TALMUD. The 22nd Massekhet – Bava Metzia

Tractate Bava Metzia (“The Middle Gate”) is actually one section of an ancient Talmudic tractate – Massekhet Nezikin – which deals with issues of civil law, and was eventually divided into three parts (bavot, or “gates”). As is true of the other sections, Massekhet Bava Metzia focuses on one main topic, which divides into a large number of different issues, as is common in Talmudic discussions. The main topic of this tractate involves business interactions between people that are informed by Torah laws that define and limit them. Thus, the discussion does not cover all areas of business and possessions, rather it is limited to those areas where the Torah adds unique commandments or prohibitions beyond the normal laws that apply to business interactions.

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120 Responses to TALMUD. The 22nd Massekhet – Bava Metzia

  1. Bava Metzia 51a-b: Dispensing with the rules

    Can a person make a condition that negates a Torah obligation?

    Although in the Mishna (Ketubot 84a) Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel rejects such a possibility, some suggest that in situations that are purely monetary we may say tenai she-be-mamon kayyam – making a condition on a Torah law that has to do with money is acceptable.

    One example that is brought by the Gemara in Ketubot is the case of ona’ah (unfair business practices). According to the Torah (See Vayikra 25:14, 17) business transactions must be fair and one side cannot take advantage of another. Thus, overcharging or underpaying is forbidden by the Torah, and the forbidden profits will need to be returned or the transaction voided. What would be the halakha if someone said to his friend “I am selling this to you on the condition that the rule forbidding ona’ah does not apply”? Here we find a disagreement between Shmuel who permits such a condition, permitting the sale and Rav who insists that ona’ah still applies.

    The source for this discussion of ona’ah appears on today’s daf (page). In truth, it is not only a question of whether a person can make an agreement to dispense with the rules of the Torah with regard to money matters, but also a more basic question of how to define the law of ona’ah. Some argue that ona’ah has two sides to it. On the one hand there is a question of money, on the other hand there are elements of issur – of forbidden practices – involved, as well. It is therefore possible that even if a person can choose to forgo the Torah rules with regard to money, his agreement to forgo the rule of ona’ah will have no legitimacy because of the issur involved.

    According to the Rambam (Hilkhot Mekhira 13:3) and the Shulhan Arukh (Hoshen Mishpat 227:21), even though a person cannot make a condition that ona’ah does not apply, if he clearly states the true value of the item at the time of sale and explains that the price that he is demanding is out of line with its cost in the marketplace, the buyer can choose to purchase the item without the rules of ona’ah applying.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  2. Bava Metzia 52a-b: The value of coins

    The Mishna on today’s daf (page) discusses ona’ah – unfair business transactions (see above, daf 50) – in a case where a coin had less value than its true weight. In this case, while Rabbi Shimon rules that ona’ah remains at one-sixth the value of the coin, other tanna’im suggest that it is a smaller amount. Rabbi Meir suggests that ona’ah will be at one-twenty-fourth the value of the coin and Rabbi Yehuda suggests one-twelfth.

    In answer to the Gemara’s question – why is there agreement about ona’ah in the case of a tallit (clothing), but not in the case of a coin – we find two opinions.

    According to Rava, there really is an argument in both cases; the first Mishna only presented Rabbi Shimon’s position, but Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda would keep their positions in all cases.

    According to Abaye, there is a basic difference between clothing and coins. Clothing is something that people wear and use, and are willing to overspend on and therefore, a minimal overcharge is considered insignificant. Coins, on the other hand, only have value as exchange, and if a person receives less than he was supposed to he will not “forgive” the difference.

    Tosafot ask how we should approach other objects, aside from clothing and coins. What would the rule be with regard to fruit, for example?

    The Meiri says that coins are generally seen as a means to purchase food, so fruit would be treated like coins. The Ramban disagreed, arguing that Abaye’s main point was to distinguish between things that have some intrinsic use and coins that are only of symbolic value to purchase things. Therefore it is specifically with regard to coins that the exact value is so important, and ona’ah will apply more readily.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  3. Bava Metzia 53a-b: Priestly gifts

    The “taxes” paid by your average farmer during Temple times went largely to the mikdash itself and to the people – kohanim and levi’im – who worked there. The major matanot (literally “presents” but effectively taxes) included:
    •Bikkurim – the first fruits of the harvest that are brought to the Temple and given to the kohanim
    •Teruma gedola – a portion of the harvest given to the kohen. He can use it in his home for normal purposes, but it must be treated as kodshim, preserved (when possibly in a state of ritual purity, only consumed by kohanim, etc.)
    •Ma’aser rishon – a portion of the harvest given to the levi. It has no kedusha (holiness) attached to it and it can be used for any purpose.
    •Ma’aser sheni – a portion of the harvest that is taken by its owner to Jerusalem, where he can eat it on his own or give it to others, but it must be kept tahor (pure) and only eaten within the precincts of the city.

    Our Gemara quotes a Mishna that teaches a number of halakhot regarding bikkurim and teruma. For example, someone who is not a kohen who eats them will be liable to receive the death penalty if he consumes them with malicious intent, or will have to pay restitution and add a 20% penalty if he eats them accidentally. Nevertheless, they are considered the property of the kohen (i.e. he can sell them to another kohen), and if they were to fall into a mixture, they would become nullified at a ratio of 100:1 (ordinary forbidden foods become nullified at a ratio of 60:1). The Mishna points out that all this is in contrast to the laws of ma’aser rishon, which has no unique holiness to it; it is simply a portion of the harvest that must be separated and given to the levi to do with it as he sees fit.

    The Ramban points out that the emphasis of the Mishna on the fact that bikkurim and teruma are the property of the kohen is to point out the contrast with ma’aser sheni which is considered by the Sages to be in the category of mi-shulhan gavoah ka-zakhu – that it comes to the individual “from the table of the Almighty.”

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  4. Bava Metzia 54a-b: Redeeming the second tithe

    On yesterday’s daf (page) we learned some of the rules of ma’aser sheni – “the second tithe.” Ma’aser sheni is the additional tithe that is separated by the farmer after he has given teruma to the kohen and the first tithe to the levi. During the first, second, fourth and fifth years of the shemitta cycle an additional tenth of the produce is set aside by the farmer, who takes it to Jerusalem to eat (during years three and six the tithe is given to the poor). Recognizing that it might be difficult to bring a large amount of crops to Jerusalem, the Torah itself allows the farmer to redeem his crops and take the money to Jerusalem, where he could buy any food products there (see Devarim 14:26). Aside from the value of the ma’aser sheni itself, the owner is required by the Torah to add one-fifth as a penalty (or, perhaps, as a “service charge”) for redeeming the fruit rather than bringing it to Jerusalem.

    Our Gemara asks whether this additional one-fifth is an absolute requirement or if the ma’aser sheni can be eaten if it is paid for even if this additional sum is not added to the redemption fee.

    To answer this question, the Gemara quotes a baraita where Rabbi Eliezer rules that ma’aser sheni without the additional fifth can be eaten, while Rabbi Yehoshua rules that it cannot be eaten. Rebbi (Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi) – accepts Rabbi Eliezer’s position on Shabbat (to honor Shabbat with this food, the Sages allowed it to be eaten) and Rabbi Yehoshua’s position during the week.

    The first approach that the Gemara takes is to suggest that Rabbi Eliezer believes that the additional one-fifth is not an absolute requirement, while Rabbi Yehoshua believes that it is. Rav Pappa rejects this conclusion, arguing that neither believe it to be an absolute requirement, and the argument is whether we fear that the individual will not be responsible enough to pay the additional charge.

    The Maharatz Hayyut asks why the Gemara did not consider the possibility that all agree that the extra payment is an absolute requirement, but it is one that the Sages pushed aside in the interest of oneg Shabbat – honoring Shabbat. He answers based on the Rashba that the Sages’ ability to push aside biblical law is limited, and were it forbidden to eat ma’aser sheni that was not redeemed properly, they do not have the ability to push aside that law.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  5. Bava Metzia 55a-b: Defining the Value of Priestly Tithes

    The Mishna on our daf teaches that there are a number of laws that all have a similar rule attached to them – that when redeeming them or paying for them, aside from the value of the object itself, an additional one-fifth must be paid. These laws include cases when someone who is not a kohen eats from the priestly tithes – Ha-okhel – when someone eats:
    •terumah – tithes,
    •terumat ma’aser – tithes given by the levi who received terumah,
    •ma’aser shel demai – tithes given when it was doubtful whether they had been given properly before,
    •hallah – dough set aside for the kohen when baking bread,
    •bikkurim – first fruits taken to the Temple.

    In the Gemara, Rava quotes Rabbi Elazar as questioning one of those cases. Regarding ma’aser shel demai, how can the sages require the same obligation on their Rabbinic enactment as exists on Torah laws? In response, Rav Nahman quotes Shmuel as saying that this Mishna follows Rabbi Me’ir who rules regarding a divorce case that the Sages can require that their enactments carry the same weight as Torah laws.

    In truth, the Gemara’s question is somewhat odd, since we find many places in the Talmud where Rabbinic enactments are given the same status as Torah law, and occasionally even a higher status than Torah law.

    Some suggest that the question in this case stems from the unique situation of demai. The Rabbinic rule about demai is that we are concerned that farmers may choose to separate terumah gedolah – the basic tithe, which is a very small amount – but refrain from separating the other required tithes. Thus, the enactment is a very weak one, since it shows concern for the fact that a small minority of people may not be separating their tithes properly. The Gemara found it surprising that aside from creating this enactment, the Rabbis further ruled that if demai was eaten accidentally a penalty should be paid. The response of the Gemara is that in Rabbi Me’ir’s case of divorce there is also a very unlikely situation, yet it is one that Rabbi Me’ir was very stringent about the Rabbinic decree.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  6. Bava Metzia 56a-b: These matters do not follow the rules

    The Mishna on today’s daf (page) focuses on four things that do not follow the same rules as most other objects with regard to business transactions and related issues. The four are

    avadim – non-Jewish slaves

    shetarot – notes or contracts

    karka’ot – real estate

    hekdeshot – things that have been consecrated to the Temple.

    The first rule of the Mishna is that the rules of ona’ah (exploitation) – rules that forbid overcharging or undercharging at the time of sale – do not apply in any of these cases. The Gemara explains that this is learned from the passage that is the source of the prohibition of ona’ah (Vayikra 25:14), where the Torah teaches that ona’ah is forbidden when something is sold or bought me-yad amitekhah – from your fellow’s hand. This is understood to exclude real estate which does not transfer from hand to hand. The other cases are derived by the Gemara from the law about real estate.

    Although the source for this law is biblical, some suggest logical reasons that may be the foundation for these ideas. One idea is that real estate cannot be valued the same way moveable property can, and has greater importance than other things, since it lasts forever.

    Another set of laws that does not apply to these cases are the penalties that a thief must pay if the object is stolen over and above returning the value of the stolen object – usually kefel (double payment), and occasionally four or five times the object’s worth, if it was an ox or a sheep that was stolen and then killed or sold. A question that is raised by the rishonim is how these rules can apply to real estate – how can immovable property be stolen? Tosafot in Bava Kamma offers two suggestions – either we are talking about a case of masig gevul – someone who tampers with the border markings between fields, or we are talking about a case of something that is mehubar la-karka – something that is connected to the ground, and therefore has the same rules as the land itself.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  7. Bava Metzia 57a-b: A more stringent standard

    For the past several dapim (pages) the Gemara has been discussing the laws of ona’ah – of sales or purchases where the agreed-upon price differs from accepted cost by one-sixth or more.

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf (page) the Sages conclude from the pasuk (verse) in Vayikra (25:14) – which is the source for the prohibition of ona’ah – that ona’ah applies only when something is sold or bought me-yad amitekhah – from your fellow’s hand. Thus we conclude that ona’ah does not apply in a number of cases, including the purchase of slaves, contracts, real estate and things consecrated to the Temple. The Gemara assumes that this means that purchase or sale differential of these things can be greater than one-sixth, and still the purchase or sale is valid.

    Our Gemara offers a different perspective, at least in the case of hekdeshot – things that have been consecrated to the Temple – by quoting Rav Hisda who believes that by saying ona’ah does not apply the Mishna means that the normal rules of ona’ah does not apply, rather even more stringent rules of ona’ah apply. In the case of hekdeshot, Rav Hisda rules that even a minimal difference between the actual price and the price that is paid will invalidate the sale.

    Several explanations are offered for Rav Hisda’s position. The Ra’avad suggests that since the Torah is very scrupulous about evaluating the worth of consecrated objects, we cannot allow even a small overpayment to be made by the Temple. According to the Rosh, in ordinary cases, less than one-sixth overpayment is not considered ona’ah because the owner “forgives” such a small error. With regard to property owned by the Temple, however, there is no one in a position to “forgive” a small overcharge, so even a small amount would be considered ona’ah.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  8. Bava Metzia 58a-b: The transgression of verbal mistreatment

    The Mishna on today’s daf (page) teaches that ona’a – a term that we have defined as “monetary exploitation” or “unfair business transactions” – applies not only to buying and selling, but to other areas of personal interaction, as well. Thus, it is prohibited for a person to ask a shopkeeper for the price of an object that he has no interest in purchasing. This ona’at devarim (verbal mistreatment) applies in a range of other situations, as well – the Mishna includes reminding a ba’al teshuva (a penitent) of his earlier sins, or the child of a convert of the sins of his parents.

    According to the Meiri, the main concept of ona’at devarim is the emotional pain and suffering that one person causes to another, whose linguistic root can be found in a passage in Yeshayahu (49:21). As we have seen, the Mishna opens by describing a case of ona’at devarim that is connected with a commercial transaction, but then continues by including personal matters in this category, as well.

    The baraita quoted by the Gemara assigns a passage in Vayikra (25:14) as the source for ordinary, commercial, ona’a, and a later pasuk, or verse (Vayikra 25:17) as the source for ona’at devarim. Rabbi Yohanan quotes Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai as teaching that ona’at devarim is the more severe of the two, since the Torah includes a comment that “you shall fear your God” in the passage from which we learn ona’at devarim. The Maharsha explains that this may stem from the fact that a person who is committing ona’at devarim will often deny the accusation, showing that he fears his fellow man – who cannot know his true intention – more than he fears God, who certainly knows what truly is his intent.

    Sages in the Gemara are quoted as pointing to a number of reasons that ona’at devarim is considered so severe. Rabbi Elazar suggests that it is the difference between making the individual suffer personally or making his money suffer; Rabbi Shmuel bar Nahmani argues that money can always be returned, but ona’at devarim cannot be undone.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  9. Bava Metzia 59a-b: The oven of a snake

    One of the most famous stories in the Talmud appears on today’s daf (page).

    The Gemara presents a fairly straightforward argument between the Sages. A question was raised about the status of an oven that was cut into segments width-wise and sand was placed between each segment. Should this oven be seen as having lost its status as an existing oven when taken apart and rebuilt, or is it considered an oven throughout, since it was made to be taken apart in this way? Rabbi Eliezer felt that it lost its status as an oven and therefore, was not susceptible to ritual impurity; the Hakahmim ruled that it retained its status throughout, as it is functionally a complete oven, and therefore is susceptible to ritual impurity.

    Rather than argue the case on its merits, the Gemara records that Rabbi Eliezer called on the carob tree to support him, the stream to support him, and the walls of the study hall to support him. In response to his call, the carob tree uprooted itself and moved 400 amot (cubits), the stream flowed backwards and the walls began to collapse – until Rabbi Yehoshua stopped them. The Sages refused to be influenced by any of these miraculous occurrences. Finally Rabbi Eliezer asked the heavens to support his position, and a bat kol – a heavenly voice – was heard to say “Why are you arguing with Rabbi Eliezer, whose rulings are always correct?” In response the Sages said lo ba-shamyim he – since the Torah was given to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai, decisions are no longer made based on heavenly decisions, but on the decisions of the Rabbis who interpret it.

    While some rishonim take this story literally and explain that miracles were performed on behalf of the Talmudic Sages, just as they were for the early prophets, Rabbeinu Hananel suggests another approach. He argues that this story was a dream – a vision at night – that seemed so real and significant that it was recorded for the message that it contains.

    The oven referenced on this page is referred to as tanur shel akhnai – an “oven of a snake” – which was a reference to how the Rabbis surrounded Rabbi Eliezer with answers, like a snake coils and does not allow escape.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  10. Bava Metzia 60a-b: Sales promotions and Jewish law

    Who invented loss-leaders? Free give-aways? Sales promotions are not modern inventions – they have been with us since time immemorial.

    The Mishna on today’s daf (page) discusses these kinds of promotions and the permissibility of their use. We find that Rabbi Yehuda forbids a storekeeper from giving out treats to small children, since that will give him an unfair advantage. Similarly, he forbids a storekeeper from lowering his prices to attract clients, since he is taking them from his competitors. The Hakhamim of the Mishna disagree, arguing that someone who lowers prices should be praised rather than vilified. The Gemara explains the reasoning of the Hakhamim by saying that the storekeeper can argue that his competitor is welcome to offer similar – and even more generous promotions – if he wants to compete.

    One business practice that the Mishna clearly forbids is “prettying up” merchandise in order to trick people when they are considering its purchase. To illustrate this ruling, the Gemara tells of a slave who dyed his hair and his beard black and approached Rava and offered himself for sale. Rava responded by quoting the Mishna in Massekhet Avot (1:5) that poor people should be members of your household. Since Rava fulfilled this dictum he had a lot of help at home and had no need for a slave. The man then approached Rav Pappa bar Shmuel, who agreed to the purchase. When Rav Pappa asked him to fetch water, he washed out the dye and responded “I am even older than your father” indicating that he could not be expected to draw water.

    The Rashba explains that this slave was a Jewish man who wanted to work in a Jewish home, and therefore offered himself for “sale,” but Rashi suggests that this was a case of an eved kena’ani – a non-Jewish slave who had been partially set free by his original master.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  11. Bava Metzia 61a-b: Distinguishing between two like items

    In the context of discussing forbidden loans, i.e. loans that charge interest, Rava asks the following question –

    Why does the Torah juxtapose the Exodus from Egypt with:

    1. Charging interest on loans (Vayikra 25:37-38)

    2. Weights and measures (Vayikra 19:36-37).

    3. Tzitzit – the fringes placed on four-cornered garments (Bamidbar 15:37-41)

    Rava explains that God is teaching that just as He distinguished between the firstborn and ordinary Egyptian child at the time of the final plague, similarly He is able to –

    1. recognize the individual who gives his money to a non-Jew in order to charge interest on a loan to Jews

    2. know who buried his weights in salt in order to change their weight

    3. recognize the difference between dye from the true-blue hilazon and kala ilan.

    The consensus of most opinions is that the hilazon is the snail Murex trunculus that is found on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in the north of Israel. This creature has a unique liquid dye (that is not the animal’s blood), which, when mixed with other materials, produces the sky blue tekhelet color described in the Torah. Already during Talmudic times the use of tekhelet became a rarity, and within a short time its true source was forgotten.

    Kala ilan is apparently a plant – Indigofera tinctoria – a legume with red, pink or white flowers. True indigo dye was extracted from its leaves in Talmudic times and until recently. Today it has largely been replaced with synthetic dyes. It would appear that this plant dye was very similar in its appearance to the tekhelet of the hilazon, but was a much cheaper alternative. Only through complicated examinations could the two dyes be told apart. The rishonim explain that Rava in the Gemara is not talking about someone who mistakenly wore tzitzit with kala ilan, but someone who offers the dye for sale, claiming that it is the real tekhelet.

  12. Bava Metzia 62a-b: Your brother shall live with you

    The fifth perek (chapter) of Massekhet Bava Metzia, which began on daf (page) 60b, focuses on the prohibition of ribit – of charging interest. This prohibition is mentioned three times in the Torah (Shemot 22:24, Vayikra 25:35-38 and Devarim 23:20-21). The straightforward case of biblically forbidden ribit is called ribit ketzutza – interest that is set at a given sum or percentage of the loan. The Sages added other forms of interest, adding cases where there is an appearance of interest given changes in the pricing or value of objects that are bought and sold, for example.

    It is clear that a person who charges interest should repay his ill-gotten gains. Will the Jewish courts force him to return ribit that he collected?

