Labor Day Torah

labor-day-bug.gifFrom this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo:

“Cursed is he that removes his neighbor’s landmark.” (Deuteronomy 27:17)

This curse forms the basis of the commandment known as Hasagat G’vul, (literally, “infringement of boundary”) which, according to the rabbis of the Talmud, was intended to prohibit unfair competition in business or trade. As it is clearly wrong to move one’s border fence to acquire land, this metaphor was understood to address unfair competitive practices that might benefit one’s own business.

Not surprisingly, this law also has been used to address the problem of unfair and immoral labor practices. According to a “Labor Day commentary” on the Interfaith Worker Justice website:

(From) what would appear the most unlikely place—a (verse) about not moving a boundary marker…the rabbis derived an injunction against infringing on another’s livelihood. Interestingly, this line also became the proof text for the rights of both business owners and tradespeople to form associations and fix prices. On this Labor Day weekend, we might turn to this line as both proof text and reminder of the basic rights of workers—in their own effort to pursue justice—to form unions and set fair, standard wages.

While we’re at it, how about some more Labor Day Torah?

– You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or a stranger in one of the communities of you land. You must pay him wages on the same day, before the sun sets, for he is needy and urgently depends on it; else he will cry to the LORD against you and you will incur guilt. (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)

– Great is labor for it gives honor to the laborer. (Babylonian Talmud, Nedarim 49b)

– What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful, and childhood more happy and bright. (Samuel Gompers)

For some thoughts about how to REALLY celebrate Labor Day this weekend, I recommend surfing thoroughly through the link above. And may this holiday inspire us “to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful, and childhood more happy and bright…”

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