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Asking the clergy: When is it permitted to work on holy days?

JoAnn Barrett

JoAnn Barrett Photo Credit: JoAnn Barrett

Religious observances can occur any day during the week, resulting in a dilemma for the faithful who want to honor their religious obligations while also remaining on good terms with their employers. This week’s clergy discuss when working on a holy day is not only permitted, but can actually be a form of worship.

The Rev. JoAnn Barrett

Senior minister, Gathering of Light Interspiritual Fellowship, Melville

To answer this question one might reflect on what is the purpose of a holy day. These are days set aside to allow for a deeper bond to be established between the faithful and their higher power. They are special days to remind us of actions done on behalf of humanity by the divine. They are opportunities for gratitude. They are reminders to move beyond the ordinary things in life into that extraordinary experience that makes life worthwhile. They are days of awe and love. In our fast-paced world, we need these days. In a saying attributed to Gandhi, you can’t teach a hungry man about God. You have to feed him first. If one’s work is dependent on working on a holy day, then one should work. However, it is preferable for an employer to respect workers’ holy days and allow them to make their special dedications. They would only be more productive employees because of it.

Many holy days, of every tradition, fall on different days annually as they follow diverse calendars. This can create problematic situations for our society to function effectively. It is my belief that it is the content of religious observance that is more important than the form. Sincere believers can work on a holy day with true dedication in their hearts that all their work efforts are dedicated to their sacred relationship. This practice could be more powerful and meaningful than others following a strict religious rite. In the end, it is all between individuals and their God.

Rabbi Elliot Skiddell

Central Synagogue-Beth Emeth, Rockville Centre

The Jewish calendar is rich in special days. There are holidays and festivals that are days of celebration and there are holy days of contemplation and renewal. There are also days of fasting and of feasting. Some of these special days, such as Shabbat, Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and others, are thought of as so special and distinct that they are called kadosh, or holy, and on them we are enjoined by the Torah to cease from “all manner of work.”

There are also days of celebration, such as Purim, Lag b’Omer and others, when there are no restrictions on work. Throughout our history there have been discussions about what exactly constitutes work, and there are varying interpretations. One idea that we all agree on, however, is that saving life is the highest value. Therefore, even on the holiest of days, work is allowed if it is vital in its basic meaning of life giving. Hospital staff and medical professionals work on holy days to save life; electricity plants operate to provide power; pumping stations supply water, and there are other examples [of places where the faithful need to show up.] I remember very well-being in Israel on Yom Kippur, for many the holiest day of the year, when all traffic ceases and no work is carried out. Yet, if needed, ambulances will be dispatched and nurses and doctors will continue to do their holy work, even on holy days.

The Rev. William F. Brisotti

Pastor, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal R.C. Church, Wyandanch

Religious observance shouldn’t be considered an obligation, but rather a help to living one’s faith in service for good in the world.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “On Sundays and other holy days of obligation, the faithful are to refrain from engaging in work or activities that hinder the worship owed to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s Day, the performance of the works of mercy, and the appropriate relaxation of mind and body. Family needs or important social service can legitimately excuse from the obligation of Sunday rest. The faithful should see to it that legitimate excuses do not lead to habits prejudicial to religion, family life and health.”

One should refrain from “unnecessary” work, but with the risk of not being able to provide for one’s family, or if one’s work fulfills an urgent need of society, work may be called for. Charitable work or work for justice and peace would be OK also. Genesis 2:2 tells us that God “rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.” Likewise, human life requires a rhythm of work and rest. The institution of the Lord’s Day helps toward the ideal of adequate rest and leisure to cultivate familial, cultural, social and religious lives. Religions generally observe “days of rest.” Public authorities, unions and employers should collaborate to ensure all employees ample time for rest.

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