    The Gemara (61b) brings two different opinions regarding this matter. Rabbi Elazar rules that the courts will force a person to return ribit ketzutza, but not avak ribit – interest that is only forbidden on a rabbinic level. Rabbi Yohanan believes that the courts will not require any ribit to be returned. While several sources are suggested for Rabbi Yohanan’s ruling, the Gemara brings one passage to support Rabbi Elazar – ve-hei ahikhah imakh (Vayikra 25:36). In the midst of the laws forbidding usury, the Torah says “…and your brother shall live with you.” Rabbi Elazar understands this as requiring the individual who takes interest to return it, so that his brother can live, as well.

    What teaching does Rabbi Yohanan learn from this passage? The Gemara tells of a well-known argument between Ben Petora and Rabbi Akiva. Ben Petora ruled that if two men are in the desert and only one of them has enough water to reach civilization, he is obligated to share it with his fellow, rather than watch him die. Rabbi Akiva quotes this pasuk (verse) to say that your brother must live with you, implying that you must have greater concern for your own life than for your fellow’s, and that the owner of the water should keep it for himself in order to survive.

    One question that is raised by the commentaries regarding Rabbi Akiva’s teaching is why a general rule like this one would appear in the midst of the Torah’s discussion of ribit? One answer that is suggested is that this comes to teach that a person who does not have enough money for his own needs should not feel an obligation to lend money to his friend who is in need.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  13. Bava Metzia 63a-b: Payment for waiting

    Can a merchant offer to give a discount to someone who is willing to pay in full for his purchase?

    While this seems like a straightforward situation of a worthwhile business transaction – the merchant is interested in having money “in hand” and is willing to lower his profit margin in order to receive that money “up front” – the laws of ribit, of the prohibition limiting people from taking interest, limit some of these agreements.

    Rav Nahman teaches a basic principle of ribit – any payment that is made whose purpose is to delay the lender from collecting his money now is considered ribit. Thus, Rav Nahman rules that if the market price for wax is fours loaves of wax for a zuz and someone selling wax offers five loaves of wax for a zuz to a purchaser who is willing to pay well before receiving the merchandise, there may be problems with the agreement. If the wax merchant has the merchandise in his possession at the time of the agreed upon sale, the agreement is valid, since the merchant is simply giving a discount in exchange for pre-payment. If, however, the wax merchant did not have an inventory of wax, he is effectively borrowing money from the purchaser, and in exchange is repaying him with more wax than was paid for – which is considered a case of paying interest on the loan. The Gemara explains that this is true even in a case where the merchant has a line of credit and will be able to get a hold of the wax, nevertheless, if he does not have it in hand, we will apply Rav Nahman’s rule.

    The rishonim ask why Rav Nahman needs to teach that “any payment that is made whose purpose is to delay the lender from collecting his money now is considered ribit,” which is, effectively a simple restatement of the biblical rule forbidding interest. The Ra’avad suggests that Rav Nahman’s statement is only really necessary to teach the rule as is illustrated by the case that is brought – that even in the context of a business transaction, the rule of ribit would still apply.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  14. Bava Metzia 64a-b: Gourds, gourds

    Following on the heels of the discussion on yesterday’s daf (page) regarding the possibility of ribit (forbidden interest) even in cases of purchases that are paid for in advance, the Gemara on our daf tells of a similar ruling.

    Once Rav Kahana was sitting in the back of Rav’s study hall and he heard that Rav who was lecturing to the students said kari, kari (“gourds, gourds”), but he was not able to follow the context in which Rav made that reference. After the lecture he asked the students to tell him what issue Rav was discussing, and they told him that he was teaching about a case where someone selling gourds offered a better deal to a purchaser who was willing to pay in advance. Specifically, he taught about a case where someone offers a zuz to a gardener in exchange for gourds at a time when the market rate is ten small gourds for a zuz. If the gardener offers to supply large ones at a later date in exchange for the zuz, that offer can only be accepted if the gardener has large ones in hand at the time of the agreement. If, however, he does not have them in hand, then he effectively is taking a loan from the purchaser and is offering to pay back more than was borrowed – a clear case of ribit. The Gemara explains that Rav’s ruling adds to our knowledge that even in a case where the same objects are given, whether they are large or small (since the gourds get larger on their own), still it would be considered a case of ribit.

    Kari (or kera) are identified as bottle gourds – Lagenaria vulgaris – a summer plant. These plants usually grow on the ground, although occasionally their vines are hung on trees. The fruit of the young gourd is usually eaten cooked while its seeds are commonly eaten as a snack or dessert.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  15. Bava Metzia 65a-b: Renting vs. buying

    As we have seen on the previous dapim (pages), when offering a discount on a sale for pre-payment, there may be a problem of ribit (forbidden interest), since the pre-payment can be viewed as a loan, and by offering a discount, the merchant may be seen as repaying more than he received.

    The Mishna on today’s daf (page) teaches that there is a difference between offering a discount on rent and offering a discount on a purchase. At the time that someone rents his yard he is allowed to tell the renter that he has a choice – he can choose to pay ten sela’im for the entire year if he pays up-front (a total cost of ten sela’im), or else he can pay one sela every month (a total cost of twelve sela’im). If he was offering his field for sale, however, he would not be allowed to give the purchaser a choice of either paying 1000 zuz up-front or 12 maneh (1200 zuz) at harvest time, since that would be considered ribit.

    The Gemara explains the difference between the two cases by quoting Rabba and Rav Yosef who agree that rent is only owed at the end of the agreed upon period. Therefore, when offering a choice of paying ten sela’im now or twelve sela’im if payment is made at the end of the year, the true value of the rental is twelve sela’im, and the owner is simply offering a discount for early payment. In situations of buying and selling, however, the purchase price should be paid at the time that the sale is made. Therefore the perspective taken by the Sages is that the cost for “early” payment is the base price and paying more for a “late” payment is effectively ribit on a loan.

    When this ruling appears codified in the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh De’a 176:6) the Rema points out that even in cases of renting we can find situations that ribit can be a problem. If the owner and the renter agreed on a final price for the year, and then the owner says that if the renter wants to spread the payments out every month he expects to receive more, that would be considered a case of forbidden interest.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  16. Bava Metzia 66a-b: Words of enticement

    Not every statement made by people who do business together is significant.

    The Gemara (65b) describes a situation where someone sold a field with a stipulation that he does not guarantee the sale (i.e. if someone with a lien on the field comes and collects it from the purchaser, the original owner is not obligated to make up the loss). When he saw that the purchaser was upset, and he realized that the purchaser was concerned that he might lose his investment, the seller assured him that if the field was taken, he would pay the value of the field as well as the investment that was made in the field and the produce that was lost. Ameimar rules that this promise has no legal standing and we view it merely as words of enticement or encouragement, not an obligation.

    The simple reading of the Gemara appears to explain this ruling as based on who is making the condition. Asking for a guarantee on the field should be the responsibility of the purchaser, not the seller, so we view the seller’s promise as mere words of encouragement. The Ra’avad quotes the Ge’onim as offering a different approach. They argue that in this case the condition is made at the wrong time – it should have been included in the agreement at the very beginning of their business transaction and not after the transfer of property had already taken place.

    The Gemara continues with a similar story. On his death-bed, a man arranges for a get – a document of divorce – to be written for his wife. (This was usually done if the man had a brother, but he had no children, and the husband wanted to save the widow from “falling” to yibum or participating in halitza.) When handing over the document to his wife, she heard him groan. Realizing that he was unhappy divorcing her she told him that there was no need for concern, since if he recovered she would remarry him. Here, too, Rav Zevid rules that we view the promise as a simple statement of reassurance, and that this is not a true commitment and she is not obligated to marry him.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  17. Bava Metzia 67a-b: Mistaken forgiveness

    When someone mistakenly makes a concession in a business deal – a situation that the Gemara calls mehila be-ta’ut (mistaken forgiveness) – must he abide by his word or can he claim that he is not responsible for something that he agreed to by mistake? The Gemara (on daf, or page 66b) discusses Rav Nahman’s position on this question, based on his ruling that someone who sells his date crop before the fruits have developed can back out of the sale, since ein adam makneh davar she-lo ba la-olam – a person cannot sell something that does not yet exist. Nevertheless, Rav Nahman agrees that if the purchaser takes the fruit we do not force him to return them, since the owner agreed to the sale, albeit mistakenly.

    On our daf, Rava tells that when he was studying with Rav Nahman, he wanted to challenge this ruling based on the law of ona’a (exploitation), but Rav Nahman realized what he was about to ask and said “but ailonit disproves your point.” The Gemara explains that Rava wanted to argue that even if a person agreed to pay an unreasonable price for something (the case of ona’a), Jewish law does not allow him to make that mistake, and the sale is recalled. In response, Rav Nahman referred to a case of ailonit – a woman who never matures physically, and whose marriage is consequently annulled – whose erstwhile husband retains some of the agreed upon financial benefits of their marriage.

    From the detailed discussions in the Gemara – mainly in Massekhet Yevamot – it appears that an ailonit suffers from a genetic defect that does not allow her to have children. This is a different categorization than an akara – a barren woman – whose physical and sexual development is ordinarily normal, but cannot have children because of some other deficiency or impediment. From those descriptions it appears that an ailonit can be recognized by certain unique physical traits, including a lack of secondary sex characteristics like pubic hairs. Furthermore, it appears from the Gemara that there are different types of ailonit, ranging from women who have an overabundance of male hormones to those who suffer from Turner syndrome, where only one X chromosome is present and fully functioning. Approximately 98% of all fetuses with Turner syndrome spontaneously abort; the incidence of Turner syndrome in live female births is believed to be about 1 in 2500.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  18. Bava Metzia 68a-b: An idle laborer

    The Mishna on today’s daf (page) discusses a situation where a wholesaler gives a quantity of fruit to a retailer, and they agree that the retailer will sell the fruit and they will share in the profits. The Mishna teaches that under certain circumstances this can present a problem of ribit – of forbidden interest. In a case, for example, when the retailer guarantees to pay the wholesaler for part of the fruit and pay a percentage of the profits that he makes, as well, he is effectively accepting a loan from the wholesaler and paying back more than he received. The Mishna’s suggestion is that the retailer should get paid as a laborer so that his relationship with the wholesaler will be that of an employee rather than a borrower.

    The Gemara quotes a baraita that explains the Mishna’s intent – that the retailer should be paid as a laborer – means that he should be paid as a po’el batel – an idle laborer, a term that Abaye defines as ke-po’el batel me-oto melakha de-batel minah – “like a laborer who is idle from that typical labor of his from which he is kept idle.” There are a number of opinions offered in explanation of this line.

