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Babylonian Talmud: Tractate Baba Mezi'a

Baba Mezi'a 77a

the loss is the workers; if not, the loss is the employer's, and he must pay them as unemployed workers.1

Raba also said: If one engaged labourers for irrigation, and there fell rain [rendering it unnecessary], the loss is theirs.2  But if the river overflowed,3  the loss is the employer's,4  and he must pay them as unemployed labourers.

Rab also said: If one engaged labourers for irrigation, and the river [whence the water was drawn] failed at midday; if such failure is unusual, the loss is theirs;5  if usual: if [the labourers] are of that town [and so would know about it] the loss is theirs; if not, the loss is the employer's.6

Raba also said: If one engaged labourers for a piece of work, and they completed it in the middle of the day;7  if he has some [other] work easier than the first, he can give it to them, or even if of equal difficulty, he can charge them [with it]; but if it is more difficult, he cannot order them to do it, and must pay them in full. But why? Let him pay them as unemployed workers! — Raba referred to the workers8  of Mahuza, who, if they do not work, feel faint.9

The Master said: 'The portion done is assessed for them. E.g., if it is worth six denarii, he must pay them a sela'.10  The Rabbis hold that the workers [always] have the advantage.

'Or they can complete the work and receive two sela's.' Is this not obvious? — This is necessary only when labour costs advanced, and the workers retracted. Thereupon the employer went and persuaded them [to return]. I might think that they can say to him, 'When we allowed ourselves to be persuaded, it was on the understanding that you would increase our remuneration.' Therefore we are informed that he [the employer] can answer them, 'It was on the understanding that I should take particular pains over your food and drink.'11

'If it is worth a sela', he must pay them a sela'.' Is this not obvious? — This is necessary only if labour was cheap originally [when he hired them], whilst he engaged them for a zuz above [the usual cost], but subsequently12  labour appreciated and stood at more than a zuz; I might think that they can plead. 'You promised us a zuz above [the usual price]; give us a zuz more [than was stipulated, since that is now the usual wage].' We are therefore told that he [the employer] may answer them,' When did I promise you an extra zuz, only when you did not agree;13  but now you have agreed.'14

'R. Dosa said: That which still remains to be done is assessed [thus]: if it be worth six denarii, he pays them a shekel.' In his opinion, the labourer is at a disadvantage.15

'Or they can complete their work and receive two sela's.' Is this not obvious? — This is necessary only when labour costs diminished, and the employer retracted; whereupon the labourers went and persuaded him. I might think, he can say to them, '[I re-engaged you] on the understanding that you allow a rebate on your wages': therefore we are taught that they can answer him, 'It was on the understanding that we perform our work particularly well.'

'If a sela', he must pay them a sela'.' Is this not obvious? — R. Huna. the son of R. Nathan, said: It is necessary only in a case where they [the labourers] contracted for a zuz below [the usual wage] in the first place, and subsequently labour costs fell. I might think that [the employer can plead.] 'You agreed with me for a zuz less [than usual], hence I will give you a zuz less;'16  so we are taught that they can reply. 'We agreed upon a zuz less only when you would not agree [to pay the full price]; but now you have agreed.'

Rab said: The halachah is as R. Dosa. But did Rab really rule thus? Did not Rab say: A worker can retract even in the middle of the day? And should you answer, R. Dosa draws a distinction between time work and piece work,17  [I can rejoin,] Did he really admit a distinction? Has it not been taught: If one engages a labourer, and in the middle of the day he [the labourer] learns that he has suffered a bereavement,18  or is smitten with fever: then if he is a time worker,

