(By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for the Five Towns Jewish Times)
It is the question most asked by observant Jews when they enter the workforce:
“Is it halachically permitted to attend the office Xmas party?”
Before we get to that question, however, there is another question that is now also being asked. “As a boss of gentile workers, may I throw a holiday office party?”
Let’s start with the latter question and then we will get to the former.
We must distinguish between an actual Xmas party and another type of party that is held during the month of December that is kind of held as an employee appreciation party. Certainly, for a Jew to arrange for an actual Xmas party would be a severe and strict violation of halacha. An employee appreciation party, however, might be permitted, under certain circumstances. One such requirement would be that no alcohol be served (See AZ 31b and YD 112).
For a Jewish employee, attending an Xmas party would be forbidden. If the office party is not billed as that and there is no alcohol being consumed – then, according to some Poskim, it would be permitted under certain circumstances to attend for the purpose of Darchei Shalom, to maintain cordial relations.
[Parenthetically, one of this author’s Rebbeim, Rav Yisroel Belsky zt”l, ruled that one should avoid using the full name of the holiday.]
The Gemorah in Avodah Zarah (8a) records a fascinating thought from Rabbi Yishmael. He states, “Jews outside of Israel are worshippers of idols betaharah – in purity.” This term “betaharah – in purity” means that they do so unintentionally. The reference, the Gemorah explains, is to Jewish people who attend non-Jewish weddings and, according to the Meiri, inadvertently cause the gentile to pray to and reinforce his sense of gratitude to the Avodah Zarah he is worshipping.
There is a debate among the commentators whether this is actually a Torah prohibition or a Rabbinic prohibition. The Ritvah and TaZ (152:1) both hold that it is a Torah prohibition. The Shach in his Nekudas HaKesef writes that it is only a violation of a Rabbinic prohibition.
This debate is actually a very important one. If it would be a biblical prohibition, then there would be no room for leniency – even in the case of avoiding something called “Aivah” – a light form of anti-semitism. If it is a Rabbinic violation, then there may be leniencies when non-attendance could cause repercussions for one’s job.
WHAT IS INCLUDED?
The question is what is included in this prohibition? Is it just a wedding that is forbidden or is it any form of celebration?
THE TWO OPINIONS
Rav Mordechai Yaffe, author of the Levush, writes that the prohibition applies to any celebration, such as a wedding. The fact that he uses a wedding as an example of the prohibition rather than as a description of the prohibition itself indicates that he extends it to all forms of parties. The Tanna D’bei Eliyahu chapter eight also extends the Gemorah’s prohibition to beyond that of a wedding.
On the other hand, the lack of any extending of this prohibition in the words of the Rishonim and in Shulchan Aruch itself would indicate that it is only weddings that are forbidden, but not other types of parties.
The Levush himself writes that eating at a social gathering for the purposes of Darchei Shalom, maintaining cordial relationships, would be permitted. If the employee feels that it is necessary or that he might lose out – then if the party is billed as a social gathering it would be permitted.
THE PRI CHADASH’S VIEW
Rav Chizkia De Silva, author of the Pri Chadash (YD 114:6) also extends the prohibition to all forms of parties. He, however, writes that if the majority of those in attendance of the party are Jewish – then it is permitted. If it is fifty/fifty then it would be forbidden.
Rav Menashe Klein z”l in his Mishna Halachos (volume VII #118) forbids attending an office holiday party out of hand, He rules that the prohibition is based both upon the concern for Avodah Zarah as well as a concern for intermarriage where people meet at office parties. Rav Klein z”l does not mention the Pri Chadash, but he does fit into his halachic view.
THROWING THE PARTY
Rav Hershel Ausch, the Av Beis Din of Dayan Roth’s Beis Din, told this author that the halachos of throwing the party would depend upon who the owner of the company is. If he is the owner, or if the company is owned by Jews, then it would be considered a Jewish party – not a gentile one and would be permitted (although perhaps not advisable). If the company is owned by non-Jews and he is the one in charge of the party – then it would still be considered a gentile party. This would be true even if the party would not happen without his initiative. If he himself is sponsoring the party out of his own funds – then it would still be considered a Jewish party.
It would seem that attending and eating at an office holiday party – even if it is not specifically billed as an Xmas party is, indeed, problematic. If the majority of those that would be in attendance are Jewish, then it would be permitted. It would be permitted, however, to attend the party without eating – if it is not billed specifically as an Xmas party.
If it is a Jew who is sponsoring the party out of his own funds and he is the one arranging it as well, then it would be permitted to attend.
The author can be reached at [email protected]
as a person who worked in the USA in offices and had to endure Xmas parties, I never found any religious significance to any of them. At the most they were times to just ‘enjoy’ food and for the employees to talk and enjoy the time.
I never liked attending them, but found it was easy enough to sneak out early from them.
Again, in my experience, there was NO religious significance to the party, I do NOT think occasions of this type are forbidden, as poor taste as they may be.