Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Bava Metzia 92: Food and Wages and Negotiations

A new Mishna teaches us that a labourer may eat cucumbers worth only a small part of one dinar or dates worth more than a dinar.  The rabbis question whether a labourer is entitled to eat more than his worth in wages.  

The Gemara begins by explaining that a person who eats more than his worth in wages will be labelled a glutton.  Such a labourer will not easily find work again.  Labourers are thus discouraged from eating huge amounts from their employers' fields.  It is noted that labourers might fill their employers baskets and then continue to eat from their vineyards.  Further, passersby are permitted to eat from one's fields.  Thus employers have incentive to hire labourers to properly tend to their fields, rather than allowing everyone to hurt the fields by trampling through them.

The rabbis question whether a labourer is eating from his own earnings when he eats from the employer's field or whether this food is provided to him by Heaven.  Are workers entitled to give their families food from the fields, as well, whether or not those family members have been sharing in the labour?  The rabbi discuss specific laws which apply to Nazirites, who are not permitted to eat from vineyards.  Should they be permitted to give that food to their families?  Or should they not be hired to work in vineyards to decrease temptation?  

The Gemara continues, this time considering whether or not labourers are entitled to eat from food that has/ has not been tithed in all circumstances.  It discusses what a labouring father should do when sharing his food with his son.  Should the son's food be tithed before it is eaten, for that produce is now somewhat prepared and ready for tithing?  What about eating from fruit trees that are in their fourth year?  These must be tithed.  Who is entitled to eat from them and at when is this decided?  We are given examples including broken barrels of cakes, and wine that looks as though it is is ready to be tithed.  May a labourer partake of this food before it has been actually tithed?  Mistakes might be made, frequently regarding these calculations.

Our Gemara ends with a discussion about the negotiations that might take place between a labourer and his employer regarding wages in place of food.  A person might decide that he would prefer a higher wage and bring his own food to the fields.  But is he permitted to negotiate this on behalf of others?  We learn that he is permitted to negotiate on behalf of his wife, adult children, and adult Canaanite slaves and maidservants.  He cannot negotiate on behalf of anyone without the capacity to consent for themselves, including animals, minor children, and minor Canaanite slaves and maidservants.  Some rabbis say that he cannot negotiate for others, as well.

Today's daf ends with the argument that a labourer cannot negotiate on behalf of others to forfeit their rights to food.  This is because it would cause needless suffering - hungry children who cannot eat the food in front of them, for example - and the labourer does not have the right to negotiate away the food of a person who has few legal rights.

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