Masechet Bava Batra 70a-76b

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Moveable Objects
28 Oct 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 70a-b

What rights does an investor have to receive his money back from the children who inherit their father’s wealth?

The Gemara on today’s daf quotes a baraita that describes a case of a shtar kis – a document that attests to the fact that someone gave a sum of money to another person for the purpose of investment – where the investor is now demanding return of the money from the person’s children after his death. Were he holding a promissory note that shows that he lent money to the father, he would, without question, be entitled to collect. This case is unique because the money was not given as a loan, rather as an investment, which the Sages of Neharda rule is considered a partial loan and a partial deposit.

In the case of a shtar kis the Gemara brings two opinions. The Diaspora judges ruled that the investor can take an oath that the money is owed to him and he will receive it in full. The judges from the Land of Israel ruled that the investor can take on oath and he will receive half of the money. The Gemara explains that the argument depends on whether we assume that the dead father would have informed his children that he had already paid back a sum of money for which there existed an outstanding document. According to the Diaspora judges, the father would have told them, and since he did not, it is clear that the full sum must be returned. According to the judges from the Land of Israel the father may have intended to inform his children of this situation, but the Angel of Death kept him from fulfilling his intention. Thus, only the part that is considered to be a loan must be returned.

According to the Gemara in Sanhedrin (17b), the judges from the Land of Israel are the amoraim Rav Ami and Rav Assi, who immigrated from Bavel to Israel and became the leading students of Rabbi Yochanan.

Bava Batra 71a-b

Is there any reason to assume that an owner who sells land to a purchaser has different intent than someone who gives his land away as a present?

According to the Mishnah on today’s daf there is a difference between a sale and a present. The Mishnah teaches that generally speaking, someone who sells a field – even if he agrees that the sale includes the field and all that it contains – does not include independent entities that are on the field, e.g. a gat – a stone vat that is part of the wine-press or a shovach – a dovecote. If the field was given as a gift, however, then it would include those objects (although it would not include other things that are on the field but are foreign to it).

The Gemara asks why we should distinguish between a sale and a gift. Its conclusion is that someone who gives a gift gives it be-ayin yafah – in a generous manner – while the seller can be assumed to be more miserly about what he is offering.

One suggestion raised by the Gemara is that in one case he should have clarified the situation and in the other case there was no need for the situation to be clarified.

The Rashbam offers two explanations for this statement:

  1. If someone who gives a gift wants to keep something for himself, he should have clarified his intent, since ordinarily a gift is given generously. A seller, on the other hand, is understood to desire to minimize what he is selling (the Gemara assumes that real estate sales are usually made because of financial distress) so we know that he will offer few details in the hope that he can keep as much for himself as possible.
  2. In the case of a sale, we anticipate that the purchaser will demand as much information as possible and will make his interests and desires clear. Since he is paying for the field, he is well within his rights to make as many demands as he can to get the most for his money. Thus, anything that is not specified remains the property of the seller. If someone is receiving a gift, however, he is embarrassed to make demands, since he recognizes that he is receiving the field without any payment. Therefore, if the person giving the gift wants to retain any of it for himself, he must specify what he wants to keep.

Bava Batra 72a-b

As we learned above (daf 69) the Mishnah taught what is included in the standard sale of a field, and distinguishes between different trees – charuv she-eno murkav vs. charuv ha-murkav – a carob tree that has not yet been grafted and one that has, and betulat ha-shikmah vs. sadan ha-shikmah – a wild sycamore tree and one that has been trimmed. According to the Mishnah, these trees in their natural state are considered part of the field and are sold with it, but once they have been cultivated in different ways, they are independent and will not be sold with the field unless it is specified in the sale agreement.

The Gemara on today’s daf brings Rav Huna‘s teaching that the charuv ha-murkav and the sadan ha-shikmah are not totally independent from the ground, in fact, with regard to some issues they are independent trees, but with regard to others they are part of the field. Specifically, as we learned in the Mishnah, these trees will not be sold incidentally to the field, but will remain independent of it, and be considered “real estate” on their own. On the other hand, if two other trees were sold together with one of these, the three trees together will merit a plot of land that will support them.

The point of Rav Huna’s teaching is that we should not think that the individual importance of the charuv ha-murkav and the sadan ha-shikmah makes them lose their status as trees, rather they remain trees with regard to the laws having to do with trees.

Rav Huna applies this logic to other cases as well, for example, application of the laws of shikh’ha. Ordinarily shikh’ha – a biblical requirement to allow the poor to take a forgotten sheaf or two of harvested grain (see Devarim 24:19) – must be left for the poor, but sheaves that have unique status do not fall into this category, since they will be remembered by the owner who will come back for them. So if a uniquely large sheaf is left behind it retains its special status and is not considered shikh’ha, but if there are two others with it, they are considered to all be ordinary sheaves, and none will be left for the poor, since three sheaves are not considered shikh’ha.

Bava Batra 73a-b

Ha-Mocher et ha-sefinah, the fifth perek of Masechet Bava Batra deals with selling moveable objects. Its opening Mishnah continues the questions dealt with in the fourth perek, specifically what is included in the sale of a large object — a ship — that includes many smaller objects within it.

This discussion leads the Gemara to relate a series of stories of ships and sailors, many of them fantastic tales that are difficult to accept literally. The Rashbam‘s approach to these stories is that they are told in order to emphasize the magnitude of God’s creations in the world by means of the rewards offered to the righteous as well as explanations of difficult biblical passages, particularly from the book of Iyov. Other commentaries feel a need for more specific explanations of the stories, since they include exaggeration beyond reality. The general approach taken by these commentaries is that the stories refer to historical events in the Jewish people’s past.

As an example, the Gemara tells of an incident related by Rabbah bar bar Chanah, who says that he saw a giant frog that was swallowed by a serpent, which was then eaten by a raven. The raven sat on a tree, which successfully supported the raven’s weight. Rabbah bar bar Hannah concludes by commenting on the strength of the tree that could hold up such a bird, and Rav Papa bar Shmuel says that had he not seen this with his own eyes, he would not have believed it.

The Ritva and Maharsha approach this story as a metaphor for various kingdoms that rise and rule, but then are destroyed by others. The great strength of the tree, representing God (or, according to the Maharsha, the merit of Avraham Avinu), is nevertheless successful in keeping the Jewish people alive throughout this turmoil — which is what Rav Papa bar Shmuel attests to.

Other explanations are offered by the Gra, who sees the frog as representing Torah scholars and the serpent as representing the evil inclination that tries to keep the scholar from learning by obligating him in daily concerns with earning a livelihood and so forth. The Maharal suggests that the various animals represent natural forces competing for supremacy in the world, all of whom are supported by the great tree, that is, by God.

Bava Batra 74a-b

The Gemara continues relating “tall tales” of life on the high seas.

Rab Judah Hindu’a – from Hodu – related: Once we were traveling on board a ship when we saw a precious stone that was surrounded by a serpent. A diver descended to bring up the stone. Then the serpent approached planning to swallow the ship, but a raven came and bit off its head and due to the great size of the serpent the water appeared to turn into blood. A second serpent came, took the stone, placing it on the dead serpent, which brought it back to life. Again the serpent approached the ship, intending to swallow it, but again a bird came and cut off its head.  At that point the diver seized the precious stone and threw it into the ship. There were salted birds in the boat, and as soon as the stone was placed on them they came back to life, and taking the stone with them, they flew away with it.

Many approaches are offered by the commentaries to this story, which is understood as allegory.

The Ritva suggests that the “precious stone” represents wisdom, which can only be attained with great effort. The “serpent” represents the spiritual challenges that impede an individual’s progress towards wisdom, and must be removed entirely before wisdom can be achieved. Once a person has achieved wisdom, however, it acts as a life-giving balm, which can revive someone who is spiritually dead.

According to the Maharsha, this is the story of Jewish history. The stone symbolizes Torah, while the serpent symbolizes the Roman government that worked to keep the Jewish people from fulfilling the Torah. Although the Romans tried to destroy the ship – i.e. the Jewish People – another nation – the Moslems – fought against them, and allowed the Jews to live according to their beliefs. He suggests that the “salted fish” were the Torah scholars who suffered at the hands of the Romans, but nevertheless did not despair, and when given the opportunity “flew away” to other lands where they established Jewish communities.

Bava Batra 75a-b

A well-known Jewish tradition about Olam ha-Ba – the “next world” – is that the righteous of this world will be rewarded with a meal consisting of shor ha-bor and livyatan – wild ox and leviathan. As a continuation of the stories of the sea that opened this perek (=chapter), we find the source for part of this tradition.

Rabbah quotes Rabbi Yochanan as teaching that in the future God will serve a meal for the righteous consisting of the meat of the leviathan, based on a passage in Iyov (40:30) that is understood to mean that the Torah scholars will feast on it. The Gemara continues that the meat that is not used for the feast will then be sold in the marketplace in Jerusalem.

The Rashba – basing himself on the approach of the Ramban in his Sha’ar ha-Gemul – writes that Olam ha-Ba is a setting where the righteous retain some level of connection between their physical bodies and their souls. Thus, the reference to a “meal” should not be understood solely as a metaphor, rather it is truly a physical activity. At the same time, the concept of a meal contains a deeper meaning, since the true purpose of all eating is to strengthen and raise a person’s might and power. According to Rabbi David, the son of Rabbi Yehudah ha-Hassid, in his Livnat ha-Sapir, the meal of the leviathan symbolizes a deeper connection between the body and the soul than what exists in our purely physical world.

The Maharal argues that all references to the leviathan are to be understood metaphorically. The leviathan is the spiritual force, that is, the force connecting God and the physical world that He created. Eating the leviathan hints to the deep personal connection that a righteous individual develops with the spiritual. Marketing the leftover meat in the Jerusalem marketplace should be understood as referring to the impact and effect that spills over beyond the individual to the general public, which is unique to Jerusalem of the future.

Bava Batra 76a-b

According to Jewish law, transferring ownership of an object requires a kinyan – a symbolic act of possession – the most common of which is hagbaha, where the purchaser lifts an object up in the air. What types on kinyanim are used when the object is too heavy to lift, e.g. the boat that is discussed in our perek (=chapter)? Two candidates presented by the Gemara are:

The Ramban quotes Rav Hai Ga’on as explaining that the kinyan of mesirah is the weakest of all kinyanim, and it is only through the proactive statement of the owner that the action has any significance. Our Gemara makes it clear that this kinyan works for a boat, and the Rambam extends its significance to other situations where the object is too heavy for other kinyanim to be used. The Rosh limits kinyan mesirah to boats where a simple touch can move the entire boat when it is standing in water, an act that can be interpreted to indicate ownership. Others limit it to boats and animals; boats because they cannot really be carried onto dry land and animals because it is common practice for the owner to hold onto the animal so that it should not run away. According to the Ramah a kinyan mesirah will work in all cases where the object is actually handed by the owner into the hands of the purchaser; all of the limitations apply only to cases where the purchaser takes hold of the object on his own.

Meshicha is a more powerful kinyan, since the purchaser causes the object that he is buying to move, which is understood to be a sign of ownership.

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.