I have severe repetitive strain injury, which means that I need some fairly expensive equipment to work comfortably at any office job. Is it okay not to mention my condition at a job interview to avoid risking discrimination?
A friend tells me that the people at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York advise their patients never to tell prospective employers that they have cancer. But if I hide my condition, I might make my bosses angry in my first week, when they find out how much I'll cost them.
Dear Painfully Ambivalent,
In the well-known words of Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th-century Danish philosopher, I answer your question with "fear and trembling," along with a good deal of uncertainty. My gut instinct is that you should not go out of your way to mention your disability in advance, and then, when you show up for work, you should offer--if this is at all feasible--to pay, or split, the cost of the additional equipment that's required.
It seems to me that if the would-be employer is not permitted by law to ask questions concerning your condition, you cannot be obliged to offer such information.
Why, then, the fear and trembling and uncertainty on my part? Most obviously, because withholding information that will cost your employer money is somewhat deceitful (at least by omission). In addition, it's quite likely that you'll be regarded in the future as not a fully trustworthy person.
Others with whom I've consulted on this issue tell me that the larger the company to which you're applying, the greater the reason to be more open about your condition. Large companies are more prone to hire people with disabilities. Conversely, the smaller the company, the more the offer to assume some of the purchase price of the machinery will make a positive impression.
In discussing your letter with many people, I received a large variety of responses (many articulated with great, and contradictory, vehemence), ranging from a woman who long helped promote legislation to protect those with disabilities and who insisted that such legislation was intended to free such people from having to be secretive about their condition, to a friend in human resources at a national company who insisted that it would be very disadvantageous to offer such information up front.
I hope what I have said helps you, but the truth is, I'm not 100 percent comfortable with all that I've written and I'm ready and willing to consider alternative positions. I hope that you and others, particularly those who have faced, or are now facing, this issue will write in.
I have some friends, religious people, who vehemently support capital punishment for murderers. This strikes me as ridiculous since, as religious people, shouldn't they at least support the Ten Commandments, which legislate, "You shall not kill"?
Before you read the rest of this response, sit down for a moment, since the next sentence might shock you. The Ten Commandments do not state, "You shall not kill." The correct translation of the Sixth Commandment's Hebrew wording is "You shall not murder." Like English, Hebrew has separate words for "killing" (harog) and "murder" (ratzoch).
Murder is always forbidden, because it involves killing an innocent person, one who does not deserve to die. Killing is wrong the overwhelming majority of the time, but not always. That is why we speak, for example, of "killing in self-defense," not of "murdering" in self-defense.
If the biblical law had legislated, "You shall not kill," that would have constituted a categorical prohibition of killing, including killing in self-defense. Such a categorical prohibition also would mean that a nation attacked by another would be forbidden to defend itself, since doing so would inevitably result in the killing of enemy soldiers.
But the strongest proof that the Bible did not intend to prohibit the death sentence is that the law mandating capital punishment for premeditated murderers is the only law that occurs in all five books of the Torah, the first and most authoritative section of the Hebrew Bible.
- Genesis 9:6 teaches: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for in His image did God make man." This law, which was legislated long before God's covenant with Abraham--and which mandated the death sentence for those who intentionally shed innocent blood--was therefore not only not only toward Israelites but also toward the rest of humankind.
- Exodus 21:12:13 decrees: "He who fatally strikes a man shall be put to death." That this law only applies to premeditated murderers is indicated by the following verse: "If he did not do it by design . I will assign you a place to which he [the killer] can flee."
- Leviticus 24:17 rules: "Whoever takes the life of any human being shall be put to death."
- Numbers 35:31 prohibits a practice common in the ancient world--a murderer freeing himself from punishment by paying a bribe to the victim's family. In opposing this practice, the Bible rules, "You shall not accept ransom for the life of a murderer who is guilty of a capital crime; he must be put to death."
- Deuteronomy 19:11-13 warns people not to regard a premeditated murderer with pity but rather to execute him and purge the land "of the blood of the innocent."
The biblical rationale for executing premeditated murderers seems to emanate from the Bible's belief that innocent life possesses infinite value. Therefore, one who murders an innocent person has committed an infinite evil, and a lesser punishment than death would not fit the crime. And because the Bible wanted to make sure that innocent people weren't executed, it insisted on the testimony of at least two witnesses to the crime (see, for example, Numbers 35:30 and Deuteronomy 17:6). Indeed, likely influenced by the fear of executing an innocent person, many rabbis of the Talmud tried to greatly limit executions of murderers.
Thus, you certainly have the right to oppose and argue against the death sentence. But you're committing an error if you base your opposition on the Bible and the Ten Commandments.
Send your questions for Joseph Telushkin to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include "Telushkin" in the subject line.