Masechet Bava Kamma 110a-116b

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22 Apr 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 Kamma 110a-b

Every Jewish person is assumed to have relatives, even if they are distant relatives. Thus, if someone steals from his fellow and then chooses to return the theft, even if the victim has died he can return it to one of the people who inherits the victim. One exception is a convert, who may have no relatives. Our Mishnah refers to the case of gezel ha-ger – of someone who stole from a convert. Should the convert die, the thief must bring a sacrifice and return the money (plus a penalty) to the kohanim in the Temple.

Rava asks whether this money is considered to be an inheritance (yerusha) or a gift (matanah). If it is the former, then it can be given to the kohanim even if it has no value (e.g. if it was chametz she-avar alav ha-Pesach – leaven that was in the possession of a Jewish person over Passover, which cannot be used after the holiday), while if it a gift given by the Torah to the kohanim, it will have to be something of value.

To respond to this question, our Gemara brings a baraita which teaches that twenty four matnot kehunah (priestly gifts) were given to Aaron the High Priest and his sons (i.e. to all kohanim) through a kelal u’prat u’klal –

A general command (see Bamidbar 18:8)

Followed by specific commands (see Bamidbar 18:9-18)

Followed by a general command (see Bamidbar 18:19) –

Together with brit melach – a covenant of salt – which is mentioned in the continuation of the passage.

According to the baraita, if someone fulfills these twenty four gifts, it is as though he keeps kelal u’prat u’klal and brit melach while if someone does not, it is as though he rejects kelal u’prat u’klal and brit melach.

Rashi and other commentaries interpret this to mean that someone who keeps these is considered to be keeping all of the Torah – which is interpreted using this method – and to have brought all of the sacrifices which are brought on the altar with salt.

The baraita enumerates the 24 gifts as follows:

In any case, the fact that the baraita refers to gezel ha-ger as one of the matnot kehunah is understood to indicate that it is a matanah and must have value.

Bava Kamma 111a-b

The tenth perek of Masechet Bava Kamma begins on our daf. Entitled ha-gozel u-ma’achil (“he who steals and feeds”) it deals with a wide range of subjects, but focuses on what is considered to be gezel (stealing) – when it must be returned and when it need not be returned.

The first Mishnah in the perek teaches that when a man steals and feeds his children with his ill-gotten gains, his children will not be obligated to return the theft.

The Rashba points out that even in situations where the children made an honest mistake and believed that an animal that they received from their father belongs to them, if it turns out that it really was borrowed, they will have to pay for it if it no longer exists. Why should a case of theft be any less strict? He explains that in the case of the borrowed animal, the children were obligated to return the animal, while in the case of theft their father may have taken possession of it by making some change in the animal, so by the time they received it, they had no obligation to return it – after all, they are not the thieves.

One case in the Mishnah where the children will be obligated to return the money to its owner is in the event that the object that was stolen has on it achrayut – “responsibility” – they will have to pay. The simplest explanation for achrayut is that it is real estate, which remains in its original state and must be returned. Nevertheless, the Gemara offers other cases where there will also be an obligation on the children who inherit their father to return monies that he stole. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, for example, taught his son, Rabbi Shimon that the intention of the Mishnah is to obligate the children to return the stolen object anytime it was clearly stolen – e.g. an ox that was used for plowing or a donkey that was used as a pack animal – in order to honor their father and clear his name.

As far as the halacha is concerned, the Rambam rules (Mishna, Hilkhot Gezeila 5:6) that following the Gaonic enactments that required children who inherit their father to pay off all his debts, it is clear that they will be obligated to return what he stole, as well.

Bava Kamma 112a-b

While discussing the level of responsibility that children have regarding returning an object that their father stole, the Gemara turns its attention to other responsibilities that children may inherit from their father regarding things that belong to others. Rava teaches that if the father passes away and he has in his possession an animal that he has borrowed, the children can continue to use the animal for the duration of the agreed upon period. If the animal dies, they are not obligated to repay the owner, even though as a sho’el – a borrower – their father would have been responsible for any accidents that took place.

The Ra’avad explains that the children can continue to use the animal, since they inherit all of their father’s rights, including the right to use this borrowed animal. Thus the owner of the animal cannot take it back before the agreed upon date. Nevertheless, since they did not agree to the terms of the she’elah, they did not accept upon themselves any obligation regarding accidents. At the same time, the Ra’avad and Rashba agree that the children will be responsible if the animal was lost or stolen, since they must have the status of a shomer sachar – someone who is paid to guard an object – since they are getting “payment” inasmuch as they are using the animal.

Some rishonim suggest that Rava’s ruling applies only if the children did not actually use the animal; once they do make use of the animal all of the rules of sho’el will apply to them since they have implicitly agreed to be borrowers. The Ra’avad disagrees since he believes that the responsibilities of a sho’el only come into play if the borrower agrees to them, and not merely as a consequence of his use of the borrowed animal.

Bava Kamma 113a-b

Our Mishnah teaches that a person cannot exchange money with tax collectors, implying that we must work with the assumption that the money they have is stolen.
With regard to this ruling, our Gemara points to Shmuel’s ruling that dina d’malchuta dina – that we must follow the rules of the government – and questions how the Mishnah can assume that a person who works as a tax collector is likely involved in criminal activities.

