Sometimes I could use a favor. For example, I am older and my children are all married and live out of town and it is difficult for me to put up my succa. I am a rebbi in a Yeshiva high school and I would like to ask my students to put my succa up for me. I think that my students would rather not do it and will only agree because it is uncomfortable for them to refuse. Am I permitted to ask them? And if not, is it permitted if I offer them money?
The source for forbidding this practice is a ruling of Rabbeinu Yonah in the Sha’arei Teshuvo (3, 60). He rules that a Jew may not ask someone to do something on his behalf if the person will be too embarrassed or too afraid to refuse. He cites as his source the pasuk that says, “uve’acheichem bnei yisroeil ish be’ochiv lo sirde bo beforech,” you may not rule over your fellow Jew with “forech.”
We must first understand the meaning of the word forech or perach.
The first time the Torah uses this word is in the Torah’s description of the Jews’ enslavement by the Egyptians. The Torah writes that the Egyptians forced our ancestors, their Jewish slaves, to do work that is described as perach. The Rambam (Avodim 1, 6) describes this as work whose only goal is to enslave, what we call “busy work.” The master does not need the work and the only reason he is assigning his slave this task is to keep him busy.
The Gemoro (Sotah 11B) says that the Egyptians would force men to do women’s tasks and vice versa. Obviously, if one wants a job to be done well he asks someone who is skillful to perform the task. Since the Egyptian’s goal was not the performance of the task but merely to subjugate the Jews, they made people do tasks that they found difficult – even though the results were poor. Similarly, Chazal (Sotah 11A) say that the storage cities the Jews were forced to build, Pisom and Ra’amseis, would collapse regularly. This didn’t bother the Egyptians because they were not interested in the accomplishments of their Jewish slaves.
Many claim that the other Rishonim disagree with R. Yonah because they understand that R. Yonah is forbidding one to give his fellow Jew any work that is called perach.
If one understands that R. Yonah is ruling that the reason one may not ask one who cannot refuse, to do something is because that is avodas perach then many do, in fact, disagree. The reason is that the Toras Kohanim (25, 46) writes that the prohibition of giving a Jew avodas perach applies only to an eved ivri, a Jewish slave. A Jewish slave is sold for a number of years and during that period he must carry out all of his owner’s whims and wishes. The Torah commands his owner not to assign him menial or unnecessary tasks. In contrast, an employer is allowed to assign an employee a purposeless task, since the employee is free to quit.
Thus, the Rambam (Avodim 1, 6), in the perek where he writes the laws of Jewish slaves, records the prohibition that one may not command his Jewish slave to perform a purposeless task. He continues in the next halocho that one may not ask his Jewish slave to perform menial tasks e.g. to take his shoes off for him. He adds that one may ask his Jewish employee to perform menial tasks because, “he is performing these tasks willingly.” If an employee is not happy with the work he is assigned, he may quit.
This is even more pronounced in the Sefer Hachinuch (mitzvah 346). He titles this prohibition: “One may not assign his Jewish slave purposeless tasks.” He explains that this prohibition does not apply nowadays since Jewish slavery does not exist today, as yoveil does not apply today. Thus we see that he certainly maintains that the prohibition applies exclusively to Jewish slaves. He can’t agree with R. Yonah, according to this explanation, because according to R. Yonah the prohibition applies even today and is not restricted to Jewish slaves.
Similarly, the Magen Avrohom (169, 1) explains that the reason Jews in his time could ask their Jewish servants to take off their shoes for them even though this is listed by the Gemara as a menial task is because the servants were not slaves since they could quit whenever they wanted. They were called servants because of the nature of their work but they were not slaves in any sense and the prohibition applies only to slaves.
An additional difficulty with this explanation is that why should R. Yonah include work that is performed under duress of sorts as avodas perach? As in your case, you need the job done, so what does it have to do with avodas perach-purposeless work?
However, there is another Gemara to consider which will help us arrive at a different and better understanding of R. Yonah. The Gemara (BM 73B) writes that R. Se’oram, the brother of the Amora Rava, forced Jews who were doing aveiros to help carry his brother, Rava, and Rava justified his action. Rava cited as his source the pasuk that was cited by R. Yonah.
In order to understand his derivation and its relationship with R. Yonah it is important to consider the entire pasuk. The first half of the pasuk states if a Jew owns a non-Jewish slave, his heirs inherit the slave and they should continue enslaving him. The pasuk continues with, “and your brother your fellow Jew.” Finally, the pasuk ends with the words, which were cited by R. Yonah, “you may not assign him avodas perach.” Rava explains that the Hebrew word “and your brother” is a part of both the first phrase and the second phrase. Thus it means that some Jews are equivalent to non-Jews and should be enslaved, and others are not equivalent and it is forbidden to enslave them. The Gra understood the Gemara in this manner and explains in Peninim Meshulchan Hagro that this is why there are two negginos on the word “and your brother” because they make it as if it is written twice: once as part of the first part of the pasuk and once as a part of the end of the pasuk.
