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    Rules for employers – B’har

    Boaz & Ruth - painting by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1828

    We learn a great deal about labour law from the principle of the sh’mittah, the seventh year, and the yovel, the jubilee year.

    Every seven years the land shall lie fallow as “a sabbath to the Lord”, and after seven times seven years, there is to be a jubilee year when “you shall proclaim freedom in the land to all its inhabitants” (Lev. 25:10).

    The P’nei Y’hoshua remarks that the verse says, “to all its inhabitants”, not merely “to all its workers”, because the freedom is not for employees alone but for employers too.

    But surely the employers need no release from work? Surely an employer can live in luxury without lifting a finger to do any physical labour!

    One answer might be to point to the example of Boaz in the Book of Ruth. His workers were busy bringing in the harvest, and one might have thought he could have sat comfortably at home, leaving it all to them. But this is not what he did: he came to the field; he greeted them with the words, “The Lord be with you!” and they responded, “The Lord bless you!” (Ruth 2:4).

    He may not physically have worked with them, but he knew, respected and appreciated them, and his presence uplifted their morale and made them feel that they and their work were important. In such circumstances it is unlikely that they had industrial disputes and inconceivable that labour and management would feel they were on opposite sides.

    The P’nei Y’hoshua gives a somewhat different but parallel explanation of the use of the words “to all its inhabitants”. The employers felt a sense of freedom by means of giving freedom to their workers.

    The rabbis say, “He who acquires a servant acquires a master over himself” (Kidd. 20a). This could be taken cynically, since having a labour force can add to a person’s headaches. But understood charitably, as it surely can be, it suggests that a good employer is like Boaz and is concerned with his workers’ and their families’ wellbeing and not simply his own.

    Naturally, not every employer is such a tzaddik. Many will say, “I’m a businessperson, not a philanthropic society. I’m in it to make money and to put bread on my own family’s table.”

    There is no problem with management looking after its own interests, but it also entails responsibility.

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