To Part b

Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. If the labourer had not inspected the land beforehand, he can plead. 'You know the nature of your soil and that work is impossible upon it after a heavy rain, and so should have informed me in time to find other work'; therefore the employer must bear the loss. If the labourer had seen it he should have known himself, therefore the loss is his. (So one interpretation of Asheri.) It may also refer to the employer's inspection, as in the previous note. (The weight of authority is in favour of referring the inspection to the employer himself. V. H.M. CCCXXX, 1 and [H], a.l.)
  2. Since rain is bound to obviate the need of irrigation, it is an implied condition that the employer may dispense with their services on account thereof.
  3. Lit., 'came'.
  4. Because the worker cannot know that the field is so situated, by means of canals leading thereto, that the river's overflow irrigates it.
  5. The employer not being responsible for an unforeseen event.
  6. It is a general principle that if something happens which might be foreseen by both employer and employee, the latter bears the loss of time. H.M. CCCXXXIV, 1
  7. Having been engaged for the whole day.
  8. Jast.: public labourers: Maim.: field diggers: Rashi: navvies accustomed to continual portering. [Mahoza. where Raba had his school, was an important loading centre on the Tigris near Ktesiffon. V. Obermeyer. op. cit. p. 173.]
  9. Idleness is a trial to them; therefore they are entitled to full pay.
  10. v. p. 442, n. 2.
  11. But not pay you more.
  12. I.e., by the time they had done half the work.
  13. To work for less than a sela'.
  14. To receive it. I cannot pay more, as that is my maximum.
  15. v. p. 437. n. 8.
  16. Than the present price, hence, a zuz below the agreed figure.
  17. If a labourer engages himself by the day or week, he can retract and lose nothing; but if he contracts to do a particular piece, he is thereby at a disadvantage; for the reason of the first (stated supra 10a, q.v.) does not apply to a contractor, since not being tied he is his own master.
  18. Lit., 'one had died unto him', viz., one of the relatives for whom a week of mourning must be observed, during which all labour is forbidden.
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Baba Mezi'a 77b

he must pay him his wages;1  if a contract worker, he must pay him his contract price. Now, with whom does this agree? If with the Rabbis, why particularly if he learns that he has suffered a bereavement or is smitten with fever and so unfortunately compelled [to break the agreement]? Even if he is not compelled, surely the Rabbis maintain that the labourer has the advantage! Hence it must agree with R. Dosa, thus proving that he allows no distinction between time work and contract work! — Said R. Nahman b. Isaac: Here the reference is to a thing of irretrievable loss, and therefore it agrees with all.2

We learnt: HE WHO ALTERS [HIS CONTRACT] IS AT A DISADVANTAGE, AND HE WHO RETRACTS IS AT A DISADVANTAGE. Now, it is well [to state]. HE WHO ALTERS [HIS CONTRACT] IS AT A DISADVANTAGE, as thereby R. Judah's opinion is given as a general view;3  but what is added by, HE WHO RETRACTS IS AT A DISADVANTAGE?4  Surely [its purpose is] to extend the law to a [time] worker, and in accordance with R. Dosa?5  — But R. Dosa refers to both cases [alike], whereas Rab agrees with him in one and disagrees in the other.

Alternatively, HE WHO RETRACTS IS AT A DISADVANTAGE [is stated] for this purpose. Viz., It has been taught: He who retracts — how is that? If A sold a field to B for a thousand zuz, and B paid a deposit of two hundred zuz, if the vendor retracts, the purchaser has the advantage; if he desires, he can demand, 'Either return me my money or give me land to the value thereof.' And from what part [of the estate] must he satisfy his claim? From the best. But if the purchaser retracts, the vendor has the advantage; if he desires, he can say to him, 'Here is your money.' Alternatively, he can say. 'Here is land for your money.' And what [part of the field] may he offer him? The worst.6  R. Simeon b. Gamaliel said: They are instructed [so to act as] to make it impossible [for either] to withdraw. How so? He [the vendor] must draw up a deed, stating. 'I [so-and-so] have sold such and such a field to so-and-so for a thousand zuz, upon which he has paid me two hundred zuz, and now I am his creditor for eight hundred zuz.' Thus he [the vendee] acquires the title thereto, and must repay him the rest, even after many years.7

The Master said: 'And from what part [of the estate] must he satisfy his claim? From the best.' Now, this was assumed to mean, 'from the best part of his estate.'8  But let him [the buyer] be even as an ordinary creditor! And we learnt: A creditor is entitled to medium quality!9  Moreover, here is the land for which he paid money! — R. Nahman b. Isaac said: [It means,] From the best therein [sc. the field bought] and10  the worst therein. R. Aha, the son of R. Ika. said: It may even mean the best part of his estate; yet the average person, when buying a field for a thousand zuz, must sell off his other property cheaply.11  and hence he is as one who has sustained damage.12  And we learnt: For damages13  we assess [and collect] the best [of the offender's estate].