Rava explains that what determines into which group a Jew falls is his behavior.
For those Jews who fall into the group that must not be “enslaved,” we must determine what work is included in this prohibition. To determine this it is important to consider the nature of the work these people were forced to do. R. Yehonoson (brought in Shitto Mekubetses) explains that Rava was the town’s rabbi and the people thronged to hear his drosho, necessitating that he be carried on a pallet by people. There were other amoraim in the Gemoro (See Beitso 25B) who were also transported in a similar manner. The work that the people who carried the pallets were forced to do was necessary and thus work that could not be classified as avodas perach.
The Chassam Sofer explains that what the pasuk is teaching is that one may force free people who don’t behave properly to work against their will. The derivation is from what the Torah is teaching us in our relationship with Jewish slaves. The Torah said, as we have seen, that one is not allowed to assign a Jewish slave avodas perach. Thus when one buys a Jewish slave he does not own the right to assign his slave a meaningless task. However, the Torah adds that if the Jewish slave acts improperly, his owner may assign him purposeless tasks even though he does not own his slave for these tasks and for these tasks his Jewish slave has the status of a free man.
From here we derive that one may force a free person who is not acting properly to perform work on one’s behalf. The pasuk says that this exception applies exclusively to people who act improperly and by implication we derive that it is prohibited to force a person who does act properly to work against his will.
If one understands R. Yonah in this manner everything works out beautifully. R. Yonah was not discussing purposeless work. He understood the Gemara in the manner we explained now and took the Gemara one step further. Just like the pasuk forbids physically coercing a Jew who acts properly to do work for us, so too it is forbidden to ask people who will be coerced due to the status of the one who requests their assistance to work for them.
If one understands R. Yonah in this manner there is no proof that the Rambam, Chinnuch, Magen Avrohom and others disagree.
Whichever explanation is correct, we find many gedolim who followed R. Yonah’s ruling. In Orchos Rabbeinu (3, 130) he writes that the Chazon Ish ruled like R. Yonah and said that one who asks someone to speak in public when the person does not want to speak but it is hard for him to refuse, violates this prohibition. This was written by the Chazon Ish explicitly (Kovetz Iggros 2, 89). Orchos Rabbeinu writes that the Steipler told those who were asking distinguished people to speak at his grandson’s bar mitzvah to stop their repeated requests in order to avoid violating this ruling of R. Yonah.
Similarly, R. Moshe Sternbuch writes (Teshuvos Vehanhogos 1, 540) that he heard that the Brisker Rav was very careful not to violate this ruling of R. Yonah to the extent that he wouldn’t even ask anyone to bring him his hat. He also writes that he heard that once the Chazon Ish and Rav Elchonon Wassermann participated in the chasuna of a talmid chacham and Reb Elchonon repeatedly asked the Chazon Ish to speak and he said that he was not violating this ruling of R. Yonah. However, the Chazon Ish replied that he was not so certain, upon which Reb Elchonon asked the Chazon Ish for forgiveness.
Thus if you ask your students to build your succa when they only do it because they can’t refuse, you will violate this ruling of R. Yonah.
You asked if paying money will solve the problem. If we understand R. Yonah in the above manner there are some who say that it does not. The reason is that, as we have seen, the source for R. Yonah’s ruling is his understanding of Rava’s ruling that there is a distinction between people who act properly and those who do not. The Orach Hashulchan (Osid, Yoveil 40, 12) and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Dibbros Moshe BM siman 72 note 92) explain that R. So’aram certainly paid the people who did not act properly for their work because one who doesn’t pay his workers is stealing. The only thing that Rava permitted was to force them to work but he paid them the wages they were entitled to.
Therefore, if the Torah forbids this practice with people who do act properly and R. Yonah says verbal coercion is equivalent to physical coercion, then we have a source that paying does not solve the problem. However, it will solve the problem if some of your students will willingly build your succa when you pay them, which is fine even according to R. Yonah.
In conclusion: R. Yonah would prohibit your requesting your students to build your succa for you if you think they are only building it because they can’t refuse your request. However, if they can refuse you or if by offering them money they will willingly build your succa, you are okay.
The best idea is to ask for volunteers since then no one will feel obligated and those who volunteer, especially if they are paid, are not being coerced to work for you.