Masechet Bava Batra 2a-6b

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Border Fence
20 Aug 2009

The Coming Week’s Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.

Bava Batra 2a-b

Ordinarily, people live within a community, and find themselves living and interacting in close proximity with others. Houses face out into a communal courtyard, which themselves share common areas. Similarly, fields share common borders. While it may sometimes be convenient for individuals to share common use of community property, often they will prefer to divide up the property by building a separation between separately owned areas.

The first perek of Masechet Bava Batra deals with the difficulties inherent in dividing property that is owned by partners and building a separation between them. Is there a standard height and width for such a separation wall? Must it be built out of specific materials? Where exactly should it be built, and what are the rights of the different parties regarding the use of the wall?

The first Mishnah teaches that if the two parties agree to divide their courtyard by building a wall, it should be built ba-emtza – in the middle – with each party contributing an equal amount of space, whose area will depend of the type of material that is being used. The Rashash suggests that we do not always make the two parties share equally – if one owns a larger part of the courtyard, he will have to contribute a correspondingly large amount. The Ramah argues – and his position is accepted as the halacha – that the term ba-emtza in the Mishnah does not mean that it should be placed in the middle of the courtyard, rather it should be understood to mean that the wall is positioned between the areas that each of them owns, and that they will share equally in contributing to the area that the wall occupies as well as in paying for the expenses of building the wall.

Bava Batra 3a-b

We commemorate the destruction of the Second Temple on Tisha B’Av and pray at the Western Wall, which is a remnant of the support wall holding up the plaza on which the Second Temple stood. It should be noted, however, that the plaza and the destroyed Temple were not built by Ezra and Nechemiah who returned to Israel after the first exile, rather they were the creation of a later king – King Herod, whose building works still stand in Israel 2,000 years after they were built.

What led King Herod to replace the original Second Temple with a new edifice? The Gemara on today’s daf  discusses this to segue from another halacha.

Rav Chisda teaches that a bet knesset – a synagogue – should not be taken down unless a new one is ready to replace it. Two reasons are suggested for this:

  1. Mi-shum peshi’uta – because the community may be irresponsible and not replace the synagogue after it was taken down
  2. Mi-shum tzluyei – because there will not be a place for prayer.

The Gemara offers a difference between these two ideas – if there is a different synagogue in the community that is available for prayer.

Another exception that is taught by the Gemara is when the first bet knesset is in disrepair – e.g. you can see cracks in the walls. In such a case it would be permissible to take down the synagogue in order to replace it.

Turning to a historical event, the Gemara asks how Bava ben Buta could have recommended to King Herod to dismantle the Second Temple in order to rebuild it. Shouldn’t the abovementioned rule apply, forbidding the destruction of a synagogue unless a replacement is already standing?

The Gemara offers two possible answers:

  1. The original building showed signs of disrepair, so it was permissible to take it down to replace it.
  2. A decision taken by the king has a different status than that taken by ordinary people, since the king will not abandon his plan.

Bava Batra 4a-b

On yesterday’s daf we learned that Bava ben Buta advised King Herod to take down and rebuild the Temple. On today’s daf the Gemara explains what they are referring to.

King Herod, who married Miriam the Hasmonean, was a slave in the Hasmonean household.  Upon hearing a prophesy that advised any slave that this was a propitious time to rebel, he rose up and killed all the members of the family leaving only Miriam, who climbed to the top of a building and announced that anyone who claimed to be a member of the Hasmonean dynasty was admitting that he was a slave, since everyone from the family had been killed.

Herod blamed the Rabbinic Sages for his difficult situation, since they were the ones who interpreted the passage in Sefer Devarim (17:15) to limit the position of king only to someone from a Jewish family, and not a convert or a freed slave. He therefore killed all of the Sages, leaving alive only Bava ben Buta who he wanted to serve as an advisor; nevertheless, he blinded him. The Gemara describes how Herod approached the blind Sage and tried to goad him into speaking badly of the king. Refusing to take the bait, Bava ben Buta quoted pesukim such as ve-nasi be-amcha lo ta-or (Shemot 22:27), which forbid anyone from cursing the king.

This conversation led Herod to announce himself to the Sage, and to beg him for direction towards repentance for having killed the Sages. Bava ben Buta recommended replacing the deteriorating Temple, and offered advice on how to avoid the wrath of the Roman government under whom Judea lived.

Bava ban Buta was one of the students of Shammai ha-Zaken, although his rulings followed Hillel in important cases. He was well known in Jerusalem for his piety and modesty and particularly how he was willing to forgo his honor in cases where it would bring peace to a home or would further the honor of God. In Josephus the story is told that Shammai prophesized to Herod that he would become king, which may be another reason why his student, Bava, was spared.

Bava Batra 5a-b

We learned above (daf 2a) that two people who shared a courtyard and decided to divide it can force each other to build a wall to separate the two sides of the courtyard. The Gemara explained that the need for the wall stems from hezek re’iyah – damage done by looking – i.e. a concern with privacy. Not only are we concerned with the privacy when someone looks into his neighbor’s house, but even looking at someone’s field just before harvest may fall under the category of hezek re’iyah. This last situation is explained by the Rambam as being a middat chasidut an issue of piety rather than a real halacha, and he explains that our concern is not so much with damage done to the field, rather the spiritual or emotional harm that is done to the person himself who looks at his neighbor’s field and is jealous of him.

Our Mishnah returns to the law requiring that a wall be built, and rules that four amot, or cubits, is an appropriate height to prevent hezek re’iyah. This is true since four amot is higher than the height of an average person, thus solving the problem of hezek re’iyah. Therefore, according to the Mishnah, if the wall dividing the courtyard falls down it must be rebuilt to a height of four amot. Both parties must participate in the cost of rebuilding up to that height, but if one party wanted to build it higher, he cannot force the other person to contribute to the work that was done above four amot, since there is no obligation to build it that high.

The Mishnah continues and teaches that if the person who refused to contribute to paying for a higher wall then goes and builds another wall that makes use of the existing separation wall, then he has shown his interest in having a wall of that height and he will be made to pay his portion of the wall even beyond the four amot minimum.

Bava Batra 6a-b

As we have learned, two people who share a courtyard and decided to divide it can force each other to build a wall to separate the two sides of the courtyard. The Gemara explains that the need for the wall stems from hezek re’iyah – damage done by looking – i.e. a concern with privacy.

Our Gemara discusses a case where the two courtyards are one above the other, i.e. one is built on land that is higher than his neighbor’s. We find that Rav Huna rules that each one is required to build a wall that is a minimum of four amot (cubits) high next to his own property – one above the other. Rav Chisda rules that the owner of the upper courtyard must participate in the costs of the owner of the lower courtyard.

Most of the commentaries agree that the issue here is that of hezek re’iyah, and therefore they explain that the upper courtyard was less than four amot above the lower one, which leaves a situation where either party might look in at his neighbor, obligating both of them to build appropriate walls. The Geonim go so far as to rule that if the upper courtyard is more than four amot above the lower one, the owner of the lower courtyard does not have to participate in building the wall, since he cannot look into his neighbor’s yard. The Ramah rejects this interpretation of the Gemara, arguing that even if the lower courtyard is more than four amot lower than the upper one, the owner of the lower courtyard must still participate by building his section of the wall, since he, too, derives benefit from the wall, either because he can use it or else because it keeps things from falling from his neighbor’s yard into his own.

In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz’s groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.