Jewish Values and the Living Wage

If there is a single common theme running throughout our Jewish tradition, it is that of social justice. Our scriptures teach us to support the widow, to extend our hands to the downtrodden. Our tradition demands that we "speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy (Proverbs 31:9)." As Jews, we have an obligation not only to feed the hungry but also to help those in need become self-sufficient (Maimonides, Mishneh Torah).

Our Torah also emphasizes the importance of a worker's wages. "You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer… but you must pay him his wages on the same day, for he is needy and urgently depends on it (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)." A similar statement appears in Leviticus, "You shall not defraud your neighbor, nor rob him; the wages of he who is hired shall not remain with you all night until the morning (Leviticus 19:13)." The Torah further expresses a commitment to economic justice in the remark, "If one hires a worker to work with straw and stubble and the worker says to him, "Give me my wages," if the employer says, "take the results of your labor as payment," we do not listen to him (Mishnah Bava Metziah 10:5)."