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Laws of Religion

Laws of Judaism Concerning Food

 

15.  Food Obligations to Workers and the Poor

 

from the Biblical Books of Moses (Torah)

and the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

 

Food Obligations to Workers and the Poor

From the Biblical Books of Moses (Torah)

 

It is permitted to take as many grapes from a neighbor's vineyard as one can eat, but not to put any in a container.[1] Similarly, one can take as much grain from a neighbor's field as can be picked by hand, but a sickle cannot be used.[2]

 

The Israelites are told to be generous toward poor Israelites within the land that the Lord is giving them (the Land of Israel).[3] When harvesting crops, it is forbidden to harvest from the corners, to gather the gleanings or to go back to get a forgotten sheaf.[4] Similarly, in harvesting grapes[5] or olives[6] it is forbidden to go back and gather what was missed the first time. These things must be left for the poor, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow.[7] Every third year the tithe was to be given to the Levites, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow.[8] What grows in the seventh (Sabbatical) year is to be eaten by the poor or by animals.[9]

 

 

Food Obligations to Workers and the Poor

Jewish Law (Halakha) from the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah)

 

Contents

 

Employees

 

Corners, gleanings and forgotten sheaves

 

Poor man’s tithe

 

Alms for the poor

 

Famine and leap year

 

 

Employees.  According to the tradition of the Oral Law*, the verses in the Torah (Deuteronomy 23:24-25, cited on this page, above) that permit the taking of grapes and grain from one’s neighbor’s crop in the field actually refer to the obligations of the employer who owns the crop to let his workers partake of it.[10] These same verses of the Torah, by saying that the grapes cannot be put in a container and the grain must be harvested by hand rather than with a sickle, are understood to limit the amount of food that the worker can take. The worker cannot eat of the crop rather than performing his work or take more than he, himself, needs to eat.[11] The worker may not overeat[12] or share the food with his wife or children.[13] He may not starve himself prior to working because that would prevent him from giving his employer all that the work that the employer is entitled to.[14] If the worker violates the commandments of the Torah verses that limit his consumption of food, although this constitutes violation of a negative commandment he is not flogged but he must pay for the excess.[15] Similarly, if the employer does not permit his workers to eat as prescribed by these verses, he is not flogged.[16]

 

 

Corners, gleanings and forgotten sheaves.  Obligations to the poor from the produce of the land include leaving the corners unharvested, leaving the gleanings and forgotten sheaves in the field and giving of the tithe of the third year. There is also a more general obligation to give alms to the poor, which may include food.

 

The requirements of the Torah (Leviticus 19:10, Leviticus 23:22, Deuteronomy 24:19-21, cited above) to leave the produce of the corners of fields as well as what one has overlooked, forgotten or dropped (gleanings) when harvesting applies to fruit on trees and grapes as well as to grain. These must all be left for the poor, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow. If all of the produce is harvested and even processed into flour or bread, for example, a portion can still be taken and distributed to the specified recipient groups. However, if it cannot be recovered, then the punishment, even for one who is extremely poor, is flogging.[17]

 

Maimonides specifies how much money a person must possess to make that person ineligible to benefit from the corner crop, gleanings, forgotten crops or the poor man’s tithe.[18] However, even a wealthy person may benefit from these if he runs out of food while traveling or is waiting to obtain a better price for the sale of his houses or land.[19]

 

The “stranger” who may benefit from such produce is a person who has actually converted to Judaism.[20] In order to advance peace, poor heathens (idolators, polytheists) may also benefit[21] as long as the gentiles are in power over the Jews. When Jews are in power, idolaters are not to be permitted to stay in the land ruled by Jews unless they convert to Judaism. Heathens who become resident aliens by accepting the seven universal laws that the Lord gave to Noah can also be accepted and receive the benefits accorded to strangers, but only when the Jubilee years are counted[22] (which has not happened for over 2700 years and will not happen again until the Messiah arrives and all the Jews settle again in the Land of Israel, as discussed under Jubilee year on a previous page, “Restrictions on Crops”.)

