Under what method of employment should a Jew sustain himself? Is there a preference for self-employment over working for an employer?

I've heard that an employee is like a slave to the employer and maybe this is the source of this idea:

The Cohen Gadol's prayer:

ולא יהיו עמך ישראל צריכים פרנסה זה מזה ולא מעם אחר 

Footnote 14 to Baba Metzia 10a also states:

The fact that the labourer may terminate the employment any time he likes does not imply that he does not belong to the employer.

From the above Gemoro it appears it is not good for Jews to be slaves, as stated:

For unto me the children of Israel are servants ; they are My servants (Vayikra 25:55)  — but not servants to servants.

Additionally, the Shulchan Aruch states Even HaEzer 70:3:

וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים עוֹד, דְּחַיָּב לְהַשְׂכִּיר עַצְמוֹ כְּפוֹעֵל וְלָזוּן אִשְׁתּוֹ

It seems the Shulchan Aruch is saying it is very negative to be an employee (i.e. the last resort if one can't provide food for his wife).

These sources appear to suggest that a Jew should be self-employed.

  1. Is it indeed preferable for Jews to be self-employed?
  2. If so, what are other sources contain these ideas?
  3. Does the type of employment matter?

From http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=35202&st=&pgnum=153 it seems it depends, and that if the employee can choose what hours he works he is not like a slave

  • 2
    Or in short what is the preferred source of sustenance for Jew (if there are a few, what is the order of preference?)
    – hazoriz
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 14:02
  • I heard somewhere in the Talmud advising not to be busy in construction (if I am not mistaken)
    – hazoriz
    Commented May 5, 2016 at 23:57
  • 1
    פרנסה זה מזה refers to receiving charity. The Gemara there is saying that a laborer is not a slave - the distinction being he can resign because otherwise it would be more akin to slavery. E.H. 70 is talking about forcing the husband to work to feed his wife if he lacks assets (see the Beis Yosef and the Bach on the relevant section of the Tur), not the undesirability of work.
    – Yishai
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 14:20
  • 1
    @Yishai You can post that as an answer(+1) (it will also be interesting to know of you have a subjective opinion regarding this question) good shabbos!!!
    – hazoriz
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 23:13
  • 1
    This doesn't answer your question, but Haamek Davar on Kayin and Hevel deals with a related topic.
    – msh210
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 8:27

5 Answers 5


I don't see quite how this question makes sense, as is there a real difference between employment and self employment besides in the modern legal sense?

If a person is "in business" aka self-employed, he still takes on jobs for individuals and is accountable to them for an albeit shorter period of time.

The added proof you mentioned that he must hire himself out as a labourer if he has nothing else, may mean he must do physical labour, or job-defined labour (keep harvesting till the end of the Harvest Season) even if he is an intelligent Talmid Chacham and generally unsuited to that type of work.

The Kohen Gadol's prayer, I believe, means, in a desperate sense. They should have a stable source of income so it doesn't feel as if they need each other (kind of like a business/income/employability that is seen to be value for money).

The quote about not being slaves of slaves means an Eved Ivri that has specific laws.

The Chovas Halevovos teaches a person how to figure out which job would suit different natures, and encourages people to seek a Parnasa opportunity that matches what they do best.

Learning Parshas Hamon daily, in which we find people worried about needing sustenance and then being fed by Hashem, is a well-known segula for getting money - maybe without needing "employment", or perhaps will help him find a way to contribute to the work force in a way he finds valuable.

And, as many will remember, a Tzadik would get his Mon portion close to his tent, others had to go further. So if your only option is distant, challenging, or slave-like, take it if you can, because having money can cure so many other problems, but keep asking G-d to assist you in getting to the level at which you deserve to spend less time or emotional energy in the earning thereof.

The more money one has earned and put away, the more likely one to be able to do business. The more one shows up to work reliably, the more likely others will invest through him. So even if self-employed is theoretically better (and I haven't seen convincing proof that that's so), a way to get there may be to get any employment in the meantime.

  • +1 thanks for a response, Regarding you first question, please see the first comment to the question
    – hazoriz
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 22:19
  • Regarding "hire himself out" if you look at the Bais yosef link in comments on the question it seems that he can say he will only do home work (since it does say in the kesuba that he will work) like to seed and plow (physical labour) but does not need be an employee,
    – hazoriz
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 23:07
  • fascinating. so he does not need to leave his house. or is it about being employed by the day instead of longer term
    – RG1
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 23:10
  • (for sefardim he is not obligated to hire himself out, if he can not feed his wife it is grounds for a divorce and he needs to pay the kesuba.) But I guess it is his time and belongs to him if he is an employee for a set time (he does not choose what time to work) he is like a slave and this is very degrading (maybe), nothing to do with leaving the house just he has an explanation what he meant in the kesuba (he meant respectful work not to be an employee)
    – hazoriz
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 23:17
  • It may not be about employee work being degrading as much as unsuited to his nature. Perhaps he can't bear to take instructions. For others this is fine, but a person isn't obliged to this.
    – RG1
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 23:20

The passuk says in Bereishis, vayishalech Chanoch es elokim ve'eneno ki le'kacho elokim. Chanoch walked with God and he is no longer as God took him.

The medrash explains Chanoch was a cobbler and with every stitch he made he was meyached yichudim le'kono, he created unity for his creator.

The Michtav me'Eliyahu explains this cannot possibly mean he had kabbalistic meditations as that would be stealing from his customers, rather it means with every stitch he made he intended the shoes to serve his customer well.

So it's not what you do, but how you do it.

And Judaism does not believe money is a means to itself that the way to earn a living should determine the quality of your interaction with society in the process thereof.

