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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Baba Mezi'a

Baba Mezi'a 112a

And the other? — That is needed, even as it has been taught: And he setteth1  his soul [i.e., life] upon it: why did this man [the labourer] ascend the ladder, suspend himself from the tree, and risk death itself; was it not that you should pay him his wages?2  Another interpretation: And he setteth his soul upon it [teaches]: he who withholds an employee's wages is as though he deprived him of his life. R. Huna and R. Hisda [differ on this]: one says. The life of the robber [is meant];3  the other, The life of the robbed. The view that the life of the robber is meant is based on the verse, Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate:4  which is followed by, For the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them.5  Whilst the opinion that it means the life of the robbed follows from, So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; he taketh away the life of its [rightful] owner.6  And the other too: is it not written, he taketh away the life of its [rightful] owner? — It means, of its present owner.7  And the other too: is it not written, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them? — That states a reason. Thus: Why shall he spoil those that spoiled them? — Because they took their lives.8

WHEN IS THAT? ONLY IF HE DEMANDED IT OF HIM; BUT OTHERWISE, THERE IS NO INFRINGEMENT. Our Rabbis taught: The wages of him that is hired shall not abide all night. I might think this holds good even if he did not demand it. Therefore Scripture writes, 'with thee,' meaning., by thy desire.9  I might think that even if he lacks it, he is still guilty: but Scripture states, 'with thee,' meaning, only when it [the hire] is with thee. I might think that it [the prohibition] is in force even if he gave him an order to a trader or a money-changer in his favour; but Scripture teaches, 'with thee',10  but not if he gave him an order to a trader or a money-changer on his behalf.

IF HE GAVE HIM AN ORDER TO A SHOPKEEPER OR A MONEYCHANGER ON HIS BEHALF, HE IS NOT GUILTY OF INFRINGEMENT. The scholars propounded: Can he [the employee] return [to the employer] or not?11  — R. Shesheth ruled: He cannot return [to him]; Rabbah held: He can return. Rabbah said: Whence do I infer this? — Since it is taught: HE IS NOT GUILTY OF INFRINGEMENT, it is implied, there is only no infringement, yet he can return to him [for payment].12  But R. Shesheth explained: What is meant by, HE IS NOT GUILTY OF INFRINGEMENT? He is no longer within the ambit of infringement.13

R. Shesheth was asked: Does the injunction. 'The wages of him that is hired shall not abide all night' hold good in respect of a contract or not?14  Does the artisan obtain a title in return for the improvement [he effected] in the article, so that it [his wages] rank as a loan, or does he not, and hence it is considered wages?15  — R. Shesheth replied: One does transgress [the law]. But has it not been taught: There is no transgression [in this case]? — There it means that he gave him an order to a shopkeeper or a money-changer.

Shall we say that the following supports him: If one gave his garment to an artisan [i.e., cloth, to make a garment, which he completed and then informed him [that it was ready], even after ten days he does not transgress [the law], 'Thou shalt not keep all night'. But if he delivered it to him [even] at midday, as soon as the sun sets upon it he is guilty of the transgression. Now, should you say that the artisan obtains a title in return for the improvement [he effects upon] the article, why is he guilty [of that transgression]? — R. Mari son of R. Kahana said: This refers to the removal of the woolly surface of a thick coat.16  But why did he give it to him [to do this]? [Surely] to soften it! Then that is its improvement?17  — But this holds good only if he engaged him for stamping,18  every stamping manipulation for a ma'ah.19

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. Lit., 'lifteth up.'
  2. So that for withholding it one is punished as for taking life.
  3. I.e., he brings death upon himself,
  4. prov, XXII, 22.
  5. Ibid. 23.
  6. Ibid, I, 19.
  7. Translating as the E.V.: which taketh away the life of the owners thereof.
  8. Translating: and spoil those that spoiled (i.e., deprived them of) their lives.
  9. But not by his, i.e., he claimed his wages immediately.
  10. I.e., when the charge remains upon thee.
  11. If the shopkeeper did not supply him. Do the employer's obligations in respect of him still continue, or is the employee considered to have transferred them to another? [Tosaf. rightly points out that the problem under consideration is only in reference to the injunctions relating to the payment within the set time, should the workman return to the employer and ask for his wages; for it is evident that the employer cannot relieve himself of his obligations by merely giving the workman a draft on a shopkeeper.]
  12. For the passage implies that there is still a debt upon the employer, though that particular injunction is no longer applicable. [Tosaf.: The passage implies that there is no infringement as long as the workman relies on the trader for payment.]
  13. Because there is no longer any charge upon him. [Or, because he is no longer under any obligation to pay within the set time. Tosaf.]
  14. I.e., if the employee was not engaged by the day, but contracted to do a piece of work.
  15. This question is discussed in B.K. 98b, et seq. One view is that when, e.g., wood is given to an artisan and he makes a box, it becomes legally his, on account of his improvements; and when he returns it to his employer it is in the nature of a sale. Hence, with respect to our subject, if the employer does not pay him, he owes him an ordinary debt, as a loan, and so the injunction is inapplicable. If, however, this view be rejected, it remains subject to the law of wages, and the prohibition holds good.
  16. Which is not considered an improvement.
  17. And so the difficulty remains.
  18. A process of flattening cloth.
  19. I.e., he did not contract for the whole piece of work at all, but was paid according to the amount done.

Baba Mezi'a 112b

A HIRED LABOURER, WITHIN THE SET TIME, SWEARS AND IS PAID. Why did the Rabbis enact that a hired labourer should swear and receive [payment]?1  — Rab Judah said in Samuel's name: Great laws were taught here.2  Are these then [traditional] 'laws'?3  They are surely merely [Rabbinical] measures! — But said Rab Judah in Samuel's name: Important enactments were taught here. 'Important'? Does that imply the existence of unimportant ones?4  — But, said R. Nahman in Samuel's name: Fixed5  measures were taught here. Thus: The oath is the employer's privilege, but the Rabbis took it away from the employer and imposed it upon the employee, for the sake of his livelihood. And on account of the employee's livelihood, are we to cause loss to the employer?6  — The employer himself is pleased that the employee should swear and be paid, so that workers should engage themselves to him. [On the contrary], the employee himself is pleased that the employer should take an oath and be exempt, so that he should engage him! — The employer is bound to engage [labourers]. But the employee too is forced to seek employment! — But [the reason is that] the employer is busily occupied with his labourers.7  If so, let us award it [the wages] to him without an oath! — [The oath is] in order to appease the employer. Then let him pay him in the presence of witnesses.8  — It is too much trouble. Then let him pay him in advance!9  — Both prefer credit.10  If so,11  even if the dispute concerns a stipulated amount,12  it should be likewise so. Why then has it been taught: If the labourer maintains, 'You arranged with me for two [zuz].' and the other [sc. the employer] pleads, 'I arranged only for one,' the plaintiff must furnish proof?13  — The stipulated wage is certainly well remembered. [Again] if so, even if the set time passed, he should also be believed. Why did we learn: BUT IF HIS SET TIME PASSED, HE CANNOT SWEAR AND RECEIVE PAYMENT? — It is a presumption that the employer will not transgress [the law]. The wages of him that is hired etc. But have you not said that he is busy with his employees? — That is only before his obligation matures;

Original footnotes renumbered. See Structure of the Talmud Files
  1. The general principle being the reverse; v. p. 572. n. 6.
  2. I.e., of great importance, as the Talmud proceeds to explain.
  3. Heb. [H], i.e., Scriptural, or traditionally ascribed to Moses.
  4. I.e., worthy to be perpetuated.
  5. Surely not!
  6. Since legally it is his privilege to swear to be free from payment.
  7. V. p. 587. n. 1.
  8. The Rabbis should have enacted that workers must be paid in the presence of witnesses, with the result that if the employer pleads that he paid him without witnesses, the employee could then receive payment without swearing.
  9. Let this be a Rabbinical measure, with the result that if the worker subsequently claims that he has not been paid, he will be disbelieved.
  10. The employer, because he may not yet have the money; the employee, because he may lose it whilst working in the field.
  11. Reverting to the final reason. If we assume that the employer, being busily engaged, might have forgotten the exact facts.
  12. Lit., 'even if he stipulated.'
  13. Shebu. 46a.