really no different to somebody taking a call on their mobile (but unless it’s a dead-set emergency, I find that incredibly rude as well). And I don’t understand the intricacies of Jewish prayer, but surely he could have completed our brief chat (it was only a couple of minutes, tops) and then executed his prayer in privacy?
I’d guess that he probably expected you to still be talking by the time he finished quietly saying the short blessing that follows the eating of certain foods, such as a cup of coffee. He probably felt it would go unnoticed, but his turn to speak came up sooner than he thought it would.
Also, since he was clearly finished with his coffee, would I be correct in guessing that you two were probably going to head out of the kitchen while still engaged in conversation? The blessing after eating (or drinking) something is supposed to be said in the same room where it was eaten, so he probably wanted to slip it in before leaving the kitchen.
It’s hard to tell based on the level of detail in the OP whether he just held his hand up to indicate “Please wait a moment while I take care of this” or actively said “Shhhhh” which I agree would be moderately rude.
Religion or not, I wouldn’t call it incredibly rude. Imagine it was anything else important (unlike a phone call) but also common. Sure it would have been far better to say “excuse me for a moment” first. If he does this routinely, someone should probably point that out.
But perhaps it was an oversight or momentary brain fart. If it never happens again, it’s nothing. IMHO, we should never take offense the first time anything wrong happens, like a neighbor’s noisy party keeping us up at night. If it’s one noisy party a year, no problem. It’s the repeated issues that matter.
I have known him for many years now, but he has been becoming more observant over that time. Also, I went AWOL for three years only returning 10 months ago, and since then he’s an infrequent visitor to the office: bumping into him in the tea-room, especially alone, is a rarity. I had not experienced this end-of-coffee ritual before.
And of course I would never bring it up to him. His relationship with G-d is extremely important (and I respect that) but just wondered if there was another way he could have gone about the exchange without making me feel like a git.
(For the record, the actual conversation was initiated by him (after a quick, ‘G’morning Jim’ from me) with Jim then continuing by saying he was extremely grateful that I had chosen to come back to work for him after my hiatus. A bit of banter ensued, and then the dead-stop! He did not say ‘Shush’ but put his hand up to silence me when I continued to jabber on unaware of his prayer).
It sounds to me as if the boss expected that you would be aware of his after-coffee ritual, so that you would be expecting that the conversation would be briefly interrupted and then picked up after the prayer. My guess is that it’s ‘well known’ around the office that this is how things work, and didn’t stop to consider that you, as a ‘newcomer’, might be caught unawares.
If you were actually a new employee, I’d say that he should have given you a heads up, but since you’ve known each other for some time he figured you were already aware. So I’d put this down as an unfortunate combination of circumstances and go on from there…
As to the question posed in the OP: no, religion certainly does not excuse rudeness. But I don’t think this is really an example of that; rather I think this is a case of ‘mistaken familiarity’ (the boss thinking you knew what he was doing, when in fact you should not have been expected to know) causing rudeness where none was intended.
I think you hit the nail on the head. Orthodox Jews say many short prayers throughout the day and will recite them even in middle of a conversation with a friend. It would be super annoying to say excuse me and break a conversation’s flow every time they needed to say a short prayer. The friend usually knows to wait 20 seconds until the prayer is finished. They certainly don’t mean to be rude - At least that is my experience with them, and I’m Orthodox
You read it, and my post again. I was suggesting that he had quietly, unnoticeably, started his prayer while the OP was talking, and a point in conversation where he would be expected to respond (or a point that he wished to respond to before the OP moved to a different subject) came unexpectedly (to him) before he finished, so he tried to signal that he was not ready, at that moment, to continue the conversation.
Obviously, he was unable to maintain the unnoticeability, but I imagine he started out thinking he could say it unnoticed without interrupting the flow of conversation.
I live in a community that has a large (and growing) Ultra-Orthodox population, and the one thing I’ve noticed is that they tend to be somewhat insular, in the sense of spending most of their time among themselves. With the possible exception of coworkers, I never see them interacting with “goyim” (and that includes non-Orthodox Jews). So it’s perfectly understandable that all the little prayers are just a part of passing time with each other, and they are so accustomed to it that it’s done pretty much without much conscious thought. If you were Orthodox, you wouldn’t even have noticed what he did, because you’d also be saying little prayers, and it wouldn’t occur to either of you that the other was being rude. It’s just a part of life. He spends a whole lot more of his life among other Orthodox than among the rest of us, and he probably just momentarily forgot who he was with.
That being said, no, religiosity does not exempt rudeness.