Masechet Bava Kamma 54a-60b

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19 Feb 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 54a-b

When describing an animal that falls into a bor (a ditch or hole in the ground) the Torah talks about an ox or a donkey (see Shemot 21:33). The Mishnah on our daf teaches that the same rule applies to all other animals, as well, and that the Torah simply used examples that are the most common domestic animal – an ox that was used for work in the fields and a donkey that was used for carrying loads – as examples that apply to all.

The Mishnah also presents a list of cases where the Torah mentions one type of animal but whose intent is that the law should be applied to other animals, as well.

For example:

…as well as cases of helping unload an animal (Shemot 23:5), refraining from muzzling an animal (Devarim 25:4), not working an animal on Shabbat (Shemot 20:10; Devarim 5:14), etc.

While most of these are cases that refer to issues of Jewish law, the first example that discusses the case on Mount Sinai seems to be without purpose – whatever took place at the time has already happened – why is it necessary for the Mishnah to teach this idea? In answer to this type of question, the Gemara in Yoma (5b) says that there is value in explaining the meaning of the biblical verse, even if there is no practical application in halacha.

Bava Kamma 55a-b

How well did the Sages know biblical text?

Our Gemara relates that Rabbi Chanina ben Agil asked Rabbi Hayat bar Abba about one of the differences between the Ten Commandments as they appear in Sefer Shemot (Chapter 20) and as they appear in Sefer Devarim (Chapter 5). Specifically, his question was why in Sefer Shemot the word t­ov – good – does not appear, and in Sefer Devarim it does: in connection with the commandment to honor one’s parents the Torah gives a reason – le-ma’an yitav lakh – so that it will be good for you (15:5).

Rabbi Chiya bar Abba responded that he could not comment on the reason for the appearance of the word tov, since he was not certain that the word appeared in the commandments in Sefer Devarim, and recommended that he ask Rabbi Tanchum bar Hanilai who was Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi‘s student, who was expert in aggadah. Rabbi Tanchum bar Hanilai responded that since the first set of Tablets were ultimately going to be destroyed, the word tov was not included.

Although every Jewish child studied the Torah and many knew it by heart, not all of the Sages continued to focus on text study. Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba was known as an individual whose focus was on Jewish law, as opposed to his colleague, Rabbi Abahu, whose area of expertise was aggadah.

Many of the commentaries offer alternative explanations for the ignorance apparently shown by Rabbi Hayat bar Abba. The Ria”f suggests that Rabbi Chiya bar Abba’s statement that he did not know whether the word tov was written in the Ten Commandments actually referred to the question about which version contained the actual words that were handed down from God to Moses. Since he felt that we do not truly know what was in the version of the commandments that was broken, he could not respond to the question.

Bava Kamma 56a-b

Can someone charged with watching an object pass it on to a third party who agrees to watch it?

We learned above (Bava Kamma 11b) that there is a disagreement with regard to this question. According to Ulla in the name of Rabbi Elazar, shomer she-masar le-shomer – when one person who was watching an object passes it on to another person – he will not be responsible for anything beyond his original obligation. Since he gave it to another responsible individual, he has not done anything wrong. According to this opinion, this is true not only in a case where a shomer chinam (someone who volunteered to guard the object) raised the level of shemirah by giving it to a shomer sachar (someone who was paid to watch the object), but also if a shomer sachar lowered the level of shemirah by transferring it to a shomer chinam. Rava disagrees, ruling that a shomer she-masar le-shomer will be responsible for everything that takes place – even if a shomer chinam raised the level of the shemirah by transferring it to a shomer sachar. This is because the owner can say to the guard – “I trust you when you take an oath; I do not trust the man who you gave it to.”

As understood by the Gemara on our daf, our Mishnah (55b) teaches that when a shomer transfers the animal to a ro’eh – a shepherd – the ro’eh becomes fully responsible for any damage that the animal does. This stands in apparent contradiction to Rava‘s position that a shomer she-masar le-shomer will always be responsible.

Rava explains that our Mishnah is talking about a specific case, when the original shomer has given the animal to his assistant to watch. The Rashba explains that since it is understood that the primary shepherd cannot take care of all the animals all of the time, it is clearly understood that he will hire assistants to help him. Thus, this is not a typical case of shomer she-masar le-shomer.

Bava Kamma 57a-b

According to the Mishnah (55b) if someone was watching an animal which slipped and fell into private property, the person responsible for the animal will have to pay the owner of the property the equivalent of whatever the animal benefited. If, however, the animal walked normally into the private area, then the person responsible for it will have to pay for the damage that was done.

The amount that the animal benefited is invariably less than the amount that was damaged. For example, if an animal ate a more valuable crop, still the amount of benefit that the animal derived is its normal feed, which is worth less.

In our Gemara, Rav adds another type of benefit for which the person responsible for the animal would have to pay. If the fall into the private property would have injured the animal, but because the animal fell on the growing produce its fall was broken and it was not injured (or it was injured less severely), the person responsible for the animal will have to pay the amount of the benefit. The Me’iri says that we gauge this based on what a person would be willing to pay to keep his animal from a more severe injury; Rabbeinu Yehonatan says that the payment will be the cost of straw that would have needed to be purchased to ensure a similarly soft landing for the animal.

