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Higher Office

Eytan Kobre

A frum Jew faces daily challenges in today’s workplace. Ari Wasserman’s new book, Making It Work, highlights the problem areas, which extend far beyond business halachah

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

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MITZVAH MINEFIELD Could he attend work lunches at treif restaurants, and what could he eat there? How far did he have to travel to find a midday Minchah minyan, and was he even allowed to take off time from work to do so? The challenges he faced, and those he heard about from his friends in the business world, were complex and seemingly endless

I t was two hours before Shabbos and Ari Wasserman was wrapping up the week’s work at his Los Angeles office.

As he prepared to leave for the one-mile commute home, his phone rang. He saw on the caller ID that it was his boss, the CEO of the company, whom he’d been trying to reach to discuss an urgent business matter. He answered, and as they began to speak, it dawned on Ari that his boss was in Texas, two hours ahead of L.A., and that the sun was setting in Austin just then.

He wondered: Am I allowed to continue speaking with my Jewish but nonobservant boss when it was already Shabbos for him? He expedited the call, getting off as quickly as possible, and promptly made his way to the office of the company president, also an Orthodox Jew, and asked him what he did in such situations. The latter responded that he just didn’t answer the phone, and if he mistakenly did, he immediately hung up. And again, Ari wondered: Should I have just hung up?

It’s personal experiences like that one and many, many more over the course of a 20-plus-year career in law and business that convinced Wasserman of the need for a written work that simply did not yet exist: a guide for Orthodox Jews through what can be, halachically and hashkafically, a veritable minefield — the contemporary workplace.

The result is Making It Work: A Practical Guide to Halachah in the Workplace, now in its second printing and chock-full of analyses, advice, and anecdotes about a broad gamut of work-related halachic issues, from attending office parties and shaking hands with the opposite gender, to using office supplies and expense accounts; from how to carve time from the workday for Torah learning and tefillah to being a whistleblower who alerts an employer to employee wrongdoing, and much more.

“These are topics,” says Ari, “that address the reality of what’s out there, but so far no one’s written anything comprehensive about it. Everyone’s got challenges in the workplace — and this book is meant to address their most common sh’eilos.”

 

One might say Making It Work is a book Ari Wasserman’s been getting ready to write for a long time. Born in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, while his father was an army doctor there, Ari grew up in Los Angeles and attended the Yeshiva University of Los Angeles (YULA) high school. After spending a gap year at Sha’alvim, Ari attended the University of Pennsylvania, and then, after one more year at Sha’alvim, took a law degree at Harvard.

It was there that he first began what has been a decades-long preoccupation with delving into halachah and sharing the fruits of his learning with others. Seeing that the break between Minchah and Maariv at the Harvard Hillel minyan was being frittered away with idle chatter, Ari — ever the initiator — began delivering a shiur on halachah to the assembled, which he continued for three years with barely a missed shiur.

Eventually, that shiur helped find him his life’s partner, too. During the very last shiur he gave before leaving Cambridge to begin his first job in New York, a yeshivish-looking fellow from Lakewood was in attendance. Impressed with the shiur, he approached Ari afterward to chat, and two weeks later, made the match between Ari, who’d been looking for his zivug during the three years he was in Harvard, and Miryam Nussbaum of Riverdale. (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 676)

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