'R. Simeon b. Gamaliel said: They are instructed [so to act as] to make it impossible [for either] to withdraw. How so? He [the vendor] must draw up a deed, stating. "I [so-and-so have sold such and such a field to so-and-so for a thousand zuz, etc."' Hence, it is only because he writes thus;14  but if not, he [the purchaser] does not acquire it. But has it not been taught: If a man gives a deposit to his neighbour and stipulates. 'If I retract, this deposit be forfeited to you.' and the other stipulates. 'If I retract, I will double you your deposit.' the conditions are effective: this is R. Jose's view, R. Jose [ruling here] in accordance with his general opinion that an asmakta is valid. R. Judah said: It is sufficient that he [the purchaser] shall gain possession [of the object sold] in proportion to his deposit. Said R. Simeon b. Gamaliel: This holds good only if he stipulates, 'Let my deposit effect possession'; but if he sells him a field for a thousand zuz, of which he pays him five hundred, he acquires [it all], and must repay him the balance even after many years?15  — There is no difficulty: The former refers to a case where he [the vendor] repeatedly dunned16  [the buyer] for his money;17  the latter, where he did not repeatedly demand his money. For Raba said: If one sold an article to his neighbour, and repeatedly demanded payment, it does not become his [the purchaser's];18  but if not, he [the buyer] acquires it.19

Raba also said: If one lent a hundred zuz to his neighbour, who repaid him a zuz at a time, it is [valid] repayment, but he may bear resentment against him, for he can complain, 'You have destroyed it for me.'20

A man once sold an ass21  to his neighbour, and one zuz [of the purchase price] being left [unpaid], he [the vendor] made repeated calls for it. Now, R. Ashi sat and cogitated thereon: What [is the law] in such a case? Does he [the purchaser] acquire it or not?22  Said R. Mordecai to R. Ashi: Thus did Abimi of Hagronia say in Rab's name: One zuz is as [many] zuz, and he does not acquire it. R. Aha, the son of R. Joseph, protested to R. Ashi: But we have stated in Raba's name that he does acquire it! — He replied: You must interpret your teaching [as referring] to one who sells his field

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Original footnotes renumbered.
  1. I.e., pro rata, according to the time worked, but without making any further deduction on account of his breaking the agreement. For since he is unable to continue, he is not penalised and put at a disadvantage, as are others.
  2. All agree that the labourer is in this case at a disadvantage, unless he is unavoidably prevented from adhering to his bargain.
  3. Lit., 'The Tanna of the Mishnah states anonymously the view of R. Judah,' indicating that he agrees with it, teaching it as the general opinion. For the reference v. infra 78b.
  4. Since that is implied in the whole Mishnah. It is axiomatic that if a Mishnah states a general principle after the detailed case in which it is embodied, its purpose is extension.
  5. For the first clause of the Mishnah would appear to refer to a contract worker; therefore the general principle is added to shew that the same holds good of a time worker too. And that can agree with none but R. Dosa, since the Rabbis maintain that the advantage is on the side of the labourers. Thus it is proved that R. Dosa draws no distinction between a time worker and a contractor.
  6. The reasons are discussed below.
  7. The point is that the other 800 zuz are described on this bond not as the balance due but as an ordinary debt, and therefore does not affect the ownership of the field, which passes to the buyer on payment of money.
  8. I.e., not particularly of the field sold, but the best of any land that the vendor might own.
  9. If the debtor does not repay, the creditor can exact payment only from his medium quality fields, not from the best. And even that is a special privilege.
  10. Referring to the second case where the buyer retracts.
  11. Very few people possessed such large sums in actual cash; hence the purchaser would have to sell off much of his own estate to raise it, and, as is natural under the circumstances, below its value.
  12. If the vendor subsequently retracts, the purchaser has sold his own estate cheaply for no purpose.
  13. Lit., 'those who suffer damage.'
  14. I.e., describing the balance as an ordinary debt.
  15. V. supra 48b. This shews that the transaction is binding though the balance was not arranged as an ordinary debt.
  16. Lit., 'was going in and out.'
  17. Lit., 'comes in and out for money'. This proves that he sold his field through financial pressure, and therefore, unless he explicitly arranged for the balance to be treated as an ordinary loan, he can cancel the sale if full payment is delayed.
  18. [Even if there was meshikah (v. Glos.); so according to the majority of authorities. Cf. Tosaf. and H.M., CXC. 11.]
  19. And the purchase money is regarded as an ordinary debt.
  20. A hundred zuz in a lump sum can be put to business use; one zuz at a time is spent as received, with no visible or tangible advantage.
  21. The text is [H], which may mean 'ass' or 'wine', and Rashi translates 'ass'. The reason is that in Rashi's opinion, this assumption, viz. that the vendor's repeated demand for money proves that he sold the article only because he was hard pressed, applies only to land or such articles which are not normally sold, such as an ass which is kept for work on the land; but in the case of wine, which is a normal article of sale, it proves nothing, and hence the consequences drawn from it do not hold good (Maharam). [Alternatively: In the case of wine there would be no reason for cancelling the whole sale for the sake of the single zuz, the buyer surely being entitled to retain wine for the amount he had paid up; Maharsha, [H].]
  22. Since the balance is so small.
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