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An Apple a Day


I arranged a part-time job for my son over the holiday period, working as an assistant in a local grocery store. His work involves ensuring that the fruit and vegetable displays remain orderly, carrying crates and cartons from storage to the shop and back, and general cleaning chores. Are there halachic guidelines concerning how much (if anything) he may eat from the produce in the shop?


The Mishnah (Bava Metzia 87a) establishes the general rule with regard to what a laborer on the job may eat. If his work involves produce that is attached to the ground he may partake of it while picking the fruit or harvesting the crop. If, however, the produce is already detached, he may partake of it only on condition that the last act of labor (the act of labor that obligates tithing) has not been performed. This is accordingly ruled by Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 337:2).

Aside from fruit pickers, it is therefore quite uncommon, in view of the principles above, to find cases in which an ordinary laborer is entitled to eat the produce he works with. An example of a case in which eating is permitted is a baker who has to grind wheat before kneading and baking. Since the bread only becomes obligated in ‘tithing’ after kneading, which is when the obligation to take challah is incumbent, it follows that before this stage the baker may partake of the wheat kernels, if he so wishes. The amount and the way in which he may eat is explained in the Gemara (ibid. 87b, 88a) and Shulchan Aruch (ibid.).

Regarding a grocery store which deals in fruit and vegetables, the final labor that obligates tithing is usually done in the field. Although the actual obligation of tithing depends on further actions such as bringing the produce home, a sale, the arrival of Shabbos, and so on, the wording of Rambam (Hilchos Sechirus 12:2) implies that once the final labour has been performed a worker may no longer partake of the produce. This would mean that our grocery store worker, even when transporting produce from the market to the store, would not be entitled to eat.

There is, however, an additional consideration. Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 159:1) rules that one must allow a waiter or attendant to partake of any food that carries a pleasant fragrance which causes him to desire it. This is based on the Gemara in Kesubos (61b) which describes the ill effects that an unfulfilled desire for food can cause. Shulchan Aruch concludes that it is worthy practice to allow the waiter to partake of every dish he is due to serve before he begins work.

This would apply to fruit no less than to any other dish, on condition that the fruit has a fragrance that would cause a worker to desire it. Since apples sometimes fulfill this criterion, it may be that your son is entitled to ‘an apple a day.’ Depending on circumstances, the obligation of the employer to allow a ‘taste’ of the fruit would apply to every fragrant fruit that arouses an employee’s desire.

Magen Avraham (ibid.) adds that even if the employer stipulates in advance that he does not allow the waiter to partake of the dishes, the stipulation is null and the waiter may nonetheless eat. Nesiv Chayim (ibid.), however, proves from a ruling of Rosh that this is not the case, and that a prior stipulation is binding.

Yet, there is room to distinguish between a waiter and a grocery-store worker. Whereas the waiter is serving on customers partaking of a meal, the grocery worker is only working on the preparatory stages, and he does not (in general) come into contact with customers who eat the fruit in his presence. It is possible that the urgent desire to partake of a dish is only experienced when other are eating, and that the obligation to allow a waiter to taste the dish is limited to his particular circumstances.

For this reason, and in order to avoid potential discomfort, it is worthy practice for a worker to confirm that the employer doesn’t object to his “halachic consumption,” and to agree in advance on exactly how much he is permitted to eat.

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