Making it all Work // You’ve been invited to join your colleagues at a party. Your boss expects you to participate. You don’t want to lose your job. Now what?

Ari and Miryam Wasserman are the authors of Making It All Work: A Practical Guide to Halachah and Hashkafah in the Workplace. The book has the haskamos of Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, Rav Aharon Lopiansky, Rav Asher Weiss, among others.

Nearly 500 pages long, it addresses the challenges of working in a wide range of industries and fields, such as those faced by women in the healthcare, tech and legal professions, as well as in secular schools and colleges. Much of the focus is on awareness and being prepared for the possibilities that accompany leaving the comfort zone of a Torah environment for a secular workplace, where it is inevitable that one will encounter foreign philosophies and people who talk graphically about their lives and relationships. In this article we focus on those challenges that are common for women, regardless of what type of job they have and even if they are working among frum people.

Q: I know that you give a shiur on business in halachah. How did you develop a passion for this subject?
A: I’ve worked my entire adult life, so my writing is based on experience rather than on theory. I think that’s a very important point. I would estimate that the challenges faced by people in the workplace are only 30 percent connected to the halachos in Choshen Mishpat, which is typically the focus of those writing on business halachah, but there’s still another 70 percent connected to other parts of the Shulchan Aruch.

Q: In other words, you’ve been in the trenches.
A: Yes. If you haven’t been there, you really cannot fathom the challenges. I went to the University of Pennsylvania for undergraduate studies, and then I attended Harvard Law School from 1992 to 1995. The book isn’t only about the workplace; it also gets into the secular world of the universities a little bit. There are many similarities, although there are differences as well. When I started working, I had summer jobs at law firms in Israel and Los Angeles, and then after graduation I began at Sullivan & Cromwell, which is a large international law firm.

Q: So you’re a lawyer.
A: Yes, but I spent most of my time in business.
Q: As an entrepreneur?
A: In many capacities—business, internet startups and marketing.

Q: What about you, Miryam? Are you currently in the workplace? What’s your background?
A: I have a degree in finance from Stern College. After we got married, I worked in the finance department of the Israeli Ministry of Defense in New York for a year and a half, until we moved to Los Angeles. When America gives Israel funds for weaponry, those funds have to be spent on American arms. I was involved in that.
Ari: She doesn’t look like an arms dealer.
Miryam: But I haven’t been in the workforce for the last 19 years. I’ve been working very hard on raising our children.

Q: First you wrote a book for men entitled Making It Work; now you’ve written a book for women. Why did you feel that women needed a different book?
A: I wrote it in response to a review by Rabbi Gavriel Bechhofer in Jewish Action. He had praised the book but critiqued it as applying only to men. Then I received an email from a woman saying that while some of what I wrote could be applied to women, women in the workplace have different experiences and therefore need specific guidance. At that point, I started interviewing women in order to understand those differences. At first I thought that going from a men’s book to a women’s book would be a fairly easy transition—I’d just make a couple of changes and additions—but it turned out that the issues women deal with are dramatically different from those of men.

Q: What kinds of challenges are specific to women?
A: If I were to list the top five, I’d say that the top three are men, men and men. Interacting with men is the biggest challenge for many women in both secular and chareidi environments. For example, a man puts out his hand to shake mine. How do I decline politely? Or let’s say the entire staff is invited to go out for a beer at a bar. What should I do?

Q: Is there even a question about whether a woman should say no to going to a bar?
A: It depends on the circumstances of the individual and the work environment. The Rambam talks about inherent traits in Hilchos De’ios. For example, some individuals are more inclined to want to socialize or amass money. If someone is at risk of lowering her standards if she goes to a holiday party, there’s a different answer for her than for someone who really doesn’t enjoy going. We also have to know if not going will hurt the person’s chances for a promotion. Additionally, what will be going on at the event? Will it be all men? Will frum women be there as well? Will alcoholic drinks be served? Will there be mixed dancing that everyone will be expected to participate in?

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