Throw Out The Clock?


Shaindy has a cleaner who works for her every Thursday
morning from 8 until noon. One Thursday morning, as the clock on the wall
showed 11.55, the cleaner took her bag and made for the door. Shaindy
called her back, saying, “You have another five minutes to work!”
After the cleaner had left, Shaindy’s husband came home. He took one look
at the clock and exclaimed, “I just put in a new battery and it’s still
ten minutes slow!” Shaindy feels very bad for having unjustly held the
cleaner back. What does she have to do (a) about the cleaner (b) about the


The Shulchan Oruch rules (Choshen Mishpot
231:1) that one who gives short measure when selling goods, whether to a
Jew or to a non-Jew, transgresses the Torah prohibition of (Vayikra
19:35), “You must not practice fraudulence in matters of judgment,
involving measures of distance, weight and volume.” The purchaser,
whether Jew or non-Jew, relies on the seller’s expertise in giving him the
correct weight or volume (Sema, Note 1). Not only is it forbidden
to give short measure, but even keeping an inaccurate measuring instrument
in one’s house is also forbidden. Even if one uses the inaccurate weight
for a totally different purpose, for example, as a chamber pot, it is
still forbidden (Shulchan Oruch, Ibid. 231:3). Once a measuring
instrument has been used for such a purpose, the owner is not going to use
it for measuring any more! Nevertheless, our Sages were concerned that a
person who is unaware of this former measuring tool’s status may
inadvertently use it for inaccurate measuring. They therefore ordered its
removal. However, this prohibition only applies to measuring instruments
which are used for buying and selling. Sometimes a person wishes to weigh
or measure for domestic purposes, such as cooking or baking. All are aware
that such instruments are not as accurate as commercial weighing scales.
They would therefore not be used for commercial purposes. Thus, one may
keep them in the house even though they are not accurate (Kesef

It therefore follows that any commercial measuring
instrument, whether used for buying or selling or for paying workers, must
be accurate. Accordingly, gas, electricity, water and telephone meters
must be carefully calibrated. Similarly, taxi meters must be checked for
accuracy. The same applies to the time clock used in many factories, etc.
Each worker has to enter his card when he arrives and when he leaves. The
time recorded on the card will serve as the basis for calculating his
wages. If the clock is inaccurate, he may be paid too little.

What is the status of an ordinary domestic clock? Do we
say that since it is sometimes used to measure the time domestic workers
have worked it is considered to be a measuring device? Or could it be that
since the basic function of a clock is to inform people of the time it
does not have this status? Rav Yitzchok Silberstein (Tuvcha Yabiu,
Hilchos Sh’cheinim, No. 55) is of the opinion that an ordinary
watch or clock is first and foremost a device for telling the time. It
does therefore not fall under the prohibition of keeping an inaccurate
measuring instrument in one’s house. Even though it may occasionally be
used for measuring time, as in our case, this is a secondary use.

We can therefore conclude that although Shaindy must
pay for the unjustified extra time she kept the cleaner – and apologize
for keeping her back – she does not have to get rid of the clock! It would
still be a good idea to replace it, since her husband might be late for
davening, etc. if he relies on it.

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