 

If a person owns more than one field, the corners of each field must be left.[23] If a field is planted with two different crops, then the corners of both crops must be left.[24] Similarly, corners for separate fields must be left if a field is divided by a sufficient distance (specified for each case by Maimonides) by water, a path, land not planted, land planted with seed of a different kind, land plowed after its crop was destroyed by insects or the elevation of a terrace.[25] A field of trees divided by a fence of sufficient height is also considered to be two fields for the purpose of leaving corner crops.[26]

 

The requirements in the Torah for saving portions of crops for the poor and others apply only in the Land of Israel. However, the Talmud (Gemara) says that the corner crop provision is applicable everywhere under Scribal rulings based on the Oral Law*. Maimonides says that it seems to him that the other provisions – concerning overlooked, forgotten or dropped crops – also apply outside the Land of Israel according to Scribal law (though this is not stated either in the Torah or the Talmud).[27]

 

The gleanings, which must be left in the field, are what drops off the sickle or, for a crop that is normally harvested by hand, what drops out of one’s hand. However, things that drop off the back of the sickle or the back of the hand[28], or more than two items dropped at the same time[29], are not considered gleanings and still belong to the owner of the field. If the harvested crop becomes mixed with the gleanings because of wind, then four kab per kor of plot (one part in forty-five[30]) should be separated out and left for the poor.[31]

 

Anyone who prevents a poor person from collecting gleanings, helps one collect to the disadvantage of another or uses a basket to collect falling grapes when harvesting is guilty of robbing the poor.[32] Similarly it is forbidden to try to keep the poor away from one’s field by getting a lion or other wild animal to lie down in it.[33]

 

A sheaf is not considered forgotten, and thus still belongs to the owner, unless it is forgotten both by the workers and by the owner in the field and is not seen by others as it is left behind and forgotten. If it is remembered only by the owner but the owner is in the city, then it is still a forgotten sheaf and must be left behind.[34] Fruit on a tree that is out of reach of the picker’s hand, grapes that are forgotten after the pickers leave their vine and fruit left on the tree after one walks away from it are all considered as forgotten sheaves.[35] The rules concerning forgotten sheaves apply not only to crops that grow above ground but also to garlic and onions, which grow below the ground.[36] The amount of any crop that can be considered under the forgotten sheaf rules is limited to two sheaves, two bundles of produce, two piles of olives or carobs, two grape vines or two trees; if three of any of these are forgotten they still belong to the owner.[37] Similarly, Maimonides specifies maximum volume quantities of various crops that can be considered as forgotten sheaf.[38]

 

 

Poor man’s tithe.  Every third and sixth year of the seven year Sabbatical cycle, a portion of the crops and fruit produced must be set aside for the poor – the poor man’s tithe, as discussed on a previous page, Offerings of Food. This is based on the Torah’s requirements concerning tithing in third year[39] (Deuteronomy 14:28-29, Deuteronomy 26:12, cited above, which are taken to mean every three years of the seven year Sabbatical cycle, namely, the third and sixth years). This tithe must be given to satisfy the hunger of any poor person who comes by a person’s field in which the tithe remains.[40] Maimonides specifies the quantities of various types of food that will satisfy the hunger of a poor person and thus meet the requirements of the poor man’s tithe.[41] If the poor man’s tithe is no longer in the field but in the owner’s house, then the owner may choose who among the poor he wants to give it to. The poor have a right to take this tithe even if the owner does not want to give it and even if the owner is, himself, exceedingly poor.[42]

 

As stated previously under Offerings of Food, tithes are to be given only within the Land of Israel according to the Torah, and also in the bordering lands of Babylonia, Egypt, Ammon and Moab according to the prophets and Sages. Maimonides says that it seems to him that the reason for expanding the area of applicability of the tithes beyond the Land of Israel was to provide an additional source of the poor man’s tithe for the poor within the Land of Israel. It appeared to Maimonides that the second tithe given in Babylonia and in Egypt should be redeemed and the resulting money sent to Jerusalem.[43]

 

 

Alms for the poor.  In addition to the requirements concerning corner crops, forgotten sheaves, tithes, etc., there is a general obligation to give alms to the poor,[44] including food[45] as well as money, clothing or other needed items.[46] Even those who are so poor that they, themselves, subsist on alms are required to give alms to the poor.[47] Orphans, even if wealthy, are exempt from the requirement for giving alms while women, bondsmen (slaves) and children may give alms in small amounts.[48] A person who fails to give alms at the appropriate level is to be flogged for disobedience until the alms are given. Alternatively, the court may seize the proper amount from him.[49] For the sake of peace, poor heathens (idol-worshipers, polytheists) are to be given alms as well as poor Jews.[50] However, alms are not to be accepted from a heathen in public by a Jew unless there is no alternative way to survive.[51]

 

Collectors of alms and food are to be appointed by Jews in every city in which they live.[52] The food collectors will gather food and distribute it to the poor every day.[53] Only those who do not have enough food for two meals are eligible to take this food.[54] God will answer the calls of those who have the poor and orphaned eating at their tables.[55]

