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Shabbat Parashat Korach 5777

Ask the Rabbi: Paying for Job One Thought Was Free

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: My child’s friend (under bar mitzva) has joined my son in helping me with various chores and projects. He has asked many times if I will pay him and I say, “No.” I have never demanded him to help, although I appreciate it. Now he has come to me with the claim that I owe him money for all he has done. Could he have a halachic right, or may I just brush it off?


Answer: In our eyes, the most important issue is the social, educational one. I would not be happy if my child was, apparently, obsessed with getting paid in situations in which it is not standard and argues about it with his friend’s parent. If his parents are involved healthily in their child’s character development and interact reasonably with you, it pays to discuss the matter with them for the child’s welfare. It is best if you and they develop a practical plan together. It might be best to pay something so that he not feel that adults take advantage of him. On the other hand, he might deserve to be put in his place. I am not a child psychologist and do not know the child, so I trust you to handle this important matter wisely and sensitively.  

We will deal with the halachic element with the assumption that it is just a point of reference for you. You may not cite it as a ruling, as we have not heard both sides. (We don’t suspect that you are going to a din Torah or a court case with this child.)

This is a case where a “worker” works without waiving any pay due him and the “employer” is aware of the work but has refused to pay if he is not required to. There are two elements that can require one to pay for work done on his behalf: agreement (explicit or implicit); neheneh (benefit from the work). You did not agree to pay, but we must look at the issue of neheneh.

The Rama (Choshen Mishpat 264:4) discusses one who, along with a friend, was in jail and used his resources to secure the release of both of them. The Rama says that if he added resources to include his friend’s release or if he used his resources with both of them in mind, his friend must pay him. He then creates a general rule: “Anyone who does an action or a favor for his friend, [the friend] cannot say: ‘You did it for free because I did not tell you to do it,’ but rather he must pay his wages.” Since no pay was discussed, he pays according to the lower end of the salary scale (K’tzot Hachoshen 331:3). If that which was done is generally done for free, the worker is not paid (Pitchei Choshen, Sechirut 8:31). This depends not only on the type of work but also on the circumstances (e.g., a young child at his friend’s house does not usually get paid). However, this limitation does not apply when the child expressed his expectation to be paid.

After your initial protest, does your stance improve, as the Rama refers to a case where the recipient of the favor said nothing in advance regarding payment, whereas you said you were unwilling to pay? Although he raises that possibility, the Pri Tevu’ah (cited in Pitchei Teshuva, CM 264:3) rules that if the worker intended to get paid and there was neheneh, the recipient still normally has to pay.

On the other hand, Shut Mahari Halevi (151) says that it does not make sense that one must pay after he told his counterpart in advance that he refuses to pay. If there are differing halachic opinions, it is difficult to extract money. The Pitchei Choshen (Sechirut 8:(64)) says that the Pri Tevu’ah was talking about a case where the recipient expressed only dissatisfaction at the idea of paying and wanted the work done, but if he conclusively refused to pay, all would exempt him. This distinction might be pertinent in your case.  

There might be another reason to exempt you. Considering the work was being done by you and your children, it sounds likely that it would have been done anyway without your spending money, and thus there is little or no neheneh (see Shach, CM 246:11). Therefore, any payment would be minimal. Another complicating factor for the child is that if anyone has a halachic right, it is likely his father (Rama, CM 370:2).

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