|Tractate Peah, Chapter 2
Tosefta 31[If] workers were harvesting [produce2 directly] into their baskets [without allowing the produce to fall on the ground at all,3 then] we4 remove them (i.e. fire them) [since they are not following the laws of Leket (fallen stalks) and end up stealing from the poor by not allowing Leket to take place].5
מסכת פאה פרק ב
פּוֹעֲלִין שֶׁהָיוּ קוֹצְרִין לְּתוֹךְ קוּפּוֹתֵיהֶן הֲרֵי אֵילּוּ מַעֲבִירִין אוֹתָן.
- Since the previous two Toseftot discussed cases where someone prevents the poor from collecting their gifts, this Tosefta states a new law about such a case with regard to Leket. It is not related to any Mishna.
- This would apply to any type of produce, whether it is fruit or grain, since Leket applies to any type of produce that can fall to the ground during the harvesting process.
- The Tosefta is referring to a case where the workers were harvesting in a way that all of the produce was picked directly above a basket, that even if a stalk or a fruit would fall out of the hands of the worker, it would still fall into his basket and not on the ground.
- “We” is used here as a royal we, referring to the court (Bet Din). The court is responsible to enforce that the owners of the fields tell their workers to make sure that they have to harvest in a way that it is possible for Leket to take place. In the end, it is the responsibility of the owner to make sure that his workers do this or get fired. However by saying “we” the Tosefta teaches us, that even if the owner himself instructs his workers to harvest above baskets so that nothing would fall on the ground, the court has the power to fire all of the workers for non-compliance with the laws of Leket. It is important to note that the court does not punish the owner directly in this case by imposing on him some kind of a fine, but rather the workers get fired since in the end it is their responsibility to comply with the laws of Leket, even if it means not to follows the owner’s instructions, since they are the ones who perform the harvest and it is up to them if Leket will occur or not.
- Since the Torah gave the poor fallen produce as a gift, actively preventing them from getting it is considered to be a form of theft. The concept of theft from the poor by somehow preventing them from getting their gifts was is mentioned in Tosefta Peah 1:7, as well as in Mishna Avot 5:8. Obviously since this law is of rabbinic origin this concept is based on ethical grounds in this particular case as enacted by the Rabbis, since by Torah law it would only be considered theft from the poor if the farmer would pick up a fallen stalk which already became Leket, but not by preventing the stalks from falling down since in that case they never became Leket in the first place.
It seems to me that this particular law is of rabbinic origin since technically there is nothing wrong with not allowing produce to fall to the ground, even if it is done on purpose so that the poor will not get anything and the owner gets to keep everything. Although I have to admit it may not be very ethical. The Torah specifically says (see Vayikra 19:9 and 23:22) that a farmer should not pick up fallen produce and should leave it laying on the field for the poor. However it does not say that the farmer has to make sure that some of the produce actually falls down onto the ground, implying that as long as nothing falls down the Mitzvah of Leket does not apply, even if the farmer is preventing it from falling on purpose. However, the Rabbis were concerned about the welfare of the poor and wanted to make sure that there is something left for them. Therefore they enacted a law that required the farmers to harvest in such a way that something would be left for the poor.