23

I am a conservative Jew with a non-Jewish sounding last name (my paternal grandfather was not Jewish but Irish/German). However, I am 100% Jewish from both of my grandmothers/obviously my mother. I have also inherited my grandfather's very Euro looks and don't have many, if any ashkenazic features (whatever that means) that my mother/brother share. As such, I wear the Star of David at all times (gym, sleep, etc) as a personal form of Jewish identity. It's just a part of me.

I've recently made a career shift to a very British/appearance based office culture, working with international clients, many from Arab countries. I've gone against myself somewhat and removed my necklace for the interviews/my first few days of work. I didn't want to interfere with clients, my boss, etc. I really wanted the position. Keep in mind I live in one of the most Jewish cities in the US and my company is highly diverse so this could be a complete non issue. Bottom line, could wearing the star be offensive to others or slow my growth internally? I've either worked with other Jews in the past and worked freelance - a highly corporate culture is a new arena for me.

migrated from judaism.stackexchange.com Oct 30 '15 at 19:06

This question came from our site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more.

  • 4
    While this is an interesting question, I'm not sure it's a great fit for our Q&A format. I'm struggling to think of another answer than "It shouldn't, but it might in some companies." making this very company-specific. – Lilienthal Oct 31 '15 at 12:30
  • If it's a personal assertion of identity, wesr it and damn the torpedoes... which, in "a highly corporate culture", will probably be negligable. Business is business; politics, if any, is something most buSinessmen practice out of the office. – keshlam Oct 31 '15 at 15:21
  • 2
    I feel sad that you even think it necessary to ask if someone would be offended. – Tomas Oct 31 '15 at 17:29
  • 2
    I don't understand the close votes here. How is this different from any other dress-in-the-workplace question? – Monica Cellio Nov 1 '15 at 19:02
  • This question is being discussed on meta here: meta.workplace.stackexchange.com/q/3376/325 – Monica Cellio Nov 2 '15 at 3:46
55

Whether and how you wear it should depend on the situation. High-stakes business trip to Saudi Arabia? I'd say no. Working with your peers (who know you anyway) in the home office? Probably doesn't make a difference. Instead of trying to make a global yes/no decision, consider the circumstances.

I, too, am Jewish but not obviously so (I'm Italian), and I wear a similar necklace pretty much all the time. Here's what has worked for me:

  • When interviewing for a job I wear it (since I usually wear it) but tuck it under my shirt, so it's not visible. The goal isn't to hide my Jewish identity (which wouldn't work anyway; see below) but to avoid having it be an immediate topic of conversation. If I were a man and thus required to wear tzitzit (fringes) I could choose to wear them "in", so for a necklace that isn't even required by Jewish law, this seems wholly unobjectionable to me.

  • Among coworkers, it's necessarily known that I'm Jewish. Even if I never said anything explicit, they would notice my eating habits at lunch, my early departures on Fridays, and other things, and somebody would ask about it eventually. I've never tried to hide my Jewishness from coworkers. If coworker knowledge of my Jewishness is going to hinder my career, it won't be because of my necklace. So I don't worry about the necklace. It may end up visible or under the collar of my shirt on any given day.

  • When interacting with clients, I generally tuck it in, as for interviews. There's no reason for it to be a factor, unless you work within the Jewish community (for example at a kosher facility) where its presence might be positive.

  • This hasn't come up for me professionally, but when interacting with anybody who I suspect might be hostile to Jews, I would not wear it. (This is a personal judgement call. You mention international clients, so beware of sensitivities there.) You could just tuck it in if you're confident that it'll stay put; mine sometimes sneaks out, hence my advice here. Why jeopardize the business discussion, or cause discomfort, when there's no pressing reason to wear it beyond your personal habit?

All of this assumes a tasteful, non-obtrusive necklace, not, say, an in-your-face 4" pendant. Since you wear this all the time including at the gym and while sleeping, I'm assuming it's not large.

10

In my experience (I'm not Jewish, I'm Catholic) when I'm working with Muslims I wear my Saint Christopher's medallion under my shirt. Not because I'm worried about them getting upset or anything, but because I wear it mainly for myself so it's not something I can be bothered getting into conflict over.

If you wear yours to be identified as Jewish rather than for a personal reason, then you need to ask yourself if you want to be identified as Jewish in a professional, international setting. If you do, then by all means wear your Star of David, if it's not important to you to differentiate yourself from others in that setting, then don't.

