Home Help Hijack

Question

Yoni’s wife gave birth to her fourth baby in five
years. Yoni searched desperately for a reliable home help, which seemed
hard to find. He finally located someone suitable and was content that she
had settled well into the job. At the beginning of the third week after
starting work, Yoni received a phone call from the help, explaining that
she had found another job. Yoni soon found out the identity of the new
employer – the neighbour down the street. When Yoni confronted the helper,
he discovered that the neighbour had offered her double money. Does Yoni
have a valid claim against his neighbour for helper snatching?


Answer

Yankel Gvir is about to give Ploni a loaf of bread.
Along comes Almoni, another poor man, and snatches it away. According to
our Sages (Tractate Kiddushin 59a), the snatcher has acquired the
loaf but is considered wicked. According to Rabenu Tam, he is only
called wicked if another loaf was available for him elsewhere. Why should
he deprive someone of his loaf if he can obtain an alternative somewhere
else? If this was the only loaf available at the time, he is not accorded
this title. Whenever a unique opportunity becomes available, each
individual is entitled to make his effort to acquire the item. Thus, if a
lost or ownerless article is lying on the ground, whoever picks it up
first becomes the owner. The fact that A showed an interest in acquiring
it does not prevent B from jumping in and picking it up first. Rashi
disagrees, holding that even when a unique opportunity presents itself,
one who snatches the item from someone else who is about to acquire it is
deemed wicked. The Shulchan Oruch (Choshen Mishpot
237:1) writes that this law applies equally to acquiring or renting,
whether land or moveable items. If one person was about to receive
employment and another person snatched the job from him, he is also
considered wicked. Concerning a unique opportunity, he quotes both the
opinions mentioned above.

Reuven has been hired to teach Yehudah’s sons Torah.
May Shimon offer his services as a teacher to Yehudah? According to the Shulchan
Oruch
(Ibid. 2), this would only be permissible if Yehudah had
expressed his desire to cease employing Reuven. However, if someone else
had engaged Shimon to teach his sons, Yehudah would be permitted to
persuade him to teach his own children instead. Even though it is
generally forbidden to snatch away another person’s employee, a skilled
teacher of Torah is considered a unique opportunity (Sema). No
other teacher can advance his children’s education in the same way as this
pedagogue.

Why should one who snatches away another person’s
opportunity be termed wicked? The Maharit (to Tractate Kiddushin
59a) gives the source as Tractate Sanhedrin (81a), where our Sages
compare depriving others of their livelihood to adultery. If one deprives
another person of an opportunity he was interested in when an alternative
was available elsewhere, this is also equivalent to taking away his
livelihood.

We can therefore conclude that Yoni’s neighbour is not
considered wicked for having lured away his home help. Since reliable home
helps are hard to come by, finding one is deemed a unique opportunity.
Even if Yoni had already taken her into his employ, his neighbour would
not be termed wicked for snatching her away. However, he has not fulfilled
the commandment to "love your neighbour like yourself." "Do
not do to others what you would not wish to be done to yourself!"
Would you like your neighbour to snatch away your home help? Well,
why is it permitted to snatch away someone else’s teacher of Torah? The
answer, says Rav Yitzchok Silberstein, is that your children’s spiritual
welfare is different (see Sha’arei Teshuva, Orach Chaim 482).