    According to Rashi, it is the amount that a person is willing to accept less than his usual wage were he to be offered an easier, but lower paying job. It is this lower amount that the person to whom the object is returned must pay.

    Tosafot suggest that it is the amount that someone who works hard and earns a high wage would be willing to accept in order to rest and not to work at all.
    Several of the rishonim (e.g. Rabbeinu Hananel, the Ri”f, the Ra’avad and others) suggest that when a craftsman has no work, he may be willing to accept less than his usual wage to do work. It is that lower wage that must be paid.

  19. Bava Metzia 69a-b: There were two Samaritans

    Our Gemara tells of two kutim who came before Rav Pappa and asked him to adjudicate between them on a question of dividing up the proceeds of their partnership.

    While Rav Ya’akov Emden suggests that these were Jews from the area of kuta, most of the commentaries assume that these were truly kutim, as it was not unusual to find kutim – and even non-Jews – coming to the Talmudic Sages for litigation, since they had a reputation as honest and intelligent judges.

    The term Kutim refers to the nations (not all of whom were truly Kutim, as there were people from other nations, as well) that were exiled to the Land of Israel by the kings of Assyria who were interested in populating the land after they had removed the Israelite people from it. According to Sefer Melakhim (see II Melakhim, chapter 17), these nations converted to Judaism because of their fear of lions that had begun attacking them (from which derives the term gerei arayot – “lion converts”), but they continued worshiping their gods at the same time.

    Upon the return of the Jews to Israel at the beginning of the Second Temple period, the Samaritans, descendants of the Kutim, were active in trying to keep the returnees from rebuilding the Temple and the walls of the city of Jerusalem. Even so, there were families – including members of the kohanim – who intermarried with the Samaritans.

    During the following years there were continued tensions between the two communities, and Yohanan Hyrcanus led his troops into battle against the Samaritans and destroyed the temple that they had built on Har Gerizim. Nevertheless, there were also periods of cooperation, such as the period of the Bar Kokheva rebellion. As is clear in our Gemara, the attitude of the Sages towards them differed, although after a period of time a final conclusion was reached and they were ruled to be treated as non-Jews, due to their continued involvement with different types of idol worship.

    It is important to note that the Gemara in Yevamot concludes that while a beit din should not accept potential converts whose reason for converting is anything other than a sincere desire to join the Jewish People, nevertheless, if such a person does undergo a full conversion process they are considered Jewish according to halakha. It is possible that the Kutim did not fall into that category because they continued with their idolatrous practices even at the moment of their conversion. Nevertheless, today the community of Samaritans living in Israel are no longer idol worshipers, and there has been some level of acceptance of them into the larger Jewish community.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  20. Bava Metzia 70a-b: He who has pity on the poor

    Aside from the discussion of the technical rules and regulations that govern the laws of ribit (forbidden interest), our Gemara brings a series of statements in the realm of mussar – of ethics – that support the concept of lending without interest. The passage in Mishlei 28:8 teaches that someone who increases his wealth through charging interest, ultimately gathers it for someone who has pity on the poor. In answer to the Gemara’s query – who is considered to “have pity on the poor?” – Rav explains that it is a reference to the king, Shevor Malka.

    Shevor Malka – Shapur – was the name of a number of Persian kings. Our Gemara is referring to the first king Shapur, who continued his father’s success in wars against the Roman Empire, capturing the city of Netzivim and arriving at the border of Syria. In the course of a number of attacks, he not only defeated the Roman emperor Velrinus, but he captured him and held him until his death. With regard to internal matters, he was an open-minded leader, and allowed a good deal of freedom of religion. It appears that he showed an interest in Judaism and was on good terms with the amora Shmuel.

    Most of the commentaries understand Rav’s teaching simply; that this is a reference to Shevor Malka, the king of Persia. Rav Hai Gaon suggests that it was Shevor Malka’s practice to confiscate money made by way of interest and distribute it to the poor. Thus it is understood to be a reference to a Persian king rather than a Jewish one, because if it were talking about a Jewish leader, the money would turn out to be used for a mitzva purpose in the end, and ribit is perceived as unmitigated evil.
    Others suggest that the comparison to Shevor Malka is not to be taken literally, and it is actually a reference to the amora Shmuel, who made a habit of taking money from interest collectors and distributing it to the poor.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  21. Bava Metzia 71a-b: Lending without interest

    The passage in Sefer Shemot (22:24) teaches im kesef talveh et ami et he-ani imakh – “if you lend money to any of My people, even to the poor” – which is understood by Rav Yosef in the Gemara as teaching that lending to a Jewish person takes precedence over lending to a non-Jewish person; similarly lending to a poor person takes precedence over lending to a wealthy person.

    The Meiri derives from this that even lending to a non-Jew is considered to be a good deed, since we need to be taught that we should give priority to someone who is closer to us. Rav Hai Gaon rules that when lending to a non-Jew whose community does not charge interest on loans, Jews should not do so, either, since that would be considered a hillul HaShem (a desecration of God’s name).

    These positions stand in stark contrast to the commentaries who interpret the passage in Sefer Devarim (23:21) to mean that it is a fulfillment of a positive commandment to charge interest when lending money to a non-Jew. The Rambam, for example, in Hilkhot Malve VeLoveh (5:1), basing himself on a Sifrei, understands the pasuk (verse) in Devarim as it appears, which means that a Jew is obligated to charge interest when lending money to a non-Jew. The Ramban and many other rishonim disagree, basing themselves on the Gemara on the previous daf (page, 70b), and argue that the Torah is simply contrasting the laws of taking interest from a Jew – which is forbidden – with the laws of lending money to a non-Jew where it is permitted to charge interest, but that there is no requirement to do so. They prove their position by pointing to other cases where the Torah does a similar thing, e.g. when it says kol of tahor tokhelu – every kosher bird you eat, which is not understood as a requirement to eat poultry, but as a positive restatement of the prohibition forbidding non-kosher birds.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  22. Bava Metzia 72a-b: When the interest is written in

    Our Gemara discusses a case of shetar she-katuv bo ribit – a contract or promissory note that has the forbidden interest written into it. We find that according to Rabbi Meir we penalize the lender and do not allow him to collect anything with this note, neither the loan itself nor the interest. The Hakhamim argue, ruling that the lender can still collect the principal of the loan based on this note. The Gemara explains the argument as dependent on whether we penalize the permissible element of the agreement because of the forbidden part; Rabbi Meir believes that we do while the Hakhamim believe that we do not.

    In defining the case of shetar she-katuv bo ribit we find a disagreement between the Ramban and Tosafot. According to the Ramban, the note cannot possibly state clearly that this is a loan with forbidden interest, since in that case the note would be invalid according to all opinions. His argument is that witnesses who play a role in a forbidden act are, by definition, invalid witnesses. Without valid witnesses, the note has no legal standing. The Ramban explains that the argument in the Gemara would only be in a case where the interest is included as part of the sum total of money owed, but without stating that part of the money was ribit (forbidden interest). Tosafot argue that the case described by the Ramban could not be considered a legal document, since the hidden ribit might actually be collected. A case where the ribit is clearly included as interest, however, may be a viable note. Tosafot do not assume that witnesses become invalid when they sign a document that includes ribit, since many people do not realize that agreed upon interest is a biblical prohibition, and their lack of knowledge would not disqualify them.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  23. Bava Metzia 73a-b: Interest and non-Jews

    Our Gemara tells of Rav Mari bar Rahel who lent money to a non-Jew and was holding – and living in – a house belonging to the non-Jew that acted as a guarantee on the loan. The non-Jew sold the house to Rava. After a year Rav Mari bar Rahel approached Rava in order to pay rent, explaining that the house was mortgaged to him for a year, during which time the non-Jew could not have removed him from the house. From this point on, however, Rava became the full owner of the house and Rav Mari bar Rahel wanted to pay him. In response, Rava said that had he known the circumstances he would not have purchased the house, but since he had bought it from the non-Jew he would keep their rules and allow Rav Mari bar Rahel to continue living in the house without payment until the loan was paid.

    It should be noted that such an arrangement would be considered ribit – forbidden interest – under Jewish law, since Rav Mari bar Rahel was receiving free rent in addition to repayment of the loan. Rashi explains that it is permitted in this case since there is no real relationship between Rava and Rav Mari bar Rahel – the relationship is between them and the non-Jew. The Ra’avad suggests that since Rav Mari bar Rahel received his rights from a non-Jew, he can be treated as such, and under non-Jewish law this relationship is not considered interest, but a long-term sale.

    Rav Mari bar Rahel was a fourth generation Babylonian amora. It appears that he was the son of a non-Jew named Issur who had kidnapped and married Rahel, the daughter of the great amora, Shmuel. After a time, Issur converted and was considered an upstanding member of the Jewish community. Nevertheless, since Mari had been conceived prior to Issur’s conversion, Mari is introduced to us in the Gemara as his mother’s son, rather than his father’s. Mari was a scholar of renown and we find him quoting Torah in the name of several different teachers, although he had a particularly close relationship with Rava, who played a role in preparing him for a position on communal leadership.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  24. Bava Metzia 74a-b: Setting a price in advance

    Another situation that was perceived by the Sages to be considered ribit (forbidden interest) on a rabbinic level, is a case where someone agrees to a price on a commodity before it is available in the marketplace. According to the Mishna (72b) it is forbidden to set a price for various commodities in advance, out of a concern that once established, the actual market price will be higher than what was paid, a difference that could be perceived as interest, since we might view the lower price as coming in exchange for the early payment. The Mishna teaches, however, that once the commodity exists, it can be paid for, even before a market price has been established for it. Examples of this include a field that is ready for harvest, grapes or olives that have been collected to be pressed, and clay prepared by an artisan.

    Our Gemara discusses the artisan’s clay – betzim shel yotzer. Rabbi Meir rules that they have to be fully prepared before they can be paid for; Rabbi Yosei limits that ruling to white clay, but darker clay can be paid for at any time.

    An artisan must prepare his clay carefully if he is to produce quality utensils. Raw clay is collected from the ground, broken up and mixed with water. Depending on the desired final product, other materials may be added to it, such as ash, sand, ground up bricks, etc. This mixture is well kneaded and prepared in the shape of balls, which are then dried out. Water is added when the artisan will begin to prepare the utensil. Darker clay is made of the simplest ingredients – clay, perhaps even mixed with ordinary earth – which gives it its color. It is found throughout Israel and is readily available at all times. White clay is made of the finest ingredients and is specially prepared for making unique utensils. This material is found in limited places and is significantly more expensive than the simple clay.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  25. Bava Metzia 75a-b: Putting a stumbling block before the blind

    When lending money, should the lender trust that the borrower will remember the loan and repay it, or is there a need to create a record attesting to the loan?