  • +1 thanks for a response, how will kabbalistic meditations be stealing (i guess) he was payed for the job not for the time
    – hazoriz
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 0:01
  • How is kabalistic meditation stealing from custimers and what is that?
    – Dude
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 0:36
  • Really nice point, but how does that respond to the proofs in question?
    – LN6595
    Commented May 10, 2016 at 19:44
  • @Dude perhaps since his customers were paying an hourly wage, spending more time on his work by meditating would necessitate charging more for the same labor, essentially stealing. we see the same concern regarding day laborers and prayer obligations. Commented May 12, 2016 at 14:14

Lets consider: Abraham, a just man, was self employed and prospered greatly. So much so that he and lot had to part ways for the land could nto sustain them both.

Jacob worked for Laban who appears to have been most unscrupulous in his dealings with Jacob. But Jacob prospered no matter which way Laban sought to take advantage of him.

Daniel was employed in service to a foreign king. But he never transgressed God's laws in this position/work. God put upon him a spirit of wisdom that even the heathen recognized.

What I observe in the testimony of Scripture and also in the world through history is that the Jew who regards His God and follows in the precepts of God is blessed in all he does:

וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים, לֹא עָמָד, וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים, לֹא יָשָׁב. 1
Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful.
ב כִּי אִם בְּתוֹרַת יְהוָה, חֶפְצוֹ; וּבְתוֹרָתוֹ יֶהְגֶּה, יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה. 2
But his delight is in the law of the LORD;
and in His law doth he meditate day and night.
ג וְהָיָה-- כְּעֵץ, שָׁתוּל עַל-פַּלְגֵי-מָיִם:
אֲשֶׁר פִּרְיוֹ, יִתֵּן בְּעִתּוֹ--וְעָלֵהוּ לֹא-יִבּוֹל; וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר-יַעֲשֶׂה יַצְלִיחַ. 3
And he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water,
that bringeth forth its fruit in its season,
and whose leaf doth not wither;
and in whatsoever he doeth he shall prosper.
ד לֹא-כֵן הָרְשָׁעִים: כִּי אִם-כַּמֹּץ, אֲשֶׁר-תִּדְּפֶנּוּ רוּחַ. 4
Not so the wicked; but they are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
ה עַל-כֵּן, לֹא-יָקֻמוּ רְשָׁעִים--בַּמִּשְׁפָּט; וְחַטָּאִים, בַּעֲדַת צַדִּיקִים. 5
Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
ו כִּי-יוֹדֵעַ יְהוָה, דֶּרֶךְ צַדִּיקִים; וְדֶרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים תֹּאבֵד. 6
For the LORD regardeth the way of the righteous;
but the way of the wicked shall perish.

  • +1 Very nice but I think, Jacob did not have a set time to work he worked when he wanted and the salary he made was a part of the profit (not per hour), so he was not like a slave
    – hazoriz
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 13:43
  • he was far more slave like at the beginning - he had to put in nights like days to make sure the sheep stayed alive. I can't quote a source.
    – RG1
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 15:43
  • @MrsRGeller he did not get payed for the extra time only from the profits (if I am not mistaken)
    – hazoriz
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 18:08

in the shaar bitachon intro:

Another benefit for the one who trusts in the Al-mighty, is that his trust will lead him to the following:

  • to not serve other than G-d

  • to not hope in any man, nor expect from anyone (Micha 5:6).

  • to not work to win their approval.

  • to not flatter them.

  • to not agree with them in what is not the service of G-d (ex. going to their time wasting parties - Pas Lechem)

  • to not be afraid of their matters.

  • to not be afraid of disagreeing with them .

  • to divest himself of the cloak of their favors and free himself from the burden of expressing gratitude to them, and from the obligation of paying back their favors .

Marpe Lenefesh commentary: He endeavors and does everything he can to not need others and to not enclothe himself in the favors of others. For this would place him under an obligation to toil to express gratitude to them and to also make a return, as it is proper and obligatory to pay back a benefactor with good, as mentioned earlier in the beginning of the third gate. Rather, he desires that G-d alone be his benefactor, and that he thanks only Him.

I think from logic it seems this is easier to do when one is self-employed.

another source from Mesilat Yesharim ch.11

Aba Chilkiya did not even return the greetings of torah scholars in order to not be idle from the work he was doing for another (Taanit 23b). Yaakov, our forefather, peace be unto him, states explicitly, "in the day heat consumed me, and the frost by night, and my sleep departed from my eyes" (Bereishis 31:40)...

the summary of the matter: one who is hired out to his fellow for any kind of work, all of his hours are sold to his employer for the workday as the Sages stated: "to hire oneself out is to sell oneself for the day" (Bava Metzia 56b). Whatever time he takes for his own pleasure, whatever it may be, is completely guilty of stealing. And if his employer does not forgive him, he is not forgiven. For the Sages already stated: "sins between man and his fellow are not atoned for on Yom Kippur until he has pacified his fellow" (Yoma 85b).

see there for more.


It is obviously better to be self-employed acording to the sources below

Where he says it is less of an embarrassment to collect money then to rent yourself as a worker

In mitzvot habais page 236

"להשכיר את עצמו יותר גרוע מלחזור על הפתחים"

That to rent yourself is worse then to "return on the doors" (collect money from door to door)

That the Torah obligates a Jew to use money that he has for positive comments, and to collect money for negative comments, but to be a slave (rent yourself) you are only obligated if you steel to repay

His source is the oizer mkoidesh on even ezer 70.3 it is printed on the bottom of the page in the Shulchan aruch

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