As far as discrimination goes, it's hard to tell, it might work for you (Jewish colleagues you might not know about) or it might work against you (a bigot doesn't have to wear a turban or a crucifix or have a swastika tattoo, you never know what people believe in). I personally am wary of anyone in a professional setting who sets themselves apart on religious grounds. But others see it as an advantage and many employers in my country actually ask for a recommendation from a church leader before they hand out a job. In the USA that is not allowed, but you can't change how people feel about it even on a subconscious level.

  • Out of curiosity, which country is that? – Relaxed Oct 31 '15 at 8:57
  • Sāmoa, a Pacific Island – Kilisi Oct 31 '15 at 11:30
  • @Kilisi why do you hide it specifically when working with Muslims? Do you show it when working with people of other faiths, for example? – AwesomeSauce Oct 31 '15 at 14:17
  • 1
    I've read that Catholics who are not clerics are not supposed to wear religious symbols outside their clothing, so my St. Benedict medal stays under my shirt all the time. – Andreas Blass Oct 31 '15 at 15:07
  • @AndreasBlass you may be right, mine is incorporated into a traditional shell necklace which is supposed to be worn instead of a tie rather than a standalone medallion on a thin chain. Always wear it when I travel. – Kilisi Oct 31 '15 at 19:34
7

You mentioned British office culture - in my experience that translates to mostly-secular if not atheist, mostly-liberal with respect to religious and racial issues. That is to say, the majority of people you will meet are not practicing in any religion and consider it a bit of a mystery, but anybody with an objection to your Jewishness in that office setting would be considered a pathological bigot by most of their colleagues and would do well to keep such an opinion to themselves. (You have my personal permission as a British, liberal, secular atheist to consider them as such!)

However, there have been a handful of cases recently of contentious court cases regarding the wearing of religious symbols. An example is that of a flight attendant suspended for her insistence on wearing a crucifix necklace. You should be wary that doing similar may be interpreted as a deliberate challenge to the prevailing secular culture and that could, in the eyes of someone who is overly-sensitive about such things, mark you out as a potential troublemaker.

That's not to say you should avoid wearing it as a rule. Office culture is usually quite accepting of the notion that one can adorn oneself as one wishes as long as it's not garish. For people whose tolerance you suspect might be quite different to the local norm; use your judgement - which you seem to be doing.

  • 1
    re the flight attendant case note that was where the role required wearing of a uniform not just office work "BA said Ms Eweida had been offered a non-uniformed post were she would be able to openly wear her cross but had refused to take it." – Mark Oct 31 '15 at 13:30
  • 1
    @Mark yes, that's true, but I wasn't drawing a similarity with that case. The point is that some people might think of the contention over religious symbols in the workplace in general, of which that is an example. – Tom W Oct 31 '15 at 14:57
7

TL; DR

Bottom line, could wearing the star be offensive to others or slow my growth internally?

You need to decide what your real objective is. If it's to quietly wear a symbol of your identity privately and without making an issue, do so. If it's a symbol of pride or religious observance, then do so publicly but be aware of the potential social consequences and plan accordingly.

Analysis

Any ostentatious display of religion has the possibility of influencing others, sometimes at the subconscious level. While outright discrimination based on religious affiliation is against the law in most places, it nevertheless has an emotional and social impact on others.

You need to ask yourself what your goal really is. If it is simply to wear a symbol for yourself, then I would recommend wearing it discretely so as not to raise an issue at all. If it is as a symbol of pride in your religious identity, or as a visible religious observance (e.g. wearing a yarmulke at all times) then you should do so—but you must then accept the fact that this will have an impact on others' perceptions of you, whether consciously or unconsciously.

Also keep in mind that religious observance raises logistical and practical considerations for others in an office environment. By making an issue of your religion, however quietly, you force coworkers and employers to consider things like:

  • Do we need to worry about dietary restrictions for office parties?
  • Is this person going to create a burden on coworkers by taking off for additional religious holidays, in addition to national holidays and common holidays like Christmas and Easter? (NB: There are a lot of Jewish holidays, especially if you include the minor holidays and fast days.)
  • Will this person's religious identity cause friction with coworkers or clients, or will it interfere with their ability to do the job?

While such considerations are often not strictly legal, it is naive to think that these thoughts don't occur to others. Making an open issue of your religious affiliation certainly makes it an issue for others as well. This may be unavoidable, and is not always a negative, but deliberately creating a perception of otherness is generally not conducive to fitting in quietly.

