Masechet Bava Batra 77a-83b

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05 Nov 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 77a-b

The Mishna on today’s daf continues with the discussion of what is included in the standard sale of certain objects.

When there is an agreement to sell a karon – a wagon or chariot – it does not ordinarily include the peradot – the animals that pull the wagon. Similarly, if the peradot are sold, it would not include the karon.

Although most of the commentaries explain the peradot as the animals that pull the wagon – most likely following the approach of Rabbeinu Gershom Me’or HaGolah, who explains that the animals most often used to pull wagon were mules (in Hebrew a mule is called a pered) – the Rambam offers an alternative definition in his Commentary to the Mishnah. According to the Rambam, the term peradot refers to wooden boards that extended from the wagon on which the animals were attached. Perhaps they were called peradot because they were separate from the body of the wagon (the Hebrew root p-r-d means separated).

The Mishnah continues, teaching that when there is an agreement to sell a tzemed – the yoke that sits on the animals that holds them together during work – it does not ordinarily include the bakar – the animals that are held together by the yoke. Similarly, if the bakar are sold, it would not include the tzemed.

Although the term tzemed is used in the Bible to mean a pair of animals, e.g. cattle or donkeys, in Rabbinic usage the term came to mean the implement that held the pair of animals together, i.e. a yoke.

Rabbi Yehuda argues that we should be able to infer from the sale price whether the agreement included both things or just one. Since everyone knows that a tzemed – a yoke – is not sold for 200 zuz, it is obvious that the animals were included, as well. The Sages of the Mishnah argue with this reasoning, and rule that we cannot deduce the people’s intent based on the price that was agreed upon and paid.

Bava Batra 78a-b

As we learned on yesterday’s daf the Sages reject Rabbi Yehuda‘s suggestion that we should be able to conclude what was sold by looking at the agreed upon sale price. The Gemara on today’s daf asks why this would not negate the sale because of the laws of ona’ah.

Ona’ah is a biblical prohibition (see Vayikra 25:14),which forbids someone to take unfair advantage of another by overcharging or undercharging when negotiating a business deal. There are three different levels of ona’ah established by the Sages:

  1. When the ona’ah – the amount that is overcharged – must be returned
  2. When the ona’ah is so small that we assume the parties do not care about it, and it does not have to be returned
  3. When the ona’ah is so large that the entire transaction is nullified.

The amount that is set by the Mishna in Masechet Bava Metzia (4:3-4) as ona’ah is one-sixth of the value of the transaction. Therefore, if the overcharge is exactly one-sixth, that money is returned; if it is more than one-sixth the transaction is nullified; if it is less than one-sixth the transaction stands and the money need not be returned. The Mishnah teaches that there is a time limit on demanding a return of the ona’ah – the amount of time that the purchaser needs to show the object to a knowledgeable friend or businessman. If he holds it for longer than that period, we assume that he has accepted the price, and that there is mechila – that he “forgives” any money that is owed to him.

Our Gemara concludes that the rule of ona’ah does not apply in this case because the difference in price is so great that it cannot be assumed to be a mistake. The Sages’ argument is that the purchaser may have agreed to pay more than the value of the object simply because he wanted to give a present to the seller.

Bava Batra 79a-b

One of the basic questions that comes up regarding issues of ownership in Jewish law is whether adam makneh davar she-lo ba la-olam – whether or not a person can buy or sell an object that is not in existence right now. Our Gemara presents this question as a disagreement between Rabbi Meir and the Sages, with Rabbi Meir ruling that something can be bought or sold even if it does not exist presently and the Sages ruling that such a thing cannot be bought or sold. The Gemara does limit Rabbi Meir’s ruling to a situation where the object is expected, even though it does not exist at this moment, e.g. if someone sells the rights to dates that will grow on a palm tree in the upcoming season.

In truth, when Rabbi Meir presents his position, he does not appear to require an expectation that the object will come into existence; he never mentions that the case of dates is what he is referring to in his ruling.  If anything, the original case that Rabbi Meir discusses appears to be a case where the future of the situation is much in doubt – he presents his ruling in a case where a man asks a married woman to agree to marry him after her husband dies.

One approach suggested by the commentaries is that Rabbi Meir must be discussing an out-of-the-ordinary case, where, for example, the husband was on his death bed when the marriage proposal was made. Only there would Rabbi Meir rule that the marriage proposal has significance. Other rishonim argue that there are two issues at hand when Rabbi Meir discusses issues of a davar she-lo ba la-olam. Sometimes the issue is that the thing does not exist; sometimes the thing exists, but for one reason or another it cannot be acted upon at this time. Rabbi Meir ruling that adam makneh davar she-lo ba la-olam means that if we anticipate that the object will appear or if the object already exists and its status may change in the future, in both of these cases the decisions or activities made by the parties will have significance.

It should be noted that Rabbi Meir’s position is rejected and the accepted ruling is that ein adam makneh davar she-lo ba la-olam – that a person cannot buy or sell an object that is not in existence right now.

Bava Batra 80a-b

Bee keeping and honey production were important sources of income during the time of the Mishna. The Mishnah on today’s daf discusses the rules and regulations associated with the purchase of bees and their hives.

According to the Mishnah, when someone purchases the bees for a given year, he receives the first three swarms; when someone purchases honey-combs, he must leave two combs behind.

