Friday, June 03, 2005

Rabbinic rules for the working stiff

Smack in the middle of chapter 2, and masechet shabbat turns from spatiality to work, or may I even suggest: The Worker.

Looking first at daf 9b, the mishnah sets out several gezerot – precautionary rules – to ensure that the people have time for the afternoon prayers (minchah). If it’s nearly time to pray, don’t even start – not with the barber, the bathhouse, or the tannery. Don’t put the court in session, if you’re the judge.

For everyone who runs late or cuts it close, this gemara’s for you. It’s Murphy’s Halakhah, antiquity style. Don’t wait for the last minute, else: if you’re a barber, the scissors might break; if you’re in a bathhouse, you might feel faint; if you’re dealing with the tanner, your leather might be messed up. Granted, the mishnah insists that that customers refrain from doing business. Nevertheless, what would be the outcome from observing these precautions? The workers would not be rushed themselves and they would have time for a coffee, unh prayer, break. Well before MOT Marx railed against endless working hours, and long before those L.A. Jews published “No Shvitz: Your One-Stop Guide to Fighting Sweatshops", the Talmud was surreptitiously cutting down on working hours. (Well, maybe.)

A couple of daf later, the talmud gives a little subversive guide to The Boss:

Work under an Ishmaelite and not under an [Edomite = Roman], under an Edomite and not under a [Persian], under a Persian and not under a Torah scholar, under a Torah scholar and not under an orphan or a widow. (Artscroll Shab 11a)
In other words, it’s difficult to work for a boss who you need to treat with utmost respect and sensitivity. But it’s clear who are real taskmasters.

For future reference, let’s keep a list of some other types of work mentioned: delousing, tailor (11a), teaching, winepress, scribe, fuller, weaver, dyer, money changer, and the catch-all craftsman (אומן). (bShab 11b) (Read what a business prof thinks the Talmud says about ideal, honorable and dishonest occupations.)
Color this post a “work in progress” and let’s take a break for a...
Good shabbos,

Kaspit כספית


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