ב׳ בכסלו ה׳תשע״ז (December 2, 2016)

Bava Metzia 68a-b: An Idle Laborer

The Mishna on today’s daf discusses a situation where a wholesaler gives a quantity of fruit to a retailer, and they agree that the retailer will sell the fruit and they will share in the profits. The Mishna teaches that under certain circumstances this can present a problem of ribit – of forbidden interest. In a case, for example, when the retailer guarantees to pay the wholesaler for part of the fruit and pay a percentage of the profits that he makes, as well, he is effectively accepting a loan from the wholesaler and paying back more than he received. The Mishna’s suggestion is that the retailer should get paid as a laborer so that his relationship with the wholesaler will be that of an employee rather than a borrower.

The Gemara quotes a baraita that explains the Mishna’s intent – that the retailer should be paid as a laborer – means that he should be paid as a po’el batel – an idle laborer, a term that Abaye defines as ke-po’el batel me-oto melekha de-batel minah – “like a laborer who is idle from that typical labor of his from which he is kept idle.” There are a number of opinions offered in explanation of this line.

According to Rashi, it is the amount that a person is willing to accept less than his usual wage were he to be offered an easier, but lower paying job. It is this lower amount that the person to whom the object is returned must pay.

Tosafot suggest that it is the amount that someone who works hard and earns a high wage would be willing to accept in order to rest and not to work at all.

Several of the rishonim (e.g. Rabbeinu Hananel, the Ri”f, the Ra’avad and others) suggest that when a craftsman has no work, he may be willing to accept less than his usual wage to do work. It is that lower wage that must be paid.

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