Two answers are suggested by the Gemara –

Shmuel is quoted by Rav Chinina in the name of Rav Kahane that this is only true in the case of a tax collector who does not follow the rule of law, but takes as much as he sees fit.
Rabbi Yannai suggests that our Mishnah is talking about a self-appointed tax collector, who is not operating with government approval.

The situation of a moches – a tax collector – was different in Talmudic times than it is today. In those days (and in some places this was true until fairly recently) the right to collect taxes was leased by the government to individuals who would then collect taxes in the name of the government. The individual who purchased this right from the government would then assign others to collect the taxes and pay him a percentage of the receipts. There was a lot of room for cheating and dishonesty given the situation that tax collection was a business, and the more that was collected, the more profit was made. Thus, the moches could choose to forgive the debts of his friends and relatives entirely, choosing to collect more than was appropriate from those people with whom he did not have a relationship. It is for this reason that the Talmud often presents the moches as equivalent to a robber.

Bava Kamma 114a-b

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, the situation of a moches – a tax collector – was different in Talmudic times than it is today. Tax collectors were individuals who purchased the right to collect taxes from the government and then could choose to collect different amounts from different people – a system that created anomalies and caused the Rabbinic Sages to consider a moches a dishonest person.

The Mishnah on our daf teaches that if a person had his donkey or his cloak taken by a moches, but then received a different one from the moches in its stead, he can keep it, since we can assume that the original owner despaired of ever getting it back (referred to as yei’ush – despair).

The Gemara opens by quoting a baraita that teaches that when the person receives an object in exchange for his own from the moches, he should return it to the original owner. The explanation for this ruling would be that simple yei’ush does not suffice to allow for transfer of ownership. An alternative reading of the baraita suggests that although the recipient can keep the object because of the owner’s yei’ush, he would likely return it to the original owner, since a person does not want to keep property that does not really belong to him.

According to Rashi, the baraita (in either of its two presentations) stands in disagreement with the Mishnah, which did not see any need to return the object. The Ra’avad disagrees, arguing that a baraita that is introduced with the term tanna immediately after a Mishnah invariably comes to explain the Mishnah, rather than argue with it. The Ra’avad explains that the baraita expects the recipient to return the object to its owner – but not for free. He can demand from the owner to pay him what he lost in his interaction with the moches.

Bava Kamma 115a-b

The Mishnah on our daf tells a story of two people who were walking with their respective barrels, one full of valuable honey and the other filled with less valuable wine. When they realized that the barrel of honey was leaking, the man holding the barrel of wine poured it out so that he could save his friend’s more valuable honey. According to the Mishnah, the man who spilled out his wine will only receive appropriate wages for his assistance (he will not receive the value of the wine he spilled out) unless he clearly reaches an agreement with the owner of the honey that he will be paid for his loss.

The Gemara objects that since it was going to be lost, the honey should be seen as hefker (ownerless), similar to a case where a person transporting barrels of wine or oil, realizing that they had broken, cannot declare the wine and oil to be the terumah (tithes) on the grapes and olives that he has at home. In that case, he cannot do that because once the barrels were broken, the wine and oil no longer belong to him – they automatically become hefker since they are in the process of being destroyed. The Gemara answers that we must be dealing with a case where the barrels will not be entirely destroyed, and the contents will not go totally to waste.

According to Rashi, the Gemara’s suggestion is that the person who saved the honey can claim it for his own. The Rosh explains that if the honey is hefker the person who saved it can tell his friend that if he will not pay for the lost wine then he will keep the honey for himself, since he is not really obligated to do so.

The Gemara’s description of a case where the barrel may break but still retain its contents is ekel bet ha-bad. The ekel is the place where olives were placed in an olive press.  A heavy beam – the korat bet ha-bad – pressed down on the olives, whose oil would then pour from the hole in the ekel.

Bava Kamma 116a-b

According to the Mishnah (115b), if a flood threatens to kill two animals and the owner of the one that is worth less money goes and saves the more valuable animal, he will only get paid for his efforts – he will not be reimbursed for the value of his animal. If, however, the owner of the more valuable animal agreed beforehand to pay him for his animal, then the owner will be obligated to fulfill the agreement.

In our Gemara, Rav Kahane asked Rav whether the owner of the more valuable animal will be obligated to fulfill such an agreement in the event that the less valuable animal did not drown, but managed on its own to climb out of the river on the other side. Rav replied that he received a gift from heaven – i.e. that the owner of the less valuable animal will receive payment in any case.

To support this ruling, the Gemara tells the story of Rav Safra who was traveling through the desert with a caravan. When they saw that a lion was tracking the group, everyone took turns leaving a donkey out at night for the lion to eat. On the night that it was Rav Safra’s turn to leave a donkey, the lion did not eat it and Rav Safra took it back for himself.

Although lions ordinarily attack wild animals, on occasion they follow a caravan traveling through the desert (e.g. between Syria and Babylon). The lion (or lions) would then attack the caravan at night, aiming at the pack animals – ordinarily donkeys. In order to avoid such attacks and possible injury or death to the people in the caravan, it was common practice to leave a less valuable animal in a place where the lion could get to it easily, thus protecting the people and the more valuable animals. After eating a large animal like a donkey, the satiated lion would not attack until it was hungry, so it is possible that a night might go by with no attack whatsoever.

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.