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Shabbat Parashat Tzav 5774

P'ninat Mishpat: Back Pay for a Rabbi

(based around Shut Maharam Padova 40)

[Rabbi Meir ben Yitzchak (1482-1565) was known by two “family names:” Katzenellenbogen, after the German city where he was born and bred, and Podova (or Padua) after the Italian city where he operated as an adult. Rav Meir, one of the earliest Acharonim, was a talmid and, later, grandson-in-law of Rabbi Yehuda Mintz, another Ashkenazi who moved to Italy and served as the chief rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva of Padua. Rav Meir was a contemporary of Rav Yosef Karo and also Rav Moshe Isserles, who was actually a relative with whom Rav Meir corresponded. Although it appears that he had a broad impact on his time and was involved in the early publishing of sifrei kodesh, his main written legacy is the 90 responsa of Shut Maharam Padova.]


In this case, the Maharam was asked about a machloket in a different community about one who was effectively acting as rabbi: making public addresses, teaching Torah, answering halachic question, and ruling on monetary disputes. He did not initially receive payment for his efforts. The rabbi decided to leave town, and the people requested that he stay and promised him financial support. After further time elapsed, he demanded to be compensated for all the time he acted as rabbi without being paid. After refusing to say anything that could be construed as a ruling, because of the abuses that such statements lead to, the Maharam Padova discussed halachic issues so that the corresponding rabbi could more easily take responsibility for his own ruling.  


The querier invoked the rule that silence is not to be construed as hoda’ah (acceptance or admission) unless the noteworthy silence occurred before witnesses. (In this case, the rabbi was silent about making a claim that he deserved to be paid for his services until late in the process). There are many cases where silence is significant. For example, if one acts in a way that can harm his neighbor’s use of his neighbor’s property and he is quiet, it is considered that he has agreed. The Rosh argues because one needs three years of such a behavior and a claim that he bought rights, but he seems to agree that similar silence can be significant. The gemara (Bava Metzia 6b) also raises as a serious possibility that silence when one’s counterpart seizes property for payment is like admission. In this case also, the fact that the rabbi saw that the community set a price for him for the future and said nothing about the past seems like a relinquishing of rights to payment for the past. Those who heard the claims of the litigants should try to determine the significance of such a subjective matter.

It is also problematic for the rabbi to demand money for his services, as one is not supposed to take money for teaching Torah and performing mitzvot. It is permitted when he took off from work to do the mitzva. One of the explanations of how rabbis take money is that the gemara’s objection exists only if the pay is received from individuals who are judged or helped, not from the community (Rabbeinu Tam). This answer apparently does not allow taking money for teaching Torah. Another explanation is that the community has to pay because the rabbi did not take a job in order to leave him time to serve the community (Ri). Another possible explanation for the pay rabbis receive is that one may take money to teach a difficult group of students.

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