Crime and Punishment in Jewish Law: Essays and Responsa

By Walter Jacob; Moshe Zemer | Go to book overview

112b; and based upon the Talmud, the law is discussed fully by Mainonides in his Yad, in the laws of "hiring" (S'hiros), Chapter 11. Then it is dealt with in the Tur, Hoshen Mishpat #339 and the same reference in the Shulhan Arukh. There are certain circumstances under which even the strict Jewish law does not deem it a sin to withhold wages. According to some opinions, it is no sin to do so in the case of agricultural labor (evidently because the farmer himself gets his money only after the harvest. See the Tur.) Also, if the workingman knows beforehand that his employer has no money except on market- days, the employer is not liable for delay of payment till the market-day. Finally, the employer is never liable if the employee does not demand his wages. This is clearly stated in Baba Metzia112a and in the Tur and in the Shulhan Arukh 339:10.

So it may well happen that the employee, whose wages are garnisheed by the law, may well appreciate the fact that his employer cannot violate the court order; and knowing that fact, he does not make the futile gesture of demanding his wages. Thus if he does not demand it (for whatever reason), the employer has committed no sin under Jewish law if he withholds the wages.

As to the moral principle involved, that may depend upon what sort of debt, for which the wages are being garnisheed. In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, for example, we have no garnisheeing of wages, except for the support of children and a wife (also for income tax). If it is to support children and wife, how could it be considered unethical for the employer to help in their support in this regard?

There is another ethical consideration involved. The sin denounced in Scripture actually involves two sins: a) the workman is deprived of what he has justly earned, and b) the employer dishonestly keeps (permanently or for a time) money belonging to the worker. But in the case of the garnisheeing of the wages to pay a debt (to a third party), while it is true that the workman is deprived of his just due, the employer at least does not have the use of the money withheld. It goes to satisfy the debt designated in the writ.

But actually the whole question is theoretical. The garnisheeing of the wages comes to the employer as a court order which he cannot fail to obey without legal penalty. The fact that he is compelled to obey the court order has special relevance in Jewish law. In all matters of civil law (such as these) the principle

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