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Is It Proper To Call Coworkers And Friends
Of The Opposite Sex By Their First Names?


Rabbi Yehoshua Heber

The issue of tznius and maintaining appropriate behavior between the genders is of major importance in Yiddishkeit. A particular area where many otherwise careful people seem to have a problem is in the office setting. Because of the fact that people find themselves in close proximity for extended time it lends itself to foster relationships that are not within the boundaries for Torah Jews.

The best way to deal with the problem is to have rules in place for all employees in the office. It falls under the responsibility of the owner or boss to set up the office in such a way that his staff don’t fall prey to this potential michshol. Obviously, the boss cannot be the mashgiach for his employees but whatever policies he can implement should be a priority.

One who finds himself in a secular, or even worse Jewish but lax environment, needs to be extra vigilant and must do what he can to avoid the pitfalls. One such geder that should be used in general is to call those of the opposite gender by a formal title, while this may be awkward for some there is a lot to gain from such a practice. Like all areas of avodas Hashem, much care and thought should go into setting up the way he conducts his life.

Rabbi Yehoshua Heber is Rav of Khal Tomchai Torah at Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and Dayan at Bdatz Mishptai Yisrael

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I presume that the basis of the question revolves around the assumption that by calling coworkers by their first name one might develop a sense of familiarity and hence it might become an issue of tzniut.

In essence I believe there are times when formality is essential and other times when it would depend on the sensitivities of the people involved.

As a principal for many years, I insisted that teachers be referred to formally as a sign of respect for the children to emulate. However, in an informal setting it really depended on the sensitivities of the individual and their preferences.

The best thing to do before calling anyone by their first name is to ask them what their inclination is and how they would like to be referred to, whether formal or informal.

I personally do not believe that this is a tzniut issue, but if one feels that it is, others should respect their views.

It might, however, be an issue in showing respect to a learned or renowned individual and referring to someone using their first name might jeopardize that respect which might be deleterious.

– Rabbi Mordechai Weiss lives in Efrat Israel and previously served as an elementary and high school principal in New Jersey and Connecticut. He was also the founder and rav of Young Israel of Margate, New Jersey. His email is [email protected].

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Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet

I don’t see a particular issue, per se. It comes down to one being their own judge and jury. If the familiarity will lead down a slippery slope, then obviously it should be avoided. Conversely, sometimes the formality of using “mister” and “misses” can be very counterproductive for office environment.

There’s no hard and fast rule here and each person in every individual scenario needs to weigh all factors.

– Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet is a popular Lubavitch lecturer and rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue

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