Emmanuel Levinas, "Judaism and Revolution," Nine Talmudic Readings, trans. Annette Aronowicz (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994), p. 97.
1 א
'He who hires workers and tells them to begin early and finish late cannot force them to it if beginning early and finishing late does not conform to the custom of the place. Where the custom is that they be fed, he is obligated to feed them; where it is that they be served dessert, he must serve them dessert. Everything goes according to the custom of the place.' (Mishna Baba Metzia 7.1) It is clear from the start that the Mishna affirms the rights of the other person, even if this person finds himself in the inferior position, which is dangerous to his freedom, of a worker for hire. This position is dangerous to his freedom because he runs the risk of losing his liberty without undergoing any violence; to be sure, the person is still acting willingly since he engages himself and stays within the interpersonal commerce of an exchange; but commerce is at the border line of alienation, and freedom easily turns into non-freedom. Our text teaches that not everything can be bought and not everything can be sold. The freedom to negotiate has limits which impose themselves in the name of freedom itself. It matters little that the limits formulated here are not the same as those demanded by modern trade unions. What matters is the principle of limits imposed on freedom for the greater glory of freedom. It is the spirit in which the limits are set: they concern the material conditions of life, sleep and food. Sublime materialism! ... For the nature of the limits imposed is fixed by custom and evolves with custom. But custom is already a resistance against the arbitrary and against violence. Its notion of a general principle is tribal and somewhat childish, but it is a notion of a general principle, the root of the universal and the Law. Sublime materialism, concerned with dessert.
2 ב
Time Period: Contemporary (The Yom Kippur War until the present-day)