Generally speaking, during the summer, when the hive is filled with honey, swarms of bees begin to leave the hive. Each of these swarms – consisting of thousands of bees together with a queen bee – will enter a new hive and build a new community, if one has been prepared for them. Many different factors play a role in the number of swarms that leave the hive every year, ranging from the types of bees to the amount of honey that was produced. There may be other factors that we are not aware of, as well. Given the large numbers of bees that leave the hive, it is possible that there will not be enough bees remaining to sustain the hive, or, at any rate, there may not be enough left to maintain the hive at the same level of honey production. For this reason, someone who buys bees, but has not purchased the hive itself, can only take the first few swarms, after which the original owner can discourage the remaining bees from leaving the hive.

If the purchaser was buying honey-combs, it is essential to leave enough to sustain the bees remaining in the hive. Although during the winter few bees leave their hives as they are in a state of semi-hibernation, there is still a need for sustenance (in this case, honey) to allow the bees to survive through the winter. Two combs are the minimum that will allow the hive to survive.

Bava Batra 81a-b

In the course of discussing how tithes and other agricultural requirements can be fulfilled in a situation where it is not clear who is the true owner of a given field, our Gemara reviews the various requirements of tithing and raises an unusual perspective.

Under ordinary circumstances, a farmer will separate:

  1. Terumah Gedolah – a small portion of his harvest that is given to a kohen
  2. Ma’aser Rishon – one-tenth of the remaining produce, which is given to a levi

3a. Ma’aser Sheni – one-tenth of the remaining produce, which is taken to Jerusalem and consumed there. This tithe is given during the years 1, 2, 4 and 5 of a seven year cycle.

3b. Ma’aser Ani – in years that Ma’aser Sheni is not given (years 3 and 6), one-tenth of the produce is given to the poor.

In our case, where it is not clear whether the farmer actually owns the field, and the first fruits – the bikurim – are brought, in the event that he does not own the field and cannot call the fruits bikurim, they can still be given to the kohen as terumah gedolah (which belongs to the kohen), as ma’aser sheni (as long as the kohen eats it in Jerusalem), or as ma’aser ani (if the kohen is poor). The only case that is questionable is how ma’aser rishon – which belongs to the Levi’im – can be given to a kohen. The Gemara suggests that this would work according to Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria who rules that the ma’aser rishon can be given to a kohen.

Most of the rishonim understand Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria’s rule to be based on his understanding that ma’aser rishon can be given to anyone who is from the Tribe of Levi, a category that includes kohanim as well as Levi’im. The Rashbam suggests that Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria actually requires that ma’aser rishon be given to a kohen rather than a Levi, following the penalty placed on Levi’im by Ezra ha-Sofer, who was upset with the Levi’im because they did not join the aliyah movement that he led, returning the First Temple exiles back to Israel.

Bava Batra 82a-b

When purchasing trees, does the buyer have a claim to the land from which the trees are growing or not? This question is discussed in the Mishnah (81a) and dealt with in detail in the Gemara on today’s daf.

According to the Mishnah, if someone purchases two trees, he does not receive a claim to the land, but if he purchases three trees, then he does have a claim to the land. Based on this ruling, if only two trees are purchased then anything that grows from the tree belongs to the buyer, but if something sprouts from the roots of the tree – i.e. from underground – it will belong to the seller, who retains ownership of the land. Furthermore, if the trees dry up and die, he has no claim to the land whatsoever, and cannot replant in that place. If he had purchased three trees, however, the land remains his even if the trees were to dry up and die – his ownership of the land is total and is no longer connected with the existing trees. Our Gemara brings Rabbi Chiya bar Abba quoting Rabbi Yochanan as teaching that someone who purchases three trees receives the area beneath them, between them and beyond them ki-melo oreh ve-salo – the area the size of someone collecting figs who is holding a basket with which to collect them.

The reason that the purchase of three trees gives the buyer ownership of the land is because three trees are considered to be an orchard. The Gemara explains that to be considered an orchard there must be a minimum of four amot (one amah is a cubit, or the measurement from the elbow to the end of the index finger) between the trees – to allow for plowing between them – but no more than 16 amot between them so that they will not be considered too spread out.

Bava Batra 83a-b

The focus of the Mishnah that appears on today’s daf is on mistakes or misunderstandings that take place when agreeing to a sale. According to the Mishnah, there are four possible situations:

  1. The seller claimed that the wheat was excellent and it turned out to be poor quality. Here the purchaser can cancel the sale.
  2. Where the purchaser said that he was buying poor quality wheat, and it turned out to be good quality. Here the seller can cancel the sale.
  3. Where the wheat was sold as poor quality and it was, in fact, poor quality.
  4. Where the wheat was sold as good quality and it was, in fact, good quality.

In the last two cases, no one can cancel the sale. This would be true even if there was a fluctuation in the price of wheat, and the purchaser, for example, will lose money because of the sale. He cannot claim that he called the wheat “poor quality” simply as a negotiating ploy and that he really wanted to buy good quality wheat (or vice versa, if such a claim is made by the seller). The Nimukei Yosef explains that this would be true even if it turns out that the “poor quality” wheat was of the very worst quality or the “good quality” wheat was the very best. Since the parties agreed to the sale and the quality was presented in a truthful manner, the sale stands.

The Mishnah continues, presenting a parallel case of wine and vinegar. If wine is misrepresented as vinegar or if vinegar is misrepresented as wine, then either the seller or the buyer can cancel the sale. In such a case we do not automatically assume that wine is “good” and that vinegar is “bad,” since it is possible that someone has a specific need for vinegar. Therefore even the purchaser who received wine instead of vinegar can claim that the purchase was mistaken and can demand that the sale be canceled.

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.