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A Rabbi Shpiel served an out-of-town community, with a bare minyan of Jews. For Parashas Zachor he “hired” two yeshiva bachurim, Yehoshua and Mordechai, to spend Shabbos in the community and guarantee a minyan. Mordechai was also supposed to lein, for an additional sum.

The two bachurim arrived erev Shabbos; Rabbi Shpiel hosted them in his house.


When the three came to shul Friday afternoon, Rabbi Shpiel was informed that Mr. Levine was taken to the hospital just before Shabbos, accompanied by his son. Another member was overseas for business.

“I apologize,” Rabbi Shpiel said to the bachurim. “Mr. Levine and his son were two of the regulars. It looks like we may not have a minyan this Shabbos.”

They waited for people to assemble, but in the end only nine came, including Yehoshua and Mordechai.

Rabbi Shpiel addressed his congregants. “Unfortunately, we don’t have a minyan,” he said, “but I request that people come to shul to pray together, regardless. Furthermore, it’s Parashas Zachor. Although we cannot have regular leining tomorrow, we will at least read Parashas Zachor to fulfill the mitzvah d’Oraysa. according to the Torah.”

On Shabbos afternoon, Yehoshua said to Mordechai: “If Rabbi Shpiel wants to pay us after Shabbos, I don’t think we can take the money. In the end, we didn’t make the minyan.”

“Why not?” replied Mordechai. “We did our job. We came for Shabbos; it’s not our fault that there’s no minyan!”

“And what about payment for your leining?” asked Yehoshua. “You didn’t lein, other than the few pesukim of Parashas Zachor.”

“I did all the preparation before Shabbos, though,” replied Mordechai. “The leining itself is only the culmination of the job.”

After Shabbos, Rabbi Shpiel thanked the bachurim for coming, and apologized for the mishap. “Your intentions were good,” he said as he gave them the money.

“I’m not sure we deserve payment,” said Yehoshua.

“I believe you do,” said Rabbi Shpiel, “but you’re welcome to speak with your Rebbi.”

Yehoshua and Mordechai approached Rabbi Dayan and asked:

“Are we entitled to our payment even though there was no minyan and no leining?”

“The Gemara (B.K. 116a) states that when a worker does the job he was instructed to do, he is entitled to pay, even if the work turns out unnecessary,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “For example, a cab driver who was hired to pick up medicine, but the patient recovered meanwhile, is entitled to full payment” (C.M. 335:3).

“Moreover, if the driver was sent to pick up a package but it was not available, he is still entitled to his pay, since he did the actual work of driving there and back, even though the primary job of picking up the package could not be done” (Nesivos 333:5; Pischei Choshen, Sechirus 12:2[5]).

“Nonetheless, if a shipper was sent to pick up a heavy load but returned empty, we reduce the pay a certain amount since there is less effort and gasoline expenditure in traveling empty” (k’poel batel) (C.M. 333:1).

“You bachurim came for Shabbos and joined the community for their services, so you are entitled to your pay, even though circumstances did not allow for the primary purpose, that of a minyan.

“However, since leining was not possible due to unforeseeable circumstances, Rabbi Shpiel does not have to pay the full amount for it, but Mordechai should receive partial payment for the preparation. Had Rabbi Shpiel retracted without due cause, though, Mordechai would likely be entitled to the full amount, even though he was spared the effort of leining, since usually a baal kriah who prepared prefers to lein rather than to be idle” (see C.M. 335:1; Pischei Choshen, Sechirus 10:8; Aruch HaShulchan, O.C. 306:12).

“In truth, the issue of payment for a mitzvah on Shabbos is questionable,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “unless including also work before or after Shabbos (b’havlaa). Moreover, it says that there is no siman brachah in that money, but the common practice is to allow payment” (O.C. 306:5, 585:5; Mishnah Berurah 306:24).

Verdict: A worker who fulfilled the task for which he was hired is entitled to his wages, even if his work proved futile or could not accomplish the intended goal.


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Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail