Paying Gentiles' Wages

Written by Gil Student
The Accusation
O.K. to Cheat Non-Jews, Sanhedrin 57a . A Jew need not pay a Gentile ("Cuthean") the wages owed him for work.


The Text
Talmud Sanhedrin 57a

Rather this is referring to holding back a worker's wages [Leviticus 19:13]: A Cuthean to a Cuthean and a Cuthean to a Jew is forbidden; a Jew to a Cuthean is permitted.

Before discussing this particular passage from the Talmud it is important to note that the commandments regarding not withholding a worker's wages [see below] DO NOT touch upon the issue of whether a worker is paid; they deal solely with WHEN a worker is paid. The commandments specify that a worker must be paid within that day/night period and that the employer is prohibited from delaying payment. For example, a babysitter who watches children at night must be paid before sunrise of the next day. Similarly, a shoemaker who gives you your shoes during the day must be paid before sunset of that day (Talmud Bava Metzia 110b; R. Yisrael Meir HaCohen Kagan, Ahavat Chesed, 1:9:1-2). Even without these commandments, or if the time period has expired, a worker must still receive his wages. If not, the employer is guilty of theft (Talmud Bava Metzia 111a; Ahavat Chesed, 1:10:14). These commandments only determine WHEN an employee must be paid.

However, these only apply to a worker who has been too careless to pre-arrange a payment schedule. If a shoemaker states, or it is assumed, that he must be paid on delivery of the shoes then the commandments do not apply and he must be paid as arranged (Ahavat Chesed, 1:9:12). These commandments dictate that an employer should go beyond the legalities of a worker's agreement and take extra care of a neglectful or economically unempowered employee.

With that in mind, let us examine the relevant Talmudic passages. The above passage clearly states that the biblical prohibition against holding back a worker's wages during the night/day period following employment does not apply to Cutheans.

Who are the Cutheans? In 2 Kings 17:24-41 we are told that they were displaced by Assyrians from Babylonia to Israel and converted to Judaism out of fear of natural disaster. Regardless of their original intention, the Talmud considers them to have eventually become believing Jews [Tosafot Ketuvot 29a s.v. Ve'al]. However, in later Talmudic times they became a community of idolaters [Talmud Chullin 6a]. Because of their transgressions they were no longer treated as part of the Jewish community. In general, the Talmud uses the term Cuthean to refer to any idolaters, whether Jewish or gentile.

We therefore see that the Talmud states that the commandments prohibiting holding back a worker's wages do not apply to idolaters, Jewish or gentile. What remains unstated in this passage but is implicit in other passages is that an employer must still pay an idolater his fair wages. He only need not go the extra mile and pay him immediately if there was no pre-arranged payment schedule.

Talmud Geirim 3:2

And one transgresses with him [a righteous gentile] the prohibitions of aggrieving [Leviticus 25:17], of cheating [Leviticus 19:13], and of the sun not setting upon him [without paying his wages - Deuteronomy 24:15]. {For exact wording of text see Nachalat Ya'akov}

Jerusalem Talmud Yevamot 8:1 (44b)

As we teach a Ger Toshav (righteous gentile) falls under the prohibition of aggrieving [Leviticus 25:17] - these are the words of Rabbi Yossi the son of Rabbi Yehudah

Mishnah Bava Metzia 111a

A Ger Toshav (righteous gentile) falls under the prohibition of "On that day you shall pay his wages" [Deuteronomy 24:15].

What we see unequivocably from the above passages is that the Talmud is not distinguishing between Jew and gentile regarding paying wages. Rather it is distinguishing between monotheist and idolater. The Torah requires maintaining an orderly society with debtors paying creditors and employers paying workers as pre-arranged. However, those are part of the Jewish/Ger Toshav society receive treatment beyond reasonable expectations and have provisions in case of negligence. Nowhere are gentiles discriminated against and even idolaters maintain their basic right to be paid for their labor.

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Copyright 2000 Gil Student