 

As stated on a previous page, Restrictions on Crops, every seventh (Sabbatical) year, fields and vineyards must be left open and unfenced so that anyone can partake of what is produced, as the Torah (Exodus 23:11, cited above) says that it is for the poor.[56] It is also an obligation to give money or food to at least two poor people during the holiday of Purim.[57]

 

 

Famine and leap year.  The lunar Hebrew calendar is adjusted to the solar cycle by adding an extra early spring month to some years. When there was a regular Jewish court in Palestine (prior to about 325 A.D.)[58], the decision about which years would have the extra month were not determined solely by a single inflexible calculation but rather by consideration of a series of factors, particularly when the spring equinox was expected to occur and the progress of the growth of barley and the fruiting of the trees.[59] Other factors could also be considered, such as whether the poor condition of the roads or bridges might impede travel to Jerusalem for the festival of Passover, which would argue for adding the extra month in order to delay Passover.[60] However, the Sages said that an extra month should not be added if it was a time of famine because adding the month would delay the time when it would become permitted to eat the new growing crop, namely the second day of Passover[61] (as discussed on a previous page entitled Restrictions on Crops). Maimonides, however, says that it is his view that a famine could only prevent the addition of the extra month if the decision to add the month was based on secondary considerations, such as the condition of roads and bridges, but not if the decision was based on the calculation of the time of the equinox or the state of growth of the barley or fruiting of the trees.[62]

 

________________

 

*The Oral Law and the Written Law are explained on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Judaism.

 

________________

 

Laws of Religion is a project of the Religion Research Society.

 

Updated October 16, 2016

 

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Food Laws of Judaism, Table of Contents

 

Index – Food Laws of Judaism and Islam

 

Abbreviations used in footnotes:

Gen: The Biblical book of Genesis.

Exod: The Biblical book of Exodus.

Lev: The Biblical book of Leviticus.

Num: The Biblical Book of Numbers.

Deut: The Biblical Book of Deuteronomy.

MT:  The Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (Code of Maimonides). The names of the specific books and treatises within each book are given according to the Yale University Press translation and also the Moznaim/Touger Hebrew transliterations to facilitate locating the texts posted here.

F:  indicates page numbers in the Feldheim Publishers, Ltd., translation of Book 1 of the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, the Book of Knowledge.

M:  indicates page numbers in the relevant volume of the Moznaim Publishing Corporation’s Touger translation. (Some of the books of Mishneh Torah are published in several volumes by Moznaim, so the Moznaim volume numbers do not correspond to the Book numbers of Maimonides’ work.)

Y:  indicates page numbers in the translation of the Yale University Press Judaica Series.

●  The sources cited are described on the page Source Texts Used for Laws of Judaism.

 



[1] Deut 23:24

[2] Deut 23:25

[3] Lev 25:35-38; Deut 15:7-11

[4] Lev 19:9, Lev 23:22, Deut 24:19

[5] Lev 19:10, Deut 24:21

[6] Deut 24:20

[7] Lev 19:10, Lev 23:22, Deut 24:19-21

[8] Deut 14:28-29, Deut 26:11-13

[9] Exod 23:10-11

[10] MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws, Sefer Mishpatim; Treatise 1 on Hiring, Sechirut; Chapter 12, secs 1-2 (pages 118M 44Y)

[11] MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws, Sefer Mishpatim; Treatise 1 on Hiring, Sechirut; Chapter 12, sec 3 (pages 120M 45Y)

[12] MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws, Sefer Mishpatim; Treatise 1 on Hiring, Sechirut; Chapter 12, sec 11 (pages 126M 47Y)

[13] MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws, Sefer Mishpatim; Treatise 1 on Hiring, Sechirut; Chapter 12, sec 13 (pages 126M 47Y)

[14] MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws, Sefer Mishpatim; Treatise 1 on Hiring, Sechirut; Chapter 13, sec 6 (pages 132M 49Y)

[15] MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws, Sefer Mishpatim; Treatise 1 on Hiring, Sechirut; Chapter 12, sec 3 (pages 120M 45Y)

[16] MT Book 13, The Book of Civil Laws, Sefer Mishpatim; Treatise 1 on Hiring, Sechirut; Chapter 13, sec 2 (pages 128M 48Y)

[17] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 1, secs 1-8 (pages 104-106M 48-49Y)

[18] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 9, sec 13 (pages 182M 87Y)

[19] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 9, secs 15-17 (pages 184M 88Y)