One of the questions that is raised regarding this case is why the person who was instructed to watch the animal should not be required to make full restitution, since he should have been guarding the animal more carefully. The Ra’avad explains that we cannot expect a person to keep hold of the animal in the public thoroughfare at all times, a position taken by the Talmud Yerushalmi, as well.

Bava Kamma 58a-b

As we saw on yesterday’s daf, if an animal walked normally into a private area, then the person responsible for it will have to pay for the damage that was done. The Mishnah (55b) explains that in this case we will not require payment to be made according to the value of the produce that was destroyed, rather we look at the larger picture – at a full bet se’ah (a field large enough to produce a se’ah worth of grain, which was 2500 square amot) – and determine the loss of value that was incurred. This is a much smaller amount than the actual value of what was eaten or destroyed.

Our Gemara tells the story of a man who cut down a palm tree in his friend’s field. He was brought before the Reish Galuta (the head of the Diaspora Jewish community) who stated that he was familiar with the field and he knew that there were three trees growing from a single spot that were, together, worth 100 zuz. Having destroyed one of them he should pay 33.3 zuzim as restitution. The individual stormed out of the courthouse proclaiming “why do I need to deal with the Reish Galuta who rules according to Persian law!” He entered Rav Nachman‘s courthouse where he was told that he would only be required to pay for the loss of value of the tree within the larger context of the field.

Rava rejected Rav Nachman’s ruling, pointing to the need to distinguish between payment made because of damage done by an animal as opposed to that done by a person. This can be understood by virtue of the fact that a person is responsible for damage done by his animal, but Jewish law feels a need to be lenient with him, since the damage that was done was unintentional and the owner played no direct role in it. This is very different from a situation where a person actively damaged his friend’s property, where the halacha will require full restitution.

Bava Kamma 59a-b

Our Gemara tells the story of a man named Eliezer Ze’ira who was wearing black shoes in the marketplace in Neharda. When members of the house of the Reish Galuta (the head of the Diaspora community) saw this, they asked him why he was wearing shoes that were not usually worn by members of the Jewish community. He responded that was wearing black as an outward sign of his mourning over the destruction of the Temple. Hearing this they arrested him and jailed him for behaving inappropriately, since they did not believe that his status was high enough to be allowed to mourn the Temple publicly. Only when he entered into a discussion of Jewish law with them, proving that he was a scholar, did he secure his release.

In the generation following the destruction of the second Temple, the Sages set certain limits regarding appropriate signs of mourning, mainly in the realms of celebrations and clothing. Nevertheless, in every generation there were people who, based on the passage in Yeshayahu 61:3, were known as Avelei Yerushalayim – mourners of Jerusalem – who accepted upon themselves other mourning customs, as well.

The shoes that were described in the story looked like those of Roman Centurions but there were differences in the number and color of the laces that indicated different levels of society. Apparently the Jewish community traditionally wore white laces, which distinguished them from the non-Jews, and the Sages viewed wearing shoes that appeared similar to the Romans’ as an attempt to take on non-Jewish traditions. The Me’iri writes that the term used in this story for the color black – ukamei – was a dull black color, while the shoes worn by Romans were a bright black color. Thus, Eliezer Ze’ira was accused of inappropriate mourning, but not of the more serious transgression of dressing like a non-Jew.

Bava Kamma 60a-b

In the midst of the discussion of the responsibilities that a person who sets a fire will have for any damage that was caused, the Gemara shares a series of aggadic traditions that touch on this issue. One example is an examination of the passage in Sefer Shmuel (II:23:15-16) in which King David appears to be asking for water brought from Bet Lechem, leading three of his fighters to break in to the Philistine camp to get the water for him. The Gemara apparently rejects the simple meaning of this pasuk, preferring to understand it as containing a deeper meaning. The “water” of Bet Lechem represents Torah, indicating that King David had a Torah issue that he needed to clarify.

Several suggestions are put forward by the Sages. Rav Huna suggests that the Philistines were hiding amongst the Jewish barley fields and King David was unsure whether he was allowed to burn them down in order to save himself from his enemies. Is it permissible for a person to save himself with someone else’s money? In response his colleagues ruled that it was not permissible, but as monarch he had the right to take away – or destroy – property belonging to his subjects.

Rashi understands the question as presented, that King David was unsure whether he could destroy the field to save himself. According to Tosafot, we take for granted that a person can do so; the question at hand is whether he is obligated to pay for what he destroyed, or, perhaps, since it was done to save a life, there is no obligation to pay. The Ra’avad discusses this question at length, concluding that a person can certainly save himself at the expense of destroying another person’s property. If, however, the issue was someone saving his fortune at the expense of destroying his friend’s property (that is worth less than his) it would be forbidden to do so without permission from that person.

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.