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Ki-Tetze. Eating on the Job

One of the striking features of Parashat Ki Tetze is its concern for ethics within every sphere of social interaction. I would like to focus on one fascinating and lesser known Halakha:

When you enter another man’s vineyard, you may eat as many grapes as you want, until you are full, but you must not put any in your vessel. (23:25)

At first glance, I am being given carte-blanche to eat agricultural produce that isn’t mine. However, the Talmud applied this to a worker during the harvest season. Here is Rashi in a concise summary of the law:

When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard: Scripture is speaking of a worker.

as you desire: As many as you wish.

until you are sated: But not excessive eating

you shall not place [any] into your vessel: referring only to the period of the harvest, when you place [grapes] into the owner’s basket/vessel, however, if the worker is entering the vineyard to hoe or or cover the exposed roots, he may not eat.

In short, if a worker is picking fruit, he may help him or herself to the fruit during his work time. But may not take the produce home. If I recall correctly, my attraction to this particular law stretches back to a 5th Grade Humash class when our teacher told us that she worked in a bakery and was allowed to help herself to any of the baked goods on the basis of this law!(*)