[20] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 1, sec 9 (pages 106-108M 50Y)

[21] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 10, sec 5 (pages 78bF 192-194M); MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 1, sec 9 (pages 106-108M 50Y)

[22] MT Book 1, The Book of Knowledge, Sefer Madda; Treatise 4 Avodat Kochavim V’Chukkoteihem Worship of Stars (Idolatry), Chapter 10, sec 6 (pages 78bF 194-196M)

[23] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 3, sec 1 (pages 120M 56Y)

[24] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 3, sec 14 (pages 124M 59Y)

[25] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 3, secs 2-5, 7 (pages 120-122M 57-58Y)

[26] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 3, sec 19 (pages 128M 60Y)

[27] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 1, sec 14 (pages 108-110M 51Y)

[28] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 4, secs 1-2 (pages 130M 61-62Y)

[29] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 4, sec 1 (pages 130M 61-62Y); MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 4, sec 15 (pages 136M 64Y)

[30] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Note in Yale translation to Treatise 2, Chapter 4, sec 5 (page 424Y)

[31] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 4, sec 5 (pages 132M 62Y)

[32] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 4, secs 12, 16 (pages 134M, 136M 64Y)

[33] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 4, sec 13 (pages 134M 64Y)

[34] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 5, secs 1-2 (pages 140M 66-67Y)

[35] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 5, sec 26 (pages 152M 72Y)

[36] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 5, sec 8 (pages 142-144M 68Y)

[37] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 5, secs 14-16 (pages 146M 69-70Y); MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 5, sec 22 (pages 150M 71Y)

[38] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 5, secs 17-19 (pages 148M 70Y)

[39] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 6, sec 4 (pages 154M 73Y)

[40] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 6, sec 7 (pages 156M 74Y)

[41] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 6, sec 8 (pages 156M 74Y)

[42] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 6, sec 10 (pages 158M 75Y)

[43] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 5 on Second Tithe and Fourth Year’s Fruit, Ma’aser Sheni V’Neta Reva’i; Chapter 1, sec 14 (pages 510M 247Y)

[44] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 7, sec 1 (pages 160M 77Y)

[45] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 7, sec 6 (pages 164M 78Y)

[46] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 7, secs 1-8 (pages 160-164M 77-78Y)

[47] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 7, sec 5 (pages 162-164M 77-78Y)

[48] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 7, sec 12 (pages 166M 79Y)

[49] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 7, sec 10 (pages 164-166M 79Y)

[50] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 7, sec 7 (pages 164M 78Y)

[51] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 8, sec 9 (pages 172M 82Y)

[52] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 9, secs 1-2 (pages 178M 84-85Y)

[53] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 9, sec 2 (pages 178M 85Y)

[54] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 9, sec 13 (pages 182M 87Y)

[55] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 2 on Gifts to the Poor, Matnot Aniyim; Chapter 10, sec 16 (pages 192M 92Y)

[56] MT Book 7, The Book of Agriculture, Sefer Zeraim; Treatise 7 on The Sabbatical Year and the Year of the Jubilee, Shemitah V’Yovel; Chapter 4, sec 24 (pages 750M 364Y)

[57] MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 10 Megillah and Hanukkah, Megillah vChanukah; Chapter 2, sec 16 (pages 138M 462Y)

[58] MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 8 Sanctification of the New Moon, Kiddush HaChodesh; Chapter 4, sec 1 (pages 88M 16Y); Chapter 5, sec 3 (pages 104M 23Y) (Note: This Treatise is published as a separate volume in the Yale translation.)

[59] MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 8 Sanctification of the New Moon, Kiddush HaChodesh; Chapter 4, sec 2-4 (pages 88-90M 16-17Y) (Note: This Treatise is published as a separate volume in the Yale translation.)

[60] MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 8 Sanctification of the New Moon, Kiddush HaChodesh; Chapter 4, sec 5 (pages 90-92M 17Y) (Note: This Treatise is published as a separate volume in the Yale translation.)

[61] MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 8 Sanctification of the New Moon, Kiddush HaChodesh; Chapter 4, sec 15 (pages 98-100M 21Y); Notes to Chapter 4, sec 15 (pages 99M 88Y) (Note: This Treatise is published as a separate volume in the Yale translation.)

[62] MT Book 3, The Book of Seasons, Sefer Zemanim; Treatise 8 Sanctification of the New Moon, Kiddush HaChodesh; Chapter 4, sec 16 (pages 100M 21Y) (Note: This Treatise is published as a separate volume in the Yale translation.)