Sunday, March 6, 2011

Religion at work

On a networking/job board I read in Israel, the below question was recently posted which fueled a hot debate as to the interpretation/intent of both the question and the employer in question:

I have a question. A friend's place of employment is requiring workers to sign a declaration that they are "religious/shabat observant" and for that reason can not work Shabat. If at any time, someone that has signed the declaration is "caught" not observing the Sabbath, they can possibly lose their job.
The management has not answered the following:
1 - who decides what is Shabat observant?
2 - who is checking?
3 - how is it documented?
4 - Can this be legal?
The responses posted ranged from a comparison of Israel to Iran (which not surprisingly made some readers defensive), to the belief that this company is probably observant and just wants to be sure their employees don't do any work on their behalf during the holiday. 
As a citizen of a country that separates church and state (well, is supposed to), this obviously wouldn't fly.  But in a country where the religion is central to it's very existence, I can see where this must become an issue on a regular basis.  For instance, I wonder if all government / corporate cafeteria's have to abide by kosher laws?  There is strong pressure for businesses that serve/sell food to observe. But some have done a cost-benefit analysis and decided to pay the penalty fees levied by local and state goverment because they still come out ahead by being open on Shabat, and/or offering non-kosher options. 
I can't imagine working anywhere that would impose their religious beliefs on me.  I've seen job postings that I would be an excellent candidate for here in non-profit, but most have a religious purpose or tone, thus taking me out of the running. 

I know Israel is not the only country in which church and state are intertwined, but I wonder whether there are any others where religion equals culture and it can't be separated from the fundamental establishment of the state?  There are many Israeli's who don't believe it should be this way, but there are not enough of them in positions of power.  Interestingly, statistical models show that Israel's Jewish population will become a minority within the next decade.  If the country wants to hold onto it's claim of of democracy, will this lead to a shift in leadership to represent the new mix? 

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