Jewish Business Etiquette

-Many self-employed Jews observe a six-day workweek, but working hours on Friday are oftentimes shortened in anticipation of the Sabbath, which begins at sundown on Friday and extends until sundown on Saturday. Orthodox Jews are likely to observe the Sabbath by refraining from all business dealings, including business-related phone calls.

-Business attire and etiquette are generally informed by the host culture.

-The Jewish calendar is lunar; therefore, holidays may occur on different dates from year to year vis a vis the solar calendar. (But per a lunar calendar, the holidays actually occur on the same dates from year to year). Jewish holidays generally begin the evening of the day before the date identified for the holiday’s observance on non-Jewish solar calendars. There are several Jewish holidays of which a non-Jew should be cognizant. A gentleman conducting business with Jewish counterparts and colleagues would be wise to be mindful of these important observances in his interactions.

a) Passover—the holiday which celebrates the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. The holiday is celebrated for seven or eight days, beginning on the night of a full moon in the month of April. Many Jews refrain from eating bread and grain products during the Passover holidays. Strictly observant Jews do not work, go to school, or conduct business during the first two and last two days of Passover. It is best not to invite Jews to events involving food during Passover.

b) Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year. The holiday typically occurs between Labor Day and Columbus Day and lasts for one or two days, depending on the branch of Judaism. Even non-observant Jews tend to go to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah (and Yom Kippur. See below). Rosh Hashanah is treated as New Year’s Day in most parts of the world, where people reflect on the past year and plan optimistically for the new year. Rosh Hashanah is also a holiday to begin mentally preparing for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which follows shortly thereafter.

c) Yom Kippur—the Day of Atonement, when Jews reconcile their mistakes of the past year with God. It is a day of repentance and fasting and occurs on the ninth day after the first day of Rosh Hashanah (usually in late September or October on a solar calendar). Fasting lasts 25 consecutive hours.

d) Chanukkah—the “Festival of Lights”—commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after a successful revolt against the Seleucid Greeks. As part of the victory celebration, the Jews needed to light the Temple’s menorah but only had one day’s supply of oil. But an eight-day supply of oil was needed, and eight days would be required to produce the necessary oil. Miraculously, the one day’s supply of oil lasted the full eight days. So the miracle of the oil is celebrated with the eight-day candelabra-lighting holiday. Chanukkah oftentimes overlaps with Christmas. It should never, however, be referred to as “the Jewish Christmas.” Though Chanukkah is, in actuality, a minor Jewish holiday, many Jews gather with their families at night to light the candles of their respective family menorah. And while most Jews work, attend school, and conduct business during the Chanukkah, many prefer to have their evenings free so as to be home with their families for the candle-lighting ritual. Today, partly because of the social pressure derived from the holiday’s proximity to Christmas, many Jewish families give gifts to their children. But the holiday is traditionally spent playing games for chocolate “coins” and eating potato pancakes. The large menorah decorations in public areas serve primarily to assert the Jewish faith in the midst of the oftentimes concurrent, seemingly overwhelming Christmas celebrations.

Other Jewish holidays that are less-known by non-Jews (and even some Jews):

-Sukkot—the “festival of booths,” commemorates the Biblical account of the Jews wandering in the desert, where they had to build temporary shelter. Many observant Jews pitch a tent or build a shed in their backyards and sleep and eat there during the holiday observance. Sukkot, as important a holiday as Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur, occurs on the fifth day of Yom Kippur and typically occurs in late September or early October. The holiday lasts for seven days. Many Jews do not work during the first two days of the holiday and prefer to eat dinners in their makeshift shelters with their families.

-Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah—both holidays occur immediately after Sukkot, the former being an extra day added on to Sukkot; and the latter being a celebration of the completion of the annual cycle of Biblical readings during Sabbath services.

-Tu B’Shevat—which occurs in late January or early February, is, for all intents and purposes, the “Jewish Arbor Day” and is used to calculate the age of trees for certain religious purposes. The holiday takes place on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Shevat. On this day, the Jewish people celebrate the New Year of trees, plants, and flowers. Ecological in nature, the holiday is usually celebrated with the planting of trees. A special gift of the holiday is to plant a tree in a person’s honor on the holiday.

-Purim—is in effect the “Jewish Madri Gras.” The festive holiday occurs in March, one month before Passover, and celebrates the rescuing of the Jews from a Hitler-like, genocidal tyrant. Work is not forbidden on this day, but some Jews celebrate the day by not working.

-Yom Ha-Shoah—Holocaust Remembrance Day, observed in late April or early May.

-Shavu’ot—commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. This very important holiday occurs between the end of May and the beginning of July, and lasts for one to two days, depending on the branch of Judaism.

-Tish B’av—commemorates the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem and other great tragedies of the Jewish people. The holiday occurs in late July or during August. Fasting is required, but working is not forbidden. Many observant Jews, however, prefer not to work so as to avoid fasting in the presence of persons who are feasting.

-Yom Ha-Atzma’ut (Israeli Independence Day, late April or May)
-Yom Ha-Zikkaron (Israeli Memorial Day, in May)
-Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day, late May or early June)

There are five other minor fasting days which occur during various times of the year. Those days are observed only from sunrise to sunset.

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