    Our Gemara brings a teaching by Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav that if someone lends money without having witnesses to the transaction, he transgresses the prohibition of lifnei iver lo titen mikhshol – do not put a stumbling block before the blind (Vayikra 19:14). Reish Lakish, quoting a passage in Tehillim (66:11) adds that he brings a curse upon himself, since if the borrower denies receiving the loan, people will curse the lender, accusing him of falsely claiming that he is owed money.

    As an example of these teachings, the Gemara tells that Ravina was presented to Rav Ashi as someone who carefully follows all of the rulings of the Sages. In an attempt to test him, one Friday afternoon – when all are busy and it is difficult to make complicated arrangements – Rav Ashi asked Ravina for a loan, claiming that he had an immediate business opportunity. Ravina responded by asking Rav Ashi to arrange for witnesses to see the transaction and write a promissory note. In answer to Rav Ashi’s question “even me!?” (i.e. am I not trustworthy to pay back a loan?) Ravina explained that especially someone who is focused on his study may forget about something as prosaic as a loan, which would lead Ravina to bring a curse upon himself.

    The Meiri argues that we should not accept Ravina’s statement literally, and that there is no reason to be more concerned that scholars will not pay their debts than will ordinary people. It should be noted that Ravina only offered one of the reasons for refraining from making a loan without witnesses – that he would bring a curse on himself. It would appear that he did not want to invoke the prohibition of lifnei iver, since he did not want to be in a position of accusing Rav Ashi – who initiated the loan – of transgressing the prohibition.

  26. Bava Metzia 76a-b: And they deceived one another

    The sixth perek (chapter) of Massekhet Bava Metzia, ha-sokher et ha-umanin, begins on today’s daf (page). When someone hires another person to work for him, two different areas of Jewish law play a role in their relationship. First of all, there are certain mitzvot – both Biblical and Rabbinic – that must be applied to them. These commandments are largely discussed in the seventh perek. The focus of the sixth perek is the second area of Jewish law that is relevant which deals not with commandments but with understanding the agreement that is made between the two parties.

    Generally speaking, when a casual work agreement is made between two people, there is no perceived need for a formal contract that includes all of the conditions and requirements of the work and the job that is to be completed. Our perek focuses on clarifying questions that arise from such informal agreements.

    The case presented in the first Mishna describes someone who hired workers ve-hit’u zeh et zeh – they deceived one another. They can complain, but there is no obligation to pay damages. Two explanations are offered in the Gemara regarding this case –

    1. The workers deceived one another. The individual who hired the workers told the foreman to offer four dinarim per day, but he only offered three. Since they agreed to accept three, they have no real claim on the additional wage.

    2. Either the workers or the individual who hired them backed out of the agreement before they began their work.

    It appears from the Gemara that these explanations stem from the difficulty in determining how the two parties could deceive one another (i.e. that both sides may be involved in deception). The Talmud Yerushalmi offers another possibility – where the man doing the hiring assured the workers that he was offering them the wage that he usually pays, but, in fact, he usually pays more, or alternatively that the workers assure the man doing the hiring that this kind of work usually receives a certain wage, but, in fact, that work usually receives less. In both such cases, since there was an agreement, they can complain, but will have to accept the agreement.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  27. Bava Metzia 77a-b: A bad dye job

    The Mishna teaches (75b) that kol ha-mishaneh, yado al ha-tahtonah – whichever participant in a business deal changes the terms of the agreement is the one who loses out. The Gemara on our daf (page) points out that this comes to support the position of Rabbi Yehuda. Rashi identifies this opinion with a disagreement in a Mishna in Bava Kamma (100b).

    That Mishna discusses the case of hikdiho yorah – if the wool was boiled at too high a temperature and was burned – the wool is considered entirely ruined, and full restitution will need to be made to the owner. If the dye came out uneven, the owner will pay either the added value of the poorly dyed wool or the dyer’s expenses – whichever is less. If he dyed it the wrong color entirely, Rabbi Meir rules that full restitution must be made to the owner; Rabbi Yehuda rules that the owner will pay the lesser value of either the added value of the newly dyed wool or the dyer’s expenses.

    The Ra’avad explains the difference between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda as being based on two different outlooks about the relationship between the owner and the dyer. According to Rabbi Meir, by going against the instructions of the wool’s owner, he gets the status of a thief, and takes possession of the “stolen” object, for which he must pay. Rabbi Yehuda believes that he remains an employee, albeit one that does not deserve to be fully paid for his substandard work.

    Regarding Rabbi Yehuda’s position, the Maggid Mishna understands Rashi to rule – similar to the position of the Rambam in his commentary to the Mishna – that the owner has the option of demanding full restitution of the value of the wool. The Rambam in his Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Sekhirut 10:4) does not accept this position, since he rules that there is no opportunity for the worker to take possession of the object through his work – ein uman koneh be-shevah keli. Thus the owner will pay either the increased value of the wool or the worker’s expenses – whichever is less.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  28. Bava Metzia 78a-b: When a donkey is pressed into public service

    According to the Mishna on today’s daf (page) if someone rents a donkey from his friend and it is taken as an angarya the owner can simply tell him that it is his responsibility and loss. If, however, the donkey dies or breaks a leg, then the owner is obligated to replace the animal according to their agreement.

    An angarya is temporary forced labor that someone may be called upon to do for the king. It was fairly common for the king’s men to force laborers to leave their normal work and participate in various public works. Similarly, animals were taken for such projects, often together with their owners. Depending on the historical period, there were also times when animals were taken for longer periods of time, or were even kept and not returned to their master.

    The Gemara quotes Rav as ruling that the halakha of the Mishna freeing the owner from replacing an animal that was taken for angarya only applies if the animal was taken for a relatively short period of time. If the animal would not be returned, then the owner would be obligated to offer a different animal to the renter. Shmuel disagrees, arguing that we are not concerned with whether the animal will be returned. The crucial point according to Shmuel is whether or not the animal was taken be-derekh halikhatah – literally, was the animal taken in the way it was going.

    Rashi explains that the angarya ordinarily would take an animal along the road and return it to the owner immediately upon chancing on a replacement animal. Therefore, if the angarya was traveling in the same direction as the renter, the owner can argue that he suffered no real loss from the angarya. Tosafot quotes Rabbeinu Hananel as offering a different approach. If the government is not actively looking for such animals, but the king’s men took it because they came across it on the road, the owner can claim that it is the renter’s fault. Had the animal stayed home, this would not have happened. If, however, the government is searching in homes, as well, the owner cannot lay the blame on the renter and he will have to replace the animal in order to keep the rental agreement.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  29. Bava Metzia 79a-b: A donkey’s cargo

    When renting an animal, how limiting is the rental with regard to use of the animal for purposes beyond the specific agreement?

    We have already seen that kol ha-mishaneh yado al ha-tahtonah – whichever participant in a business deal changes the terms of the agreement is the one who loses out (see daf, or page 77), but what uses are considered significant changes of the agreement?

    The Gemara on our daf quotes a baraita that teaches that if a donkey is rented for a man’s use, a woman cannot ride it, although if it is rented for a woman to ride, then any woman can ride – whether she is large or small; even if she is pregnant or nursing (i.e. she is carrying a small child in addition to herself). Rav Pappa explains the latter case to even include a nursing mother who is pregnant, that is to say, a woman who in addition to her own weight and the additional weight of the child in utero, is also carrying a small child.

    Tosafot point out that the baraita does not feel a need to distinguish between large and small men – it appears clear that men come in all sizes, and that an agreement to carry a man would include any man. With regard to a woman, however, there may be an assumption made about the average size of a woman, so the baraita needs to emphasize that once the donkey is rented for a woman, it makes no difference whether she is large or small.

    It is not clear why an animal that is hired for a man cannot be used by a woman. Explanations range from the possibility that women commonly weighed more than men at that time to the suggestion that it is more difficult to arrange women on the animal.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  30. Bava Metzia 80a-b: When the plow breaks

    The Mishna on today’s daf (page) continues discussing consequences of situations where an agreement between the owner and the renter was abrogated.

    The Mishna teaches that someone who rents an ox to plow in the mountains but uses it to plow in the valley will not be held liable if the kankan breaks, since the valley is less rocky than the mountains. If, however, the agreement was to use the animal in the valley, but it was taken to plow in the mountains, then the renter would be responsible for damage done to the kankan.

    Although there is a minority opinion that the kankan is the yoke on the neck of the oxen, Rashi and most of the commentaries interpret it to be the blade of the plow (the plowshare).

    The Gemara recognizes that the responsibility of the renter only applies if he used the animal in a manner that they had not agreed upon. The question raised by the Gemara is who would be responsible in other cases, for example, if the renter did not diverge from the agreement but the workers had broken the plow? In this case, the Gemara brings a difference of opinion –

    According to Rav Pappa, it is the one who is holding the parasha who is responsible. Rav Sheisha son of Rav Idi rules that it is the one holding the mana who is responsible.

    While the halakha follows Rav Sheisha’s opinion, if it is a particularly rocky area, they will both share the responsibility.

    It is clear that the person holding the parasha (the goad) is the one leading the animal – in Aramaic the parasha is the person who “teaches” or directs the animal – oftentimes with a stick in his hand walking behind the animal, while simultaneously holding the handle of the plow (the mana). Our Gemara is describing a situation where there was a pair of oxen, or, perhaps, where the ground was particularly hard and rocky. In such cases two people worked with the animals – one who directed the animals to stay in line with the trough in the field and the other who kept the plow safely in the ground, avoiding rocks.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  31. Bava Metzia 81a-b: Why would I lie?

    According to the Mishna (80a), just because a renter did not follow the instructions of the owner, we do not assume that he is responsible for damage. Thus, if someone rented an ox with the understanding that it would plow a mountainous area, and instead he used it in the valley, he will not be responsible if the plow broke, since he is doing something that is easier than what had been agreed upon.

