Masechet Bava Batra 98a-104b

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24 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 98a-b

What responsibility does a seller have to guarantee his product after the buyer has taken possession of it?

According to the Mishnah (97b) if someone sells wine to his friend and it becomes vinegar, he is not responsible for it. The rishonim point out that we are dealing with a case where we are certain that the product was wine at the time of the sale, which puts the onus of responsibility on the buyer, since the wine “went bad” after he already owned it, allowing the seller to argue that it was the buyer’s casks that caused the problem.

Our Gemara quotes Rabbi Yosi b’Rabbi Chanina who rules that the case of the Mishnah is only when the wine has been moved into the casks of the purchaser. If, however, it remained in the casks of the seller, then the buyer can demand that the seller take back his casks together with the wine, or, more correctly, the vinegar, and return his money. The Ra’avad explains Rabbi Yose’s position as based on his belief that good wine will not turn to vinegar under ordinary circumstances, so if this wine did become vinegar it is an indication that there was something wrong with it from the very beginning, which allows the buyer to insist on a refund.

The Gemara points out that Rabbi Chiya bar Yosef disagrees with this ruling. Based on a passage in Habakuk (2:5) that describes the “treachery” of wine that rebels against a haughty person, he believes that wine spoiling is essentially a rebuke to the owner of the wine – it is his “bad luck” and therefore, his loss. The Rashbam explains that this is a type of middah ke-neged middah – the person gets what he deserves – in the sense that someone who tries to show off qualities that he does not have is punished by his wine – that appears to have the qualities of fine wine, but really is vinegar.

Bava Batra 99a-b

Our Gemara discusses the aron – the Ark of the Covenant that stood in the Holy of Holies – together with the keruvim – the cherubs – that stood on its cover.

According to Rabbi Levi quoting Rabbi Yochanan, the aron and the keruvim did not take up any space. In support of this teaching, the Gemara quotes a baraita that describes how the bodies of the keruvim took up no space, since the passage in Sefer Melakhim (I Melakhim 6:24) describes only the size of the wings, but not of the keruvim themselves.

The idea that is expressed by these teachings is that the aron and keruvim are not truly of this world – they are purely spiritual objects that cannot be measured by their physical existence; indeed, they do not take up any space in our physical world.

In describing how the keruvim stood, Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Eliezer disagreed. One taught that the two keruvim faced one another, the other claimed that they faced the Temple. The Gemara points out that each of these positions has textual support – the pasuk in Shemot (25:20) says that they faced each other, while in Divrei HaYamim (II Divrei HaYamim 3:13) it says that they faced the Temple – and each of the amoraim explains the difference according to their approach. Either the keruvim faced somewhat sideways, or else their position changed. According to this approach, the keruvim represented the relationship between God and the Jewish People. When the Jews behaved properly and the relationship was good, the keruvim looked at each other, but when there were difficulties with the relationship, they looked away from one another.

The idea that the keruvim – cherubs – are the forms of children, a popular theme in renditions of the aron, has its source in this Gemara, which quotes the great translator Onkelos as rendering the passage in Divrei HaYamim (II:3:10) as ma’aseh tza’atzu’im, which is understood by the rishonim as children.

Bava Batra 100a-b

During the time of the Mishnah, common burial practice was for families to arrange for burial caves. Every family would purchase a rocky area that they would dig out, creating an entrance area surrounded by a series of caves, one for each household in the family. In each cave, burial areas – called kuchin – were chiseled out of the rock. Each of the kuchin would open into the cave, and the dead body would be placed in it after which the kuch would be sealed with rocks, plaster, etc.

The Mishnah on our daf discusses the sale of an ordinary burial cave, which is meant to serve as a family burial plot. The Tanna Kamma of the Mishnah teaches that an ordinary cave must offer enough room to build an entrance area of four amot (cubits) by six amot, with room for eight kuchin, three on either side and two opposite the entrance. Each of these kuchin must be four amot deep, six tefachim (handbreadths) wide and seven tefachim high.

The rishonim explain that the size of these areas is important for both practical and halakhic reasons. The Rashbam explains that a depth of four amot is needed to fit a normal sized person in a casket – ordinarily a casket made of stone. The Ritva and Ramah point out that this includes room to seal the kuch with dirt, rocks, etc. The need for a height of seven tefachim is related to the rules of ritual purity and defilement. When a body is in a tightly enclosed space, the tumah – the ritual defilement – that emanates from the dead body “leaps” beyond the enclosure, putting kohanim at risk to become ritually defiled should they walk above the body. If, however, there is a pote’ah tefach – an opening the size of a handbreadth above the body in a closed area, the tumah will be held in that immediate area, and ritual defilement will not be spread. It is, therefore, important to have enough space to contain the tumah.

Bava Batra 101a-b

In the course of discussing burial practices, our Gemara quotes a Mishnah that appears in Masechet Nazir (64b).

The Mishnah deals with a situation where a person comes upon a place where he finds a body buried, and it is not clear whether this was a body that was buried here temporarily, with the intent of moving it to a proper cemetery when the opportunity arose, or if it is part of a shechunat kevarot – a formal burial area – that cannot be disturbed. Such a discovery was likely to take place during the period before one of the shalosh regalim – the three pilgrimage holidays, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot – when it was common practice to check the roads that the olei regalim – the pilgrims – would take in order to assure that they were clear of anything that would ritually defile them. The olei regalim would always need to remain in a state of ritual purity in order to bring sacrifices in the Temple, and it was, therefore, essential that the roads were kept clear of tumah on their behalf. Thus, discovering a dead body on or near the public thoroughfare led to the question “can this body be moved?”

Generally speaking, halacha recognizes that met koneh et mekomo – that a dead person takes possession of the ground where he is lies and cannot be moved.  Therefore, if we have reason to believe that a person was buried in a specific place, he cannot be moved, and the grave would need to be clearly marked. If, however, an unknown body was found, the Mishnah teaches that it can be moved to a cemetery. One case where we are forced to assume that a body was buried in a place purposefully is when a number of bodies were found buried in close proximity, and another one is found nearby (within twenty amot, or cubits), since raglayim la-davar – the status quo would indicate that this is a shechunat kevarot.

Bava Batra 102a-b

Bet Kur, the seventh perek of Masechet Bava Batra, begins on today’s daf. Its focus is on the purchase of different types of real estate, and in particular on how deficiencies or blemishes will affect the sale. Just as the previous perek dealt with deficiencies in moveable objects, similarly in real estate there are some deficiencies that are accepted as part of a field and others that no purchaser would knowingly accept. Since it is natural for fields to include hills and valleys, rocks and broken areas, it is necessary for the Talmud to establish what is a natural and acceptable blemish, and when the loss to the buyer is significant enough for him to demand a reduction in price, or a replacement for the area that cannot be used.

The first Mishnah teaches that if a person agrees to sell bet kur afar – land upon which a kur of grain can be grown – if there are gashes in the ground that are ten tefachim (handbreadths) deep, or rocks that are ten tefahim high, those areas are not to be included in the sale. If, however, the agreement was that ke-bet kur – approximately a bet kor – was being sold, then such gashes or rocks would be included.

A bet kor is a measure of volume; it is the size of a field that will grow 30 se’ah of grain (248 or 430 liters, depending on the definition of a se’ah), which is 75,000 square amot (17, 280 or 24,900 square meters). The Nimukei Yosef points out that the agreement cannot possibly be one where they agree on a specific field or portion of a field, since in that case the agreement would take effect.  The case of the Mishnah must be when the seller presents a larger field and they agree that an unspecified area of a bet kor was to be sold.

Bava Batra 103a-b

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, if someone agreed to sell an area of land that will produce a bet kor, then obstacles on the field that will keep it from producing will not be included in the size of the field. The Mishnah differentiated between rocks that are higher than ten tefachim (handbreadths), which are considered obstacles, and those that are lower than ten tefachim (handbreadths), which are considered part of the field.

The Gemara limits this allowance to specific circumstances. Thus Rabbi Yitzhak teaches that even smaller rocks will only be considered part of the field if they are less than the space needed for planting four kabin, and Rav Ukba bar Hama and Rav Hiyya bar Aba teach that they must be spread out over the field, and not collected in one place.

Rabbi Yirmiyah asks a series of questions to clarify this ruling.

The rishonim explain that all of these questions aim at a similar point. In a case where the above criteria are met – there are fewer than four kabin of rocks spread out over the field – will a pattern change our ruling? The Rashbam explains that an occasional rock does not serve as a major obstacle, but that a series of rocks may be bothersome when working a field. The Ra’avad and Ramah understand the question to be whether rocks set up in a pattern will be considered to be gathered together in one spot, which would make them an obstacle which is not counted as part of the field.

To all of these questions, the Gemara responds “Teiku.” The question stands and we do not have an answer.

Bava Batra 104a-b

The Mishnah on yesterday’s daf taught that if someone who was selling land stated at the time of the sale that he was selling an exact amount – according to strict measurements – then even a small amount would have to be returned or paid for. If, on the other hand, the seller said that he was selling “more of less” that amount, then even if there was an error of up to one-quarter of a se’ah of planting (which is 1/24 of the bet kur field that was being sold), we accept that it is within acceptable error and it need not be returned. The Mishnah continues that if the error was larger than that amount, the additional land would need to be returned, concluding ve-lo et ha-rovah bilvad hu mahzir, ela et kol ha-motar – and he returns not only the quarter that was given in error, but the additional bit beyond the quarter, as well.

The Gemara reacts to this line in the Mishnah by saying kelapei laya!? Shouldn’t it be the other way around!? The Gemara concludes that the Mishnah should be worded otherwise – that not only is the small additional amount returned, but that the entire error must be given back, even the part that the purchaser could have kept had the error been smaller.

The term kelapei laya!? is usually interpreted to mean “where are you turning?” or, in this context “how can you think that, since it is the opposite of what appears to be logical.” There are geonim who offer an alternative interpretation, explaining this expression as though it were kelapei alya – “towards its tail” – meaning that it appears that you are riding backwards, i.e. your statement is the opposite of what you should be saying.

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.