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Monday, 7 September 2015

How long do I have to respond to an email?

Daf Yomi Nazir 15


What does the word NOW mean?  You’d think everyone would agree that it means IMMEDIATELY, right? 

Baruch Hashem, two of my siblings are married to fabulous South African Jews.  Their families live in Australia but originally they hail from South Africa.   The South African immigration into Australia has truly done wonders for the Jewish communities of Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth.

But try having a conversation with my siblings’ in-laws and it’s like you’re talking another language.  I’m not talking about the accent; it’s the meaning they give to the words that can sometimes be completely opposite of everyone else’s meaning.  Take for example the word NOW, which we’ve agreed means IMMEDIATELY.  Now go wait at the street corner when your South African friend has told you that they’ll meet you there ‘just now.’  You’re waiting and waiting and waiting, but there’s still no sign of them.  Because in African, ‘I’ll see you just now’ means ‘I’ll see you LATER’!!

Mishnah:  If a person declared, ‘I undertake to become a nazir when my child is born and a nazir for one hundred days,’ if the child is born during the first seventy days of his hundred-day term, he has not lost any time and can keep the nazirisms concurrently.  If the baby is born after seventy days, he must stop his current count, because the first oath he made overrides the second and he cannot observe a nazirism for less than thirty days.

Rav taught: The seventieth day itself counts towards both nazirisms, i.e. when he returns to his obligation to observe the hundred-day oath, he can count seventy days already observed and has only thirty to go.
The Gemara asks: The Mishnah states, ‘if the baby is born after seventy, he must stop’!
Tosfos explains the Gemara’s question: Even if the baby is born on day seventy-one, you still have thirty days for the first oath, since according to Rav that day would count towards both nazirisms!

The Gemara answers: What does ‘after’ mean?  After after, i.e. a while after or later, in other words from the seventy-second day on. 

When you say ‘I’ll take it care of it later,’ or ‘I’ll take care of it just now,’ that’s fine, just as long as nobody else has expectations of when you plan to complete the task.  You can put it off all you like, you can call it whatever you will, as long as nobody else is impacted by your decisions.  We all have our personal definitions of ‘now,’ ‘later’ and ‘afterwards.’  It doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re not inconveniencing anyone else by your actions.

But when you’re dealing with other people, you need to make sure you’re on the same page as them with regards to what now and later mean.  Because it’s not fair to keep them waiting on your definition that may be different to theirs.  We’re all guilty of overdue email inboxes, but at the same time we’ve all been on the other end of the line having sent someone an email or having left them a voice message only to hear nothing back for days on end.

Proper interpersonal etiquette calls for getting back to the other person within twenty four hours.  You might not have an answer for them yet, but at least let them know you’re working on it and when they can expect to have an answer from you.   As we’re currently in the lead-up to Rosh Hashanah, I’d like to personally take the opportunity to beg the forgiveness of anyone I have responded to tardily.  It’s not easy to live up to the twenty four hour rule, but it’s certainly something we should all strive to do. 


You might be happy getting to things later.  But when you’re dealing with others, you have to be sensitive to their needs and expectations.  May you merit the reputation of always responding to everyone in a timely manner!