    The Gemara on our daf (page) describes someone who rented a donkey and was warned by the owner that he should avoid the path going through Nehar Pekod, since there is water that way. Instead he told him to take the path leading through Neresh where there is no water. The renter did not follow the instructions and took the donkey through Nehar Pekod where the animal died. In his defense, the renter admitted that he had taken the animal through Nehar Pekod, but he claimed that there was no water there, so the path was no worse than the one recommended by the owner. Rava argues that we should believe the renter’s argument since mah lei le-shaker – what does he gain by lying; if he wanted to lie he could have simply claimed that he had gone through Neresh. Abaye rejects this reasoning since mah li le-shaker be-makom eidim lo amrinan – we do not accept the argument of mah lei le-shaker when there are witnesses who testify to the reality of the situation.

    Nehar Pekod is a city near the Tigris River, while Neresh is on the Euphrates, south of Sura. Both of these cities were centers of commerce, and their residents were considered particularly intelligent. There were two separate paths to these cities, one towards the north and the other towards the south.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  32. Bava Metzia 82a-b: The tangible benefits of lending

    What level of responsibility does someone have when they are holding collateral for a loan?

    According to the Mishna (80b) if one person lends money to another and accepts collateral to guarantee the loan, he is considered a shomer sakhar – a paid watchman/bailee – who has a fairly high level of responsibility for the object, i.e. he is liable to pay for the object if it is lost or stolen. Rabbi Yehuda disagrees and distinguishes between lending fruit – where he is, in fact, considered to be a shomer sakhar on the collateral – and lending money – where the lender will be only a shomer hinam – an unpaid watchman – on the collateral.

    Our Gemara explains the opinions in the Mishna as follows: According to the first opinion, the sakhar (reward) that the lender receives is sakhar mitzva – the reward for having performed a mitzva by lending money. The Gemara in Bava Kamma (56b) explains this to mean that since at the time of the loan he would be free from giving charity to a poor person, given his involvement in the loan – based on the idea that ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva (someone who is involved in fulfilling a mitzva is free from performing other immediate mitzvot) – he is viewed as having received a tangible benefit and is therefore a shomer sakhar.

    Rabbi Yehuda rejects the idea of sakhar mitzva as being significant in this context. Nevertheless, if the lender gave fruit to the borrower he directly benefits from the exchange – since fruit can spoil, by lending the fruits now he will receive fresh fruit later on. If, however, he lent money, if sakhar mitzva is not significant then the lender has received no benefit, and cannot be considered as having received payment. Thus he remains a shomer hinam.

  33. Bava Metzia 83a-b: Feeding one’s laborers

    Most of the laws that regulate relationships between employer and employee are discussed in the sixth perek (chapter) of Massekhet Bava Metzia. The seventh perek – ha-Sokher et ha-Po’alim – which begins on today’s daf (page), focuses on the rights of the worker as regulated by the Torah or by common practice in the community, e.g. the right that a worker in the field has to eat the fruit that he is harvesting (see Devarim 23:25-26).

    The first Mishna teaches that the employer must follow the accepted practice that is common in a given community – hakol ke-minhag ha-medina. The Gemara explains that even in situations where workers commonly were fed breakfast at the home of the employer, he cannot feed them breakfast in the field.

    The Mishna tells of Rabbi Yohanan ben Matya who instructed his son to hire workers, and his son offered to feed the workers in addition to their salary. Rabbi Yohanan ben Matya insisted that his son clarify the menu before the workers began the job, arguing that otherwise he could not possibly satisfy their demands. He argued that even a meal like that of King Solomon (see I Melakhim, or Kings, 5:2-3) would not suffice, since they are the descendants of the forefathers, Avraham, Yitzhak and Ya’akov.

    The Mishna appears to assume that a meal appropriate for the children of the forefathers must be even greater than that of King Solomon because we find – according to the Gemara’s understanding of the passage in Sefer Bereishit (18:7) – that the meal Avraham placed before his guests was a calf for each of the three travelers.

    Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel does not share Rabbi Yohanan ben Matya’s concern, ruling that in any case he would only be obligated to follow the accepted norms and traditions of the community with regard to feeding workers, and no more than that.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  34. Bava Metzia 84a-b: Study partners

    Two of the great Sages of Eretz Yisrael were Rabbi Yohanan and Reish Lakish, first generation amora’im. The Gemara on our daf (page) describes each of them, how they met and their unique relationship.

    Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish – Reish Lakish – was, apparently, from a poor but important family. Because of the financial situation at home, Reish Lakish searched for employment and because of his great physical strength trained to become a gladiator.

    Rabbi Yohanan was considered one of the most handsome men in the Jewish community in Israel, although it should be noted that looks and appearance is something that is dependent on cultural norms. Aside from stating that he was handsome, the Gemara also describes Rabbi Yohanan as being obese.

    Once, when Rabbi Yohanan was swimming in the Jordan River, Reish Lakish jumped in and swam with him. Seeing his strength and determination as a swimmer, Rabbi Yohanan exclaimed “your strength would be put to better use were it devoted to Torah study!” to which Reish Lakish replied “your good looks would be put to better use on a woman!” Hearing this, Rabbi Yohanan suggested that if Reish Lakish were to repent, Rabbi Yohanan would arrange for his sister – who was even more attractive than he – to marry Reish Lakish. Reish Lakish agreed, and became Rabbi Yohanan’s student (and brother-in-law) and eventually his peer and study partner.

    The Gemara tells of a falling out between them that eventually led to a tragic end for both of them. Once the discussion in the beit midrash – the house of study – was focused on how to determine when a knife or a similar implement was considered completed, an important question with regard to issues of ritual purity. In the course of the discussion, Rabbi Yohanan said regarding Reish Lakish’s position “a bandit knows about his banditry.” In response, Reish Lakish said that he had studied Torah prior to encountering Rabbi Yohanan, meaning Rabbi Yohanan was not his principal teacher and therefore could not berate him. Both walked away from this incident insulted and were never able to reconcile.

    Many of the commentaries ask how Rabbi Yohanan could bring up this issue, since, as we have learned, it is ona’at devarim (verbal mistreatment) – it is forbidden to remind penitents of their former activities. While some suggest that a teacher is permitted to speak this way to his students, others suggest that this was a misunderstanding, and that Rabbi Yohanan was trying, in a humorous way, to suggest that given Reish Laskish’s background in thievery, he should be considered the expert with regard to knives.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  35. Bava Metzia 85a-b: Forsaking the Torah

    The passage in Sefer Yirmiyahu (9:11) asks “Who is the wise man, that he may understand this? And who is he to whom the mouth of the Lord hath spoken, that he may declare it? Why has the land been lost and laid waste like a wilderness?”

    According to Rav Yehuda quoting Rav this pasuk (verse) teaches that neither the Sages – the “wise man” – nor the prophets – “he to whom the mouth of the Lord has spoken” – knew how to explain the destruction of the Temple and the loss of Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel. It is only God Himself who is able to explain this historical challenge. In the very next passage (Yirmiyahu 9:12) we learn that the destruction took place because the Jewish people abandoned the Torah.

    Rav Yehuda quotes Rav as explaining this as meaning that they did not recite the blessings over the Torah before learning.

    This statement is understood by the commentaries in a number of different ways, but all agree that it should not be understood literally that they skipped the Torah blessings prior to study, rather as a metaphor for their attitude and approach to Torah study. The commentaries argue that it is clear, after all, that the generations prior to the destruction of the first Temple were involved in serious transgressions for which they deserved punishment, including idol worship, murder and sexual depravity.

    Many understand the question to be why the merit of Torah study did not protect this generation from destruction. The Mahara”l explains that what the Gemara means when it says that they did not recite the blessing is that they separated the study of Torah from being a religious experience and a means to engage with God. Study of Torah as secular knowledge has no religious significance or holiness.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  36. Bava Metzia 86a-b: For fear of religious persecution

    The Gemara on today’s daf (page) describes the circumstances that led to the passing of Rabba bar Nahmani – one of the great Babylonian amora’im of the third generation. According to Rav Kahana, Rabba died because of fear of religious persecution by the Babylonian government.

    The story goes as follows: Word got to the Babylonian government that there was one Jewish leader who kept 12,000 Jews from paying taxes two months a year – one month in the summer and one month in the winter. The reference apparently, was to the Yarhei Kalla – the two months, Elul and Adar, when Rabba invited the community to come and study in his yeshiva. It may be a reference to the common practice of freeing religious scholars from certain taxes and since many thousands of individuals came to study, they claimed tax relief based on their status as scholars.

    The government sent soldiers to arrest Rabba, who traveled from one community in Bavel to another in an attempt to avoid arrest, miraculously avoiding arrest and escaping from the authorities. He hid in a swamp where he sat on the stump of a palm tree and began to learn. While learning he heard a heavenly dispute on the topic of ritual impurity, where God ruled that a doubtful case is tahor – ritually pure – while the heavenly scholars ruled that it was tameh – ritually defiled. Unable to reach agreement, they decided that the matter would be resolved by Rabba bar Nahmani, and they sent a messenger to bring him. The angel of death could not approach him, since he was continuously learning Torah, so he brought a wind that rustled the branches and made him think that the soldiers had found him. At that point he decided that it was better to die than to be arrested by the government, allowing the angel of death to take his soul. His last word was the ruling that he made in the disputed case; he said “tahor, tahor.” A heavenly voice came out and proclaimed that Rabba was, himself, pure, as symbolized by the fact that his final words were tahor.

    The Shita Mekubbetzet suggests that perhaps this story was a dream that was shown to Rabba close to his death, whose purpose was to assure him that his scholarship was valued in the heavens, and that he was being “called” to heaven and not dying a simple death.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  37. Bava Metzia 87a-b: Laborers who may eat in the field

    When walking through your friend’s orchard, would it be appropriate to pick fruits and eat them? Although our immediate reaction is that it would be forbidden to do so, the simple reading of the passages in the Torah that discuss this would seem to permit such behavior. The passages in Sefer Devarim (23:25-26) speak simply about someone who finds himself walking in his friend’s field or in his friend’s vineyard, and clearly permit him to sample the grapes or the grain. Nevertheless, the Mishna on today’s daf (page) teaches that it is only a field worker who is allowed to eat.

    According to the Gemara, the source for this is the parallel between the word tavo in these pesukim (verses) and the same word that appears regarding paying a worker (see Devarim 24:15). The Meiri suggests an additional reason, pointing out that when the pasuk talks about someone who comes into his friend’s vineyard, it sounds as though we are discussing someone who has permission to enter the vineyard, which would not be true of any passerby.

