Talmud Tips

For the week ending 1 June 2024 / 24 Iyar 5784

Bava Metzia 89-95

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Eating While You Work

The Sages say, “But we teach him (the worker who is permitted to eat from food with which he is working) to not eat more than the amount of his wages, so that the ‘door should not be closed in front of him’ (meaning: so that his excessive eating should not cause him to be undesirable to hire as a worker — Rashi).”

This statement is part of a three-way dispute in a mishna, regarding how much a worker may eat from the food with which he works. The gemara explains that the Tana Kama permits him to eat as much as he wants without any requirement to advise him to limit the amount for his own benefit. Rabbi Elazar Chasma permits him to eat only up to the value of his wages. And the above-quoted opinion of the Sages is that he may eat as much as he wants, but we advise him to not overdo it, and not eat more than his wages, in order to remain being a desirable person to hire. The halacha is in accordance with this concluding opinion.

The right of a worker to eat from the food with which he works is taught in the Torah (Devarim 13:15): “When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat as many grapes as you desire, until you are sated, but you shall not put any into your vessel.” The gemara explains earlier (87b) that this verse is speaking about a worker who is rightfully in his employer’s vineyard to work there. And it is important to note, that just as an employee has certain rights, he also has certain responsibilities to his employer. The Rambam codifies the responsibility of the employee toward his employer as follows: “He must not deprive the employer of the labor due him by idling a bit here and there, thereby dishonestly wasting the day, and he must also work with all his might. The saintly Yaakov said of his service to his father-in-law: ‘I served your father with all my might.’ He therefore gained his spiritual reward in this world, as well by being blessed with great wealth.” (Laws of Hiring 13:7)

Bava Metzia 92a

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