Talmud pages

Bava Metzia 92

Snacking on the job.

Today’s daf considers the rights of farm laborers to eat a portion of what they harvest. Here’s the mishnah: 

A laborer may eat cucumbers even to a dinar, or dates, even to a dinar. Rabbi Elazar Hisma says: A laborer may not eat more than his wages, but the rabbis permit it. But one teaches a person not to be a glutton and thereby close the opening (to other job offers) in his face. 

The mishnah rules that a worker can eat as much as a dinar’s worth of food, but Rabbi Elazar Hisma holds that a laborer should not eat food worth more than he is paid. The mishnah then again reports that the rabbis disagree, adding that a person should be taught not to be a glutton because their reputation will close off future opportunities for employment.

In asking why the second comment from the rabbis is necessary, the Gemara first suggests that the difference between the first and second iteration of the rule is about teaching people not to be a glutton — the mishnah alone doesn’t suggest that. The Gemara then proposes another take:

If you wish, say instead that (the difference) between them (concerns a halakha taught by) Rav Asi. As Rav Asi says: Even if he hired him to harvest only one cluster, he may eat. And Rav Asi said: Even if he harvested only one cluster, he may eat it.

Rav Asi has two distinct, yet similar, takes: If a laborer was hired to harvest even only one cluster, snacking is OK. Also, if the laborer actually harvested only one cluster, that’s also fair game for snacking. Once again, the Gemara wants to know why, given the two positions are so similar, we need them both.

Had he taught us only this first one, (one might have thought that he may eat because) there is no other food to place in the homeowner’s vessels. But if there is (produce) to place in the homeowner’s vessels, as in the second case, say he should first place and then eat.

Let’s start with why the second ruling from Rav Asi is necessary. The first sets hiring to harvest one cluster as the condition, which could be read to imply that the homeowner has no other food around and that nothing has been harvested. The second phrasing is therefore necessary to indicate that even if there is other food present, the laborer still may eat. And what about the first version?

And had Rav Asi taught us only this case, (one might have said that the reason he may eat is) that ultimately it is possible to fulfill. But where ultimately it is not possible to fulfill he may not eat. 

The second version makes it clear that one may eat if one has already harvested some grapes.  But what if, for example, the laborer was hired toward the end of the season and it’s impossible for the worker to harvest anything because the work has already been completed? The first teaching is therefore necessary to tell us that even if you can’t complete the harvesting you were hired to do, you can still eat.

The daf continues with further elaborations on this theme, but one thing is clear: The rabbis recognized the importance of feeding one’s employees and allowed laborers to nourish themselves, even if they ate more than they were paid.

Read all of Bava Metzia 92 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on May 30, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

Discover More

Kiddushin 20

The Merciful One is lenient with regard to a slave.

Kiddushin 53

Son of a snatcher.

Kiddushin 11

Money, money, money.