Traditional Jewish Sources

Deuteronomy/Devarim 24:14-15

יד לֹא-תַעֲשֹׁק שָׂכִיר, עָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן, מֵאַחֶיךָ, אוֹ מִגֵּרְךָ אֲשֶׁר בְּאַרְצְךָ בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ. טו בְּיוֹמוֹ תִתֵּן שְׂכָרוֹ וְלֹא-תָבוֹא עָלָיו הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, כִּי עָנִי הוּא, וְאֵלָיו, הוּא נֹשֵׂא אֶת-נַפְשׁוֹ; וְלֹא-יִקְרָא עָלֶיךָ אֶל-יְהוָה, וְהָיָה בְךָ חֵטְא.

14 Do not oppress the hired laborer who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your people or one of the sojourners in your land within your gates. 15 Give him his wages in the daytime, and do not let the sun set on them, for he is poor, and his life depends on them, lest he cry out to God about you, for this will be counted as a sin for you.

As quoted/translated by Rabbi Jill Jacobs.

Mishnah, Bava Metzia 7:1

ז,א השוכר את הפועלים, ואמר להם להשכים ולהעריב--מקום שנהגו שלא להשכים ושלא להעריב, אינו יכול לכופן; מקום שנהגו לזון, יזון; לספק במתיקה, יספק: הכול כמנהג המדינה. מעשה ברבי יוחנן בן מתיה שאמר לבנו, צא ושכור לנו פועלים, ופסק עימהם מזונות. וכשבא אצל אביו, אמר לו, אפילו את עושה להם כסעודת שלמה בשעתה, לא יצאת ידי חובתך, שהם בני אברהם יצחק ויעקוב; אלא עד שלא יתחילו במלאכה, צא ואמור להם, על מנת שאין לכם אלא פת וקטנית בלבד. רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר, לא היה צריך לומר, אלא הכול כמנהג המדינה.

One who hires workers and instructs them to begin work early and to stay late—in a place in which it is not the custom to begin work early and to stay late, the employer may not force them to do so. In a place in which it is the custom to feed the workers, he must do so. In a place in which it is the custom to distribute sweets, he must do so. Everything goes according to the custom of the land [minhag hamakom].

A story about Rabbi Yochanan ben Matya, who told his son, “Go, hire us workers.” His son went and promised them food (without specifying what kind, or how much). When he returned, his father said to him, “My son! Even if you gave them a feast like that of King Solomon, you would not have fulfilled your obligation toward them, for they are the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. However, as they have not yet begun to work, go back and say to them that their employment is conditional on their not demanding more than bread and vegetables.” Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said, “It is not necessary to make such a stipulation. Everything goes according to the custom of the place.”

As quoted/translated in Jill Jacobs, There Shall Be No Needy Teacher's Guide. (Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2010), 29.

Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 3:17

ג,כ [יז] רבי אלעזר בן עזריה אומר, אם אין תורה, אין דרך ארץ; אם אין דרך ארץ, אין תורה. אם אין חכמה, אין יראה; אם אין יראה, אין חכמה. אם אין דעת, אין בינה; אם אין בינה, אין דעת. אם אין קמח, אין תורה; אם אין תורה, אין קמח.

Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah says: If there is no Torah study, there is no derech eretz (worldly involvement); if there is no derech eretz, there is no Torah study. If there is no wisdom, there is no fear of God; if there is no fear of God, there is no wisdom. If there is no reason, there is no understanding; if there is no understanding, there is no reason. If there is no flour, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah, there is no flour.

Translation from Soncino Classics, Version 2.2. Hebrew text from Mechon Mamre.

Discussion Questions

  1. Paraphrase the excerpts.
  2. Discuss and agree upon the main points of each excerpt.
  3. Describe the relationship between worker and boss or employer in the excerpts from Deuteronomy and the Mishnah from Bava Metzia.
  4. What is implied about Torah by tying “flour” to it? Why might the two be interdependent? What does work have to do with this?
  5. What do the Torah and the Rabbinic Sages teach us about the meaning of work?


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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Traditional Jewish Sources." (Viewed on May 27, 2024) <>.