Staying in touch wherever we go is so ingrained into our psyche that if one is younger than their early twenties they probably can’t remember otherwise. Whether we send email or IM’s, post by Twitter or update our Facebook account, we accustomed to a continuous ubiquitous connection with the global village 24/7. Or at least 24/6 for those who keep Shabbos.
I still remember the time before email, working full-time far from home and not even owning a mobile phone (am I that old???). Today is different. We connect ALL THE TIME.
Being connected all the time, everywhere, has it’s benefits but a lot of drawbacks too. “They” expect you to be in touch all the time.
“Why didn’t you respond??? I sent you a text message over 3 minutes ago!”. Don’t you read it???
This brings me to the 24/7 issue or rather the 24/6 issue, barring Shabbos. I’m referring to Shabbos Across Time Zones.
Let’s say you’re roaming around Thailand on vacation and spend a lovely Shabbos at the Chabad House in Phuket. Shabbos ends on an upbeat note and right after Havdolo you give in to the unbearable temptation of checking your work email from back home in Vancouver.
You discover a desperately urgent message from your Jewish boss sent just before Shabbos in Vancouver (there’s a 14 hour discrepancy between the two cities) that needs a response ASAP or the world will certainly come to an end. Without a second thought you type out a response by email and press SEND. Then you follow it with a written fax and your signature. A moment after sending it off you ask yourself if you did the right thing since the fax printed out into your boss’s office while it’s still Shabbos morning on the west coast of Canada.
Shabbos Across Time Zones
How do you handle email or faxes when you are in a different time zone than the person you need to send the message to and it’ll arrive on their Shabbos?
Let’s say all the systems of telecommunication and Internet service providers are not Jewish owned and they aren’t up-keeping the systems just for yours truly. But what is the Halocho if you send an email or fax to Israel when it’s still Shabbos over there? Somebody in Israel is possibly working on Shabbos to make sure all the systems are go.
Another problem could arise if your boss is not Shabbos observant and has the habit of dealing with all the leftover issues on Saturday. That means they’ll act on your post-Shabbos messages and do more work, all because of your dedication to work 24/6…
Rav Yehoshua Y. Neuwirth wrote that one may send a fax (before or after Shabbos) to a place where Shabbos is now observed, but the recipient may not read it on Shabbos (Shemirath Shabbath Kehilchata 31:28). Rav Neuwirth didn’t differentiate between if the telecommunication structure is run by Jews or not. I’m guessing that its because most of the electronic activity is automatic, though repairs and such are performed by Jews on Shabbos.
Ask The Rabbi of Ohr Sameach quotes a similar ruling by Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg permitting both faxes and email to a place where it’s still Shabbos.
Nevertheless, I’m certain that if you know that your boss or colleague will read or act upon the message during Shabbos then you must wait till Shabbos is over by them (or put a delay send on the message) so that you won’t cause them to desecrate the Shabbos because of you.
In conclusion, whether the act of sending off a fax or email after Shabbos to a different time zone where it’s still Shabbos is permissible or not, I have a fundamental question. If you’re on vacation in Thailand, why in the world are you still checking your work email? For that you spent thousands of dollars to go to the Far East? Think a moment.
Moreover, by the time you read the message and reply to it many hours have passed. I’m hoping your boss will read it only after Shabbos is over by them too. By then reality has changed and your boss probably succeeded in resolving the problem on their own. If it’s still urgent they’ll phone you (assuming you made the error of leaving them an emergency number while you’re on vacation).
Besides, if you respond to work issues on vacation you are teaching your boss or colleagues or workers that its alright to bother you on vacation. You’re showing them that its impossible to manage without you ever. Be sure they’ll use that fact to their advantage on your expense. So loosen up a bit. Enjoy your trip without work.
The 4-Hour Workweek
For practical guidance on how to detach from work and work-related emails on vacation I highly recommend reading Tim Ferriss’ best seller The 4-Hour WorkWeek. I’ve read it twice and listened also to the audio version. Ferriss has some far out ideas in that book, but there’s a lot to learn from it.