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Withholding a Worker’s Wages – On Second Thought

On Second Thought: Delving Into the Sugya with Rabbanit Yafit Clymer


Bava Metzia 111 112 113

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בבא מציעא קיא

Anyone who withholds the wages of a hired laborer violates these five negative prohibitions and


דברים כ״ד:י״ד-ט״ו

בְּיוֹמוֹ֩ תִתֵּ֨ן שְׂכָר֜וֹ וְֽלֹא־תָב֧וֹא עָלָ֣יו הַשֶּׁ֗מֶשׁ כִּ֤י עָנִי֙ ה֔וּא וְאֵלָ֕יו ה֥וּא נֹשֵׂ֖א אֶת־נַפְשׁ֑וֹ וְלֹֽא־יִקְרָ֤א עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ אֶל־ה’ וְהָיָ֥ה בְךָ֖ חֵֽטְא׃ {ס} 


Deuteronomy 24:14-15

You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow Israelite or a stranger in one of the communities of your land. You must pay out the wages due on the same day, before the sun sets, for the worker is needy and urgently depends on it; else a cry to ה’ will be issued against you and you will incur guilt.


ויקרא י״ט:י״ג

לֹֽא־תַעֲשֹׁ֥ק אֶת־רֵֽעֲךָ֖ וְלֹ֣א תִגְזֹ֑ל לֹֽא־תָלִ֞ין פְּעֻלַּ֥ת שָׂכִ֛יר אִתְּךָ֖ עַד־בֹּֽקֶר׃

Leviticus 19:13

You shall not defraud your fellow [Israelite]. You shall not commit robbery. The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning.


תרגום יונתן דברים כד טו

In his day thou shalt pay him his hire. Nor let the sun go down upon it; because he is poor, and he hopes (for that hire) to sustain his life: lest he appeal against thee before the Lord, and it be guilt in thee.


ספרי דברים ר”ט

“and to it he ‘takes‘ his soul”? To teach that if one holds back a hired laborer’s wage, it is reckoned to him as if he took his soul.


רמב”ן, דברים כד טו

And so Scripture commands [the employer] to pay him during his day as soon as he finishes his work, and that the sun should not set upon him [before he is paid], in order that he should be able to purchase with his wages what he, his wife, and his children, need to eat at night, for he is poor as are most of those who hire themselves out for the day, he has staked his life upon this wage to buy with it food to sustain his life. Thus, he teaches us here that the intent of what He said in the Torah, the wages of a hired servant shall not abide with thee all night until the morning is that you pay him during his day, for if you do not pay him when he leaves his work, he will go home and his wage will be left with you until morning and he may die of hunger at night. 


אור החיים לדברים כד טו

ואליו הוא נושא את נפשו, “and his life depends on it.” The Torah tells us that although paying a labourer late is at worst only a sin comparable to robbery, the penalty the Torah has in mind for the employer is as if he had committed a capital crime. When the Torah writes יהיה בך חטא “for it shall remain a sin against you,” this is similar to what we find in Kings I 1,21 “and I and my son will remain sinners.” In this instance the Torah first gave the reason for the penalty of the employer when it wrote: ואליו הוא נושא את נפשו “for he is risking his life for it,” i.e. the penalty too will be that applicable when one had taken someone else’ life.


עקדת יצחק(רבי יצחק עראמה)  סט

After all these lessons, the Torah repeats that instead of extending help only in return for interest charges, a relationship of mutual brotherhood or partnership is expected from Jew towards fellow Jew. 


Pirkei Avot 6:5

Do not ask for glory for yourself, and do not covet honor…do not yearn for the tables of kings since your table is greater than theirs and your crown is greater than theirs. And your Employer is faithful; He will pay you the wages of your labor


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Rabbanit Yafit Clymer

Rabbanit Yafit Clymer is a senior lecturer in Jewish Studies at the several Matan learning centers, at 'Emunah' and WebYeshiva. She is a group instructor for various programs. Rabbanit Clymer is part of the steering committee of the 'Beit Hillel' organization and answers halachic questions online as a part of their Meshivat Nefesh project.
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