    The biblical right that the worker has to eat while working is restricted to certain types of work. Thus, someone who is harvesting ripe fruit (e.g. grapes) can eat, or someone who is working with fruits that had been harvested (e.g. bundles of wheat), but are not “finished” in the sense that they have not been brought into the granary and prepared for tithing. If, however, someone is working in a field that is not yet ripe, he cannot eat from the fruit; similarly, the Torah only creates this obligation to the worker in crops that grow in the field. A farm worker who milks cows or prepares meat or cheese cannot eat from the produce, even though it is food and he is working directly with it.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  38. Bava Metzia 88a-b: Rabbinic safeguards

    Who is obligated to tithe fruits and vegetables that are harvested?

    As anyone who shops in fruit stores in Israel knows, the consumer can check to be sure that terumot and ma’aserot – tithes – were separated by the wholesaler or retailer before sale. It is, therefore, somewhat surprising to learn that only the farmer (or the homeowner with a garden) who harvests for the purpose of eating the produce himself, is obligated by the Torah to separate these tithes. Our practice of separating terumot and ma’aserot from produce that is harvested for commercial sale is only a rabbinic requirement.

    Our Gemara quotes a baraita that asks why the markets of Beit Hino were destroyed three years prior to the destruction of Jerusalem. Its answer was that they were careful only with regard to the biblical requirements of tithes, saying that the passage in Sefer Devarim (14:22-23) discusses harvest and subsequent consumption of one’s own harvested fruit, thereby excluding a seller or a buyer from the obligation of separating terumot and ma’aserot.

    Beit Hino was, apparently, the village that is referred to by the name Bethania, or Beit Hanan, just outside of Jerusalem, not far from the Mount of Olives. This village was destroyed in the very first days of the Great Revolt, while the siege and battle for Jerusalem lasted a lengthy period of time, explaining the baraita’s contention that Beit Hino fell three years prior to Jerusalem.

    According to the Iyyun Ya’akov, the three years can be seen as midah k’neged midah – an appropriate punishment for their transgression, since a farmer is given three years to distribute the tithes that he separates. Since they did not take this law seriously, they were punished in accordance with the inappropriateness of their behavior.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  39. Bava Metzia 89a-b: Eating on the job

    We have seen that the Mishna (87a-b) teaches that a farm worker in the fields is permitted to eat as he harvests or performs other work. Our Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches that the employer can offer food or drink to the workers before they begin the harvest in order to limit the amount that they eat; similarly the workers can bring an appetizer to eat that will help them consume a large amount of fruit.

    The question that our Gemara poses is whether the worker can roast the fruit in order to make it tastier when he eats. Although there are a number of baraitot that the Gemara quotes that seem to prohibit this kind of preparation, the Gemara rejects them as proof, arguing that it may not be intrinsically forbidden to roast the fruit, rather this may be a problem of bittul melakha – that an employee is not allowed to take time off from his work in order to prepare the fruit that he is permitted to eat. Thus, if a worker comes to the field with his wife or his children who are not working, perhaps he would be permitted to pick a fruit intending to eat it himself – a right expressly granted to him by the Torah – and hand it to his wife or to his child to prepare for him. The Gemara does not succeed in finding a decisive proof to resolve this question.

    According to the Rambam, if a worker who was hired to harvest a field takes time off from his work to prepare fruit that he picked by roasting it, for example, not only is he stealing time from his employer, but he also is stealing the fruit, since he is only allowed to eat while he is working. Once he stops harvesting, he loses his right to eat from the fruit.

  40. Bava Metzia 90a-b: Do not muzzle

    As we have seen, a farm worker has the right to eat while he is harvesting. A parallel halakha prohibits a farmer from muzzling his animal while that animal is threshing. This Torah law (see Devarim 25:4) is the focus of the discussion of the Gemara on today’s daf (page), which asks a seemingly simple question – if the animal has a stomach ailment, must we still permit it to eat, given that eating will be harmful to it?

    This practical question is defined by the Gemara to mean that we must clarify whether the point of the mitzva is to benefit the animal – and in the animal’s present condition allowing it to eat would be harmful, or, perhaps, the point of the mitzva is to keep the animal from becoming frustrated that it sees food but cannot eat. The Gemara responds by quoting Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai who teaches that the person leading the animal can feed it karshinin, which are always good for the animal. From this the Gemara concludes that our primary interest is the animal’s well-being.

    Karshinin is identified as bitter vetch or Vicia ervilia Wild, an ancient grain legume crop of the Mediterranean region, which can still be found growing in Arab villages.

    Quoting Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai as a proof in this context is interesting, since it is well known that he is doresh ta’amah d’kra – he tries to work out the underlying reasoning behind every mitzva and apply it to the performance of the commandment – an approach that is not accepted by most of the other Sages of the Mishna. The Rosh explains that the idea of doresh ta’amah d’kra is generally rejected when it negates the simple meaning of the commandment. In our case, however, it is clear that the purpose of this mitzva is to keep the animal from suffering, and we can deduce from Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai which type of suffering is of concern to the Torah.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  41. Bava Metzia 91a-b: Double transgression, double punishment

    Our Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches that if someone is threshing grain with his friend’s animal and he muzzles the animal so that it will not eat, the person will be held responsible on two different levels –
    1.He will be liable to receive lashes for transgressing the biblical prohibition against muzzling an animal while it is working (see Devarim 25:4), and
    2.He will be obligated to pay the owner the amount of money for feed that the animal would have eaten during that time.

    The Gemara objects to this ruling, arguing that it negates a well-known axiom of Jewish law kim lei be-derabah minei. Kim lei be-derabah minei means that it is enough for a person to receive the more severe punishment. If a person commits an act for which he is liable to receive two separate punishments, Jewish law will only allow him to be punished once, i.e. he will receive the more severe of the two punishments and be freed of the lesser punishment. Thus, if a person performs an act for which he would receive both capital punishment and lashes, he will not receive the lashes, as the capital punishment suffices as punishment for this act. Similarly, once a person receives lashes, he will not have to pay.

    Several explanations are offered in response to this question. Abaye simply suggests that this follows the opinion of Rabbi Meir who rules that a person can receive both malkot (lashes) and be required to pay. According to Rav Pappa in our case the two obligations take effect at different times. From the moment that the farmer accepted the animal to use for threshing he became obligated to feed the animal; he did not become liable to receive lashes until he muzzled the animal.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  42. Bava Metzia 92a-b: Eating while in the field

    The Mishna on our daf (page) continues the discussion of the Torah laws that grant rights to a farm worker to eat while he is harvesting the field. Is there any limit to the amount that the worker can eat?

    The Mishna quotes three opinions on this matter:

    According to the Tanna Kamma (first), the worker can eat as much as he wants.

    Rabbi Elazar Hisma rules that he cannot eat more than the value of his daily wage.

    The Hakhamim say that a person would be allowed – in theory – to eat as much as he wants, but we teach workers to eat a reasonable amount so that they will not have trouble finding work in the future.

    The Gemara also quotes a discovery made by Rav, who found a megillat setarim in Rabbi Hiyya’s house, where the opinion of Isi ben Yehuda appears. Basing himself on the simple reading of the passage in Sefer Devarim (23:25) Isi rules that anyone who passes a field is allowed to eat from it. Rav objects to this ruling, saying that no farmer would be able to function under those circumstances.

    A megillat setarim – concealed scroll – is a collection of notes taken by students during Talmudic times. For generations it was accepted practice that Torah she-ba’al peh – the oral tradition – was not set in writing, and only later was writing allowed due to difficult circumstances (i.e. there was a fear that the oral traditions would be forgotten). Nevertheless, students did take notes on the lectures and discussions for their own use. Since these notes were not publicized, they were referred to as megillat setarim. According to the ge’onim, they were not really hidden, rather they were simply not available to all. We find a number of places in the Gemara where Rav quotes teachings from Isi ben Yehuda that he found written in this megillat setarim.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  43. Bava Metzia 93a-b: A narrow bridge

    According to the Torah (Shemot 22:6-12), the level of responsibility for which a shomer (bailee) – someone who accepts responsibility to guard his friend’s object – is liable, depends on the personal gain that the shomer receives. The Mishna on our daf (page) enumerates four types of shomrim and their level of responsibility. They include:

    A shomer hinam – who does not derive any personal gain or benefit from watching the object. In the event that the shomer hinam performs his duty responsibly and the object is lost or stolen, he can take an oath that he guarded it properly and he will be free of any further responsibility (see Shemot 22:6-7).

    A sho’el – who borrows the object for his own use, without payment. He is responsible for anything that happens to the animal, and will have to pay full restitution to the owner (see Shemot 22:13).

    A shomer sakhar – who gets paid for watching the object, and

    A sokher – who pays rent to use the object. In these last two cases the shomer will be responsible if the object is lost or stolen, but not if an ones – an unexpected accident – takes place. The Torah’s examples of ones are if the animal dies, breaks a leg or is taken captive.

    The Gemara tells a number of stories that illustrate these laws. In one of them we hear of a man named bar Adda who was hired to transport animals. When taking them across the gamla (a narrow bridge) in Neresh, one animal pushed another, and it fell into the river and drowned. Rav Pappa ruled that bar Adda was responsible for the death of the animal, and in response to bar Adda’s claim that there was nothing he could have done, Rav Pappa argued that bar Adda was hired for his expertise and he should have taken them across the gamla one by one.

    A gamla is a unique type of bridge. Ordinary bridges are well-built structures of wood or stone that are made to support people and animals crossing a river. A gamla is a simple piece of wood that is laid across a narrow river. While people can usually cross a gamla safely, it would be difficult to move animals across such a bridge.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  44. Bava Metzia 94a-b: The obligations of a borrower

    The eighth perek (chapter) of Massekhet Bava Metzia, ha-Sho’el et ha-Parah, begins on today’s daf (page), and its focus is on the responsibilities of someone who rents (sokher) or borrows (sho’el) an animal or an object from his friend. Borrowing and renting are qualitatively different than acting as a guard whose job is to watch something for his friend, since the borrower or the renter receives the object with the understanding that he will use it. Thus the owner accepts the fact that there will be normal wear-and-tear on the object. At the same time, the level of responsibility that the borrower or the renter takes upon himself will be greater than that accepted by a normal guard or watchman.

    The Torah appears to obligate a borrower – she-kol hana’ah shelo – who derives only benefit from this relationship – in all cases, even in cases of ones where an accident takes place that is beyond his control (see Shemot 22:13-14). The one exception is a case of be’alav imo – when the owner of the animal is there together with the borrower, then the borrower (and, according to the Gemara, all other shomerim, as well) will not be responsible. Defining the situation that is considered to be be’alav imo is one of the tasks of the first Mishna in the perek.

    According to the Mishna, the rule that the borrower will not be obligated to pay damages for an animal as long as the owner is with him, applies only if the owner was hired to provide services before the animal was borrowed or if both relationships were created simultaneously. If, however, the animal was borrowed first and the owner was only hired later on, then the borrower will be held liable for anything that happens to the animal.

    The Torah law with regard to a sokher is unclear (see Shemot 22:14), and the tanna’im disagree as to his level of responsibility, although all agree that the Torah intends to free the sokher from the high level of responsibility that rests on a sho’el.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  45. Bava Metzia 95a-b: Its owner is with him

    As we learned on yesterday’s daf (page), a borrower will not be obligated to pay damages for an animal as long as the owner is with him. This law is clearly stated in the Torah (see Shemot 22:13-14). Nevertheless, according to the Mishna (94a), this rule applies only if the owner was hired before the animal was borrowed or if both relationships were created simultaneously. If, however, the animal was borrowed first and the owner was only hired later on, then the borrower will be held liable for anything that happens to the animal, even if the owner is working for the borrower at that point in time.

    The rulings that are based on this law demand explanation, and the commentaries offer a number of approaches.

    The Torah Temima explains that freeing the borrower from responsibility if the owner is with him makes sense simply because the owner remains responsible for his own animal, given that he is also involved in using it. It is more difficult to explain why the owner must already be employed by the borrower at the time that he receives the animal in order for this law to take effect. The approach suggested by the Torah Temima is that if the owner is employed by the borrower it affects the entire relationship, since the borrower cannot be fully obligated to the owner, since the owner is obligated to him, as well. This change of perspective regarding the relationship only makes sense if it occurs at the moment that the animal or the object is borrowed, since if the normal owner-borrower relationship came into effect prior to the owner’s becoming an employee of the borrower, it would not be changed at a later time.

    Another possible explanation for this is that the high level of responsibility of a borrower stems from the fact that kol hana’ah shelo – the borrower derives only benefit. If the owner is working for the borrower and is being paid, we view the relationship that is created at the time that the animal is given to be that of a renter, rather than a borrower.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  46. Bava Metzia 96a-b: The owner and the agent

    Our Gemara presents a number of questions on our daf (page), relating to the laws of borrowing an animal or an object, and the law that frees the borrower from responsibility if the owner is working for the borrower (for background on these laws, see daf 94 and daf 95).

    For example, Ravina presents the following case to Rav Ashi:

    A man appoints his friend as his agent – a shali’ah – to work for the person to whom he is lending an ox. Do we require that the owner himself work for the borrower in order to apply the rule that frees the borrower from responsibility in such a case (see Shemot 22:13-14), or do we say shali’ah shel adam ke-moto – that a person’s agent stands in his stead, and we can view this case as though the owner was there?

    The suggestion raised by the Gemara is that this is effectively similar to another case where we find a mahloket – a disagreement – between Rabbi Yoshiya and Rabbi Yonatan. If a man who is about to leave on a trip appoints a representative to annul all vows made by his wife until the time that he returns, Rabbi Yonatan says that he has the ability to do so, and the annulments are valid, since shali’ah shel adam ke-moto. Rabbi Yoshiya disagrees, arguing that the Torah limits the power of annulment only to the husband in passages like Bamidbar 30:14 which clearly states that “her husband may let it stand or her husband may annul it.”

    Tosafot point out that the parallel between our case of borrowing and the case of annulling vows does not seem to work, since Rabbi Yoshiya’s ruling is based on a pasuk (verse) that appears only in the case of annulling vows – in other situations he may agree that shali’ah shel adam ke-moto. Tosafot answer that in both cases we find an emphasis on the active participation of the central individual. Just as in the case of annulling vows we find an emphasis on ishah – “her husband” – similarly in our case there is an emphasis on be’alav imo – if the owner is with the animal, the rule applies.

  47. Bava Metzia 97a-b: Borrowing an item, hiring the owner

    As we have learned (daf, or page, 95), a borrower will not be obligated to pay damages for an animal as long as the owner is with him. Furthermore we learned that this rule applies only if the owner was hired before the animal was borrowed or if both relationships were created simultaneously. If, however, the animal was borrowed first and the owner was only hired later on, then the borrower will be held liable for anything that happens to the animal, even if the owner is working for the borrower at that point in time.

    Based on this teaching, Rava has a suggestion for borrowers. Rava recommends that a borrower who does not want to be fully responsible to the owner for anything that happens to the animal should ask the owner to pour a glass of water for him. If he takes possession of the animal while the owner is pouring the water, it will be considered she’ilah ba-be’alim (borrowing while the owner is working for him) and the borrower will not be obligated by the normal laws of borrowing. Rava further suggests that a smart owner will respond by saying “first let us complete our business transaction, and then I will pour for you.” By doing this, the borrower is fully obligated to the owner.

    One of the questions raised by the commentaries regarding this law is that it appears to be obvious. Why does Rava need to teach it to us?

    One answer that is offered suggests that it was not novel, but rather practical advice being offered by Rava for the benefit of borrowers, who could use this simple method to save themselves from being responsible for ones – accidents that cannot be controlled. The Ritva suggests that the Gemara brings it to teach that even a minimal act of work like pouring water is considered to be a case of she’ilah ba-be’alim.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  48. Bava Metzia 98a-b: Let the borrowing begin

    We have learned that a borrower who only benefits from his relationship with the owner, has a higher level of responsibility towards the borrowed animal or object than does a sokher (a renter) or a shomer (a watchman).

    When does the responsibility of the sho’el – the borrower – begin?

    Ordinarily, it begins when the sho’el takes possession of the animal. The Mishna on today’s daf (page) discusses situations where there is a time-lapse between the time the animal leaves the owner’s house and when it is received by the borrower. If the owner sends it to the borrower by means of an agent – e.g. his son or his slave, or even the son or slave of the borrower – and an accident took place before the borrower received it, the borrower will not be responsible, since it never reached his hand. If, however, the borrower asked that the animal be sent to him by one of these agents, since the agent represents the borrower, we view the transfer to the agent as if it had already arrived into the borrower’s possession, and he will be held liable for any accident.

    Ordinarily the term eved in the Mishna refers to an eved kena’ani – a non-Jewish slave. If that is the case, the Gemara asks, how can the sho’el be held responsible for an animal that the eved is bringing him? Even if he asked that the owner send the animal with the eved, still an eved kena’ani is viewed by halakha as being fully owned by the master, so the animal must be seen as remaining in the owner’s possession until the time that it is formally handed over to the borrower. The Gemara therefore limits this ruling to a case where the agent was an eved ivri – a Jewish slave – who retains his personal autonomy and is viewed more as a long-term employee. It is only in such a case that we view the transfer to the agent as if it had already arrived into the borrower’s possession.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  49. Bava Metzia 99a-b: One benefits, the other doesn’t lose

    In the course of a discussion about when a person will be viewed as benefiting from building materials taken from the Temple treasury, the Gemara discusses whether a person who lives in someone’s unrented house without their knowledge is obligated to pay for the benefit that he receives.

    This discussion revolves around the Talmudic axiom zeh neheneh ve-zeh lo haser – where one person is benefiting while the other is not losing anything, we generally do not obligate the person deriving the benefit to pay. The full discussion of this question takes place in Bava Kamma (20-21).

    In Bava Kamma we find that Rav Sehorah quotes Rav Huna in the name of Rav saying that someone who lives in someone else’s courtyard will not have to pay him, based on the passage in Yeshayahu (24:12) u’she’iyah yukat sha’ar – abandonment destroys the gate – meaning that a place that remains uninhabited becomes destroyed. Rav Ashi claimed that he had actually seen it (the she’iyah), and that it gored like an ox.

    According to Rashi, she’iyah is the name of a destructive demon that wreaks havoc on uninhabited places. Rav Hai Ga’on suggests that she’iyah refers to a type of insect that destroys wood, and when a house is left unattended the insect could destroy it entirely. This approach would help explain why the destruction begins at the gate – at the door of the house which is made of wood and is the first to be affected. After the beams that support the wood are destroyed, the roof will fall in and the house will be demolished. Rav Ashi’s statement that the she’iyah was like a goring ox may refer to the noise made by the insect as it eats and digests the wood.

    The Rosh argues that this reason notwithstanding, the real reason that the uninvited tenant will not be obligated to pay is because zeh neheneh ve-zeh lo haser. The Rashba, Nimukei Yosef and others explain that there is always some minor damage done to the house by its tenants, so Rav Sehorah’s explanation is important because it clarifies that we see the tenant as contributing more to the upkeep of the place than the damage that he is invariably causing to it.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

  50. Bava Metzia 100a-b: When a river takes one’s olive trees

    The Mishna on today’s daf (page) presents an interesting situation. What if a flood washes one person’s olive trees onto his neighbor’s field and they take root there?

    The first person claims that the fruit belongs to him – they are the produce of his trees.

    The second person claims that the fruit belongs to him – it was his land that supported their growth.

    In this case, according to the Mishna, they must split the profit from the harvest.

    The Gemara on the next daf rules that this halakha is true when the trees were washed away with a significant amount of soil, which allows the fruit to be harvested and used immediately. If the soil was lost and the trees are viewed as freshly planted, then for the first three years the fruit would be forbidden because of orla (the prohibition to derive benefit from the fruits of the first three years – see Vayikra 19:23). . It is during those three years that the fruit is viewed as a joint effort.

    Once those three years have ended, the owner of the field can lay claim to the entire harvest, since he can argue that by this point he could have planted his own trees and been allowed to harvest them. Of course, in such a case, he would have to purchase the trees from their owner.

    What if the owner of the trees did not want to sell them, rather he wanted them returned? The baraita teaches that he cannot demand to receive them, and Rabbi Yohanan, one of the great amora’im of Israel, explains that it is mishum yishuv Eretz Yisrael – in order to support the settlement of the Land of Israel. We do not want to be responsible for the uprooting of trees that are already rooted in the land, and it is likely that the owner of the trees will replant them in land that was already set aside for this purpose.

    This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

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