Question: I work at a local shul’s youth department on Shabbat. They occasionally have activities during the week (e.g., Purim, Sukkot, Tu B’Shvat). Some of my co-workers believe that one of the intentions for these activities is to solve the problem of paying us for work on Shabbat (s’char Shabbat). I am skeptical for two reasons. First, would that work, considering that there are several months when we get paid without any such activities. Secondly, aren’t there better solutions than that?
Answer: S’char Shabbat (pay for permitted services one provided on Shabbat) is indeed forbidden Rabbinically like other commercial activity, lest one come to write (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 306:4).
The most common way to allow receiving money for work that was done on Shabbat is through havla’ah. That means having the Shabbat-related money "swallowed up" by combining it with weekday pay, as pay for a period of work that includes Shabbat (ibid.). You apparently assume that the applicability of havla’ah depends on the payment period. In other words, each payment has to include pay for work not related to Shabbat or Yom Tov. Therefore, you would forbid a paycheck for a payment period (month) in which there is no weekday work.
However, poskim point out that "havla’ah units" are determined not by the interval of payment but by the period of employment. The period of employment is the time during which there is a commitment to continue the employer-employee relationship, without the ability to back out under normal circumstance. This has ramifications for leniency and for stringency, respectively. If the employee is owed for work on Shabbat and the employer is not obligated to continue the employment during a period that includes weekdays, the work on Shabbat is viewed independently and it is forbidden to receive pay. One common application is a babysitter, who usually gets hired for each job on its own (Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 28:58; Orchot Shabbat 22:94). Your situation is in all likelihood an example of the lenient ramification. A shul usually hires youth workers for "a year" (often, Sept.-June), which is the relevant time unit even if the payments are made in monthly installments. If that is the case, then since the year includes work on Tu B’Shevat and Purim, the pay is permitted.
Indeed, there is often another, related leniency – another application of havla’ah. Some suggest (including Aruch Hashulchan, OC 306:12) that the preparations chazanim do during the week justifies their receiving pay for their work on Shabbat and Yom Tov due to havla’ah. For this to constitute havla’ah, it does not suffice for the preparation to be theoretical work, but obligatory work that is time-consuming enough to warrant pay (Orchot Shabbat 22:90 – he (ibid. (149)) doubts whether chazanim are considered to receive any pay for their preparations.) Similarly, there is often an assumption that youth workers, beyond their frontal work with the children on Shabbat and Yom Tov, have necessary preparatory work that is slated for weekday. This can include buying prizes or food, setting or cleaning up, or preparing props. The shul can ensure from the outset that there are serious weekday preparations by requiring the leaders to come to a training session or meeting or to call the children and/or parents with whom they will be working. As mentioned above, one such serious practice during the employment period suffices.
The matter of chazanim introduces a final potential justification for receiving pay. There are two opinions in the Shulchan Aruch (OC 306:5) whether the prohibition on s’char Shabbat applies to mitzva activities. While the Shulchan Aruch seems to lean toward stringency, the Mishna Berura (306:22) acknowledges that the more prevalent minhag is to be lenient on the matter. Contemporary poskim leave the matter open (Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 28:66). Whether or not a synagogue’s youth groups are considered a mitzva depends on the content of the activities.
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