Recommendations

While one should never be ashamed of one's religious affiliation, and in a perfect world would never fear negative reactions or consequences, that's not (yet) the world we live in. Therefore, I recommend:

  1. If the symbol is strictly for yourself, be discrete. Wear it inside your shirt to make it a non-issue, not out of any sense of shame but strictly out of pragmatism.
  2. If the symbol is part of your public identity or part of your religious observance, then wear it publicly. However, you should be prepared to make it as much of a non-event as possible. Nonchalance is a good tactic, as it treats it as a matter of course rather than something notable that forces others to think about or acknowledge it as something out of the ordinary.
  3. Be prepared to gently deflect questions about your religious identity in a way that makes it part of you, but a non-event for your co-workers. For example: "Oh, this? I wear it as part of my religious identity, but I make a point of not discussing religion at work out of respect for my coworkers."
2

I know in the US, a person legally cannot be discriminated against for their religious preferences. As far as wearing religious devices, such as a Star of David, I cannot see how that would hinder your development unless you are constantly bringing it to their attention or making demands based on your religion. Saying things like, "I can't work today because of my religion." Or, "I can't do that because it's against my religion" would surely hinder your development. However, most work places give food and other things based on preferences so it is perfectly reasonable to ask for a certain dish should your company mandate such a meeting.

Otherwise, wear away!

  • 13
    You can't legally be discriminated against, but that doesn't mean that discrimination won't happen. And if it's not explicit and obvious, it can be very hard to prove. Unfortunate as it is, saying "they're not allowed to" probably isn't good enough in this situation, because it doesn't eliminate the possibility entirely. – ptfreak Oct 30 '15 at 19:47
  • @ptfreak not saying you are guilty, but we should be careful of confirmation bias here. just because someone didn't get hired and happened to have worn the Star of David during the interview, doesn't mean that person was discriminated against. – SnakeDoc Oct 30 '15 at 22:57
  • 5
    @SnakeDoc That's not at all what I'm saying. I just want to stress the difference between "it's not allowed" and "it won't happen". There are laws against stealing, but plenty of people still get robbed. – ptfreak Oct 30 '15 at 23:03
  • “Saying things like, "I can't work today because of my religion." Or, "I can't do that because it's against my religion" would surely hinder your development.” This statement is naive. The legality of discrimination versus the ability to prove discrimination are two different things. I’m not religious, but for family events that fell on workdays I would have to get into minor negotiation fights to take time off or leave early from work due to what can be considered religious reasons. Discrimination that is not documented in writing, recorded, or vouched for “legality” means nothing. – JakeGould Nov 11 '15 at 18:12
-1

The general rule for any committed affiliation, such as working for a company, is to dress according to standards of the company and nothing else.

Wearing any kind of political or religious insignia in an organization that does not share that affiliation identifies you as a person of divided loyalties. Hiding an insignia does not change that; it will simply be seen as attempt to hide a potential cause of disloyalty. If your first loyalty is to a religion, then the logical thing to do is belong to an organization in which belonging to that religion is either expected or actively supported.

As far as clients are concerned, I do not see how being Jewish is being inconsistent with being an Arab. If you have some reason to think that the particular Arab you might have as a client would dislike you, if they were to know that you were a Jew, then it would be dishonest to conceal that fact from them. As you know, it is essential to win the absolute trust of a client, and you will not do that by attempting to conceal secrets from them. The proper thing to do is to conduct yourself in such a way as to give them a high opinion of your religion.

Just to clarify this for you. Imagine you normally wear an emblem, but when you meet with client X, you take it off. Now, imagine some third party who knows both you and the client and reports this to them, or imagine they see a photograph of you wearing the emblem. What will they think?

-2

It appears that you discriminate against yourself for not looking jewish and then try to compensate for that by wearing jewish symbols. ;-) You should just try and ignore it. Act "jewish"(*) if that is a thing, be a decent person and people won't care about your religion.

Nobody in the modern world should be offended by any religious symbol, so you should wear them freely. If anyone has a problem with it, he will probably speek up and then it will depend a lot on the circumstances how you react, but generally that should be a big no go for everyone.

If an employee comes in and wears a super gothic outfit, the employer might consider asking to dial it down a little. Do you have a dress code at the office?

If you don't make religion a topic, if you don't tell people what to believe, if you don't act like your god is the only one or the best one or whatever, you will probably not offend anyone.

It might only be that someone already has very strong prejudices. But if he is so sensible that he is offended by a neclace, he will probably sooner or later pick up on your religion anyway, so it doesn't matter.

(*) I must admit that I'm an atheist, so no clue about the different religions and their focuses. But my general understanding is that the true believers try to be nice and help others, while the fanatics abuse it to cause death and destruction.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy