י״ח בכסלו ה׳תשע״ז (December 18, 2016)

Bava Metzia 83a-b: Feeding One’s Laborers

Most of the laws that regulate relationships between employer and employee are discussed in the sixth perek of Massekhet Bava Metzia. The seventh perekha-Sokher et ha-Po’alim – which begins on today’s daf, focuses on the rights of the worker as regulated by the Torah or by common practice in the community, e.g. the right that a worker in the field has to eat the fruit that he is harvesting (see Devarim 23:25-26).

The first Mishna teaches that the employer must follow the accepted practice that is common in a given community – hakol ke-minhag ha-medina. The Gemara explains that even in situations where workers commonly were fed breakfast at the home of the employer, he cannot feed them breakfast in the field.

The Mishna tells of Rabbi Yohanan ben Matya who instructed his son to hire workers, and his son offered to feed the workers in addition to their salary. Rabbi Yohanan ben Matya insisted that his son clarify the menu before the workers began the job, arguing that otherwise he could not possibly satisfy their demands. He argued that even a meal like that of King Solomon (see I Melakhim, or Kings, 5:2-3) would not suffice, since they are the descendants of the forefathers, Avraham, Yitzhak and Ya’akov.

The Mishna appears to assume that a meal appropriate for the children of the forefathers must be even greater than that of King Solomon because we find – according to the Gemara’s understanding of the passage in Sefer Bereishit (18:7) – that the meal Avraham placed before his guests was a calf for each of the three travelers.

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel does not share Rabbi Yohanan ben Matya’s concern, ruling that in any case he would only be obligated to follow the accepted norms and traditions of the community with regard to